By Cara Nicoletti
The other day it poured. Cold, beating, half-snow December rain. After showering off the chill when I got home, I flopped down on my bed and prepared to sleep the rest of the afternoon away. But instead, I looked up at my bookshelf and noticed a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a novel I hadn’t read since the ninth grade. My mom put a copy of it on my pillow all those years ago in an attempt to distract me from my first heartbreak, which had me sulking around the house, skipping school and crying at any good-natured joke my dad aimed my way. From the minute I picked up that lavender and pink paperback with loopy cursive scrawled across it, I was hooked. I spent hours in my room reading, so wrapped up I forgot for the first time in my life to eat. When I emerged from my room days later I was so gaunt and spindly that my grandmother gasped when she saw me. There is something sustaining and even filling about du Maurier’s writing, and it isn’t just because her novels are filled with food. There is a richness about her language akin to spooning through a thick custard—it is decadent and thick and sinfully good. The descriptions of food in Rebecca are both mouth watering and visceral, as the narrator moves from a “dry, unappetizing plate of ham and tongue that somebody had sent back to the cold buffet half-an-hour before as badly carved,” to thick slices of bread with butter, “cucumber and watercress sandwiches”, and “bowls of fresh raspberries and peaches.”. The tea scenes at Manderly are the most elaborate and tempting, with “dripping crumpets…Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion bursting with peel and raisins”.
Almost nine years later I found myself just as enraptured by Rebecca, and with the rain beating against the windows of my Brooklyn apartment I read until well after midnight, not even pausing when I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch or dinner, until I fell asleep somehow feeling full.
Although we don’t have formal tea-time here in the states we can still enjoy all of these foods. My favorite of these tea-time treats are scones, which I love to make with savory ingredients rather than the traditional dried fruits and sweet glazes. Following is a recipe for cheddar cheese and chive scones, which are perfect for breakfast topped with scrambled eggs and a slice of ham.
CHEDDAR CHIVE TEA-TIME SCONES
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk (plus a little extra for wash)
2 tablespoons chives diced
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon black pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter roughly chopped (very cold!)
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar (I like it very sharp)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix the milk and eggs together then stir in the chives and put aside. In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients (salt, baking powder, flour, pepper). If you have a food processor add the chunks of butter and pulse. If you don’t have a food processor use your hands! Stop once dry rough clumps form (don’t overwork, it will make the dough tough). Mix in 1 cup of the cheese. Slowly add the milk mixture and mix until a wet dough forms. On a floured workspace roll the dough into a ball. I think it’s easiest to then cut the ball of dough in half and roll them out separately (But I also have very little workspace in my kitchen). Flattened dough should be about half an inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter about 6-8 inches in diameter to cut out scones. If you don’t have a biscuit cutter the top of food can or glass jar works just fine. Brush the tops of the rounds with remaining milk then top with remaining cheese. Bake until tops are golden brown, about 13-15 minutes. Pile them high with scrambled eggs and ham or just top with butter.
Read more of Cara’s recipes:
- Viv Stamper’s Maple-Buttered Baked Apples With Candied Pecans
- Clam Chowder for Whaling with Spicy Pork Sausage