This past May I had the pleasure of going to Chicago to visit my grandparents (and aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and siblings!) not once, but twice. Both were weekend trips, one quick and one long, and each reminded me just how wonderful it is to be around family. I felt blessed being surrounded by all the love.
Both of my parents are from Chicago, and since I grew up in Denver, we went back once or twice a year to visit family. These vacations were the highlights of my summer. I remember looking forward to them for months, asking if we were staying at Papa and Gran Marge’s, if we were going to the lake in Wisconsin, if we’d get to play with cousins, and if Gran Marge’s raspberries would be ripe. With the exception of the last one, the answer was always yes. And usually, there were some ripe raspberries for me to pick and put one on each finger, then pluck them off one by one.
I loved these trips as a child, and my love for them has only grown as I’ve become an adult. It always felt like time slowed down just a little bit at my grandparents’ house. Gran Marge was always busy making something, and I usually tried to balance visiting with Papa and all the other relatives with helping her, and learning from her. Cooking with my grandmother was a joy, and I always wished for more of it.
Gran Marge has always been a wonderful cook and an excellent baker. I do not say this lightly. When she visited us in Colorado she would make éclairs or Julia Child’s brownies from memory. If my dad, and who am I kidding, myself, were lucky, we’d get a pie.
The first time my husband came along for a trip to Chicago, there were scones for us to have as a snack when we arrived. He thought he’d found nirvana, and I couldn’t disagree. To this day, Peter still talks about Gran Marge’s scones. I’ve made countless batches of scones for him before and after, but none have quite lived up to Gran Marge’s.
So this visit I was bound and determined to make scones with her and divine her secrets. But time always got away from us, and we never got around to making them. Over Memorial Weekend we finally did. It took three days before it actually happened, but planning and talking about it did the trick.
While my Papa napped and everyone else was out and busy preparing for a big family reunion later that afternoon, Gran Marge and I were alone to do our baking. It was peaceful and quiet; two words that are used so often and yet there are no others to describe slowly and methodically getting out our supplies, measuring and mixing. I asked questions to make sure I knew the exact way to do it: is the butter mixed in enough? Should I knead this more? Gran Marge would answer and always slip in to show me just how to do it.
When the scones were finally in the oven and I stood over the sink drying the last dish, we finally had time to talk. We spoke of births and deaths and loss, and spoke of them as if they were the most natural things in the world. Which, of course, they are. It was easy to tell my grandmother my troubles. She has decades more life experience than I do and has lived through her fair share of sorrow, too. It turns out that the best advice and guidance I got that day wasn’t about how to make the perfect scone, but how to incorporate the bad into the good and still lead a full, blessed life.
I realize how lucky I am for all of my happy childhood memories, but it is the deeper, more meaningful conversations with my grandparents as an adult that make me feel truly blessed. I’m already looking forward to the next visit, and the next recipe Gran Marge can help me with. I know there will be plenty of life lessons to soak up while in the kitchen.
Gran Marge’s Scones
Though this recipe calls for currants, we used a mix of fresh strawberries and currants since that was what we had. I later made them with all strawberries, and both were equally good. You may substitute blueberries, raspberries or another dried fruit if you prefer.
6 Tablespoons sugar
3 ½ cups flour
4 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter
1 cup currants
½ to ¾ cups half and half
3 tablespoons (or the rest of the stick) of butter
3 tablespoons sugar, for topping
½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg, for topping
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl (omitting the 3 tablespoons sugar and nutmeg). Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Stir in the currants or other fruit, then stir in the lightly beaten eggs. Add the half and half 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough leaves the side of the bowl.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until it holds together well, about 6-8 turns. Pat the ball into a 10 inch diameter circle that is 1 inch thick. Cut into 12 wedges and put on the baking sheet.
Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter. Mix the 3 tablespoons sugar and nutmeg in a small bowl. Brush the melted butter over the scones, and sprinkle with the sugar mixture.
Cook the scones for 20 minutes, or until nicely golden brown.