Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Seven

The story so far: I am baking all 50 recipes from the National Trust Book of Scones. The first 30 scones were all sweet - see below for the links to all of those treats. 

This week I turn my hand to the savoury chapter for scones 31-35:

The Welsh Cheese & Herb Scone
You HAVE to try these. I am still staggered by how easy these were to make, compared to how tasty they were. They were like little souffles. Amazing.

Welsh Cheese & Herb Scones

The Hazelnut & Stilton Scone
Stilton always feels like a very grown-up ingredient and these scones did indeed feel like they should be served as part of a meal - extremely tasty with a fantastic texture courtesy of the hazelnuts.

The Walnut, Goat's Cheese, and Pear Scone
"So, Sarah, what are you baking for us this week?" "Well, Paul and Prue, I'm doing walnut, goat's cheese and pear scones" - cue Paul Hollywood doing his impressed nodding thing. That's my way of telling you that these are classy scones. Highly recommended.

The Ploughman's Scone
These scones include apple and pickled onions as well as cheese. Very tasty.

The Pumpkin Pie Scone
For scone 35, I reverted back to the safety of a sweet scone and I'll be honest with you: I had doubts about this one, as the pumpkin puree made the dough very soggy. But the end result was literally autumn on a plate - absolutely, stonkingly delicious:

Pumpkin pie scones

Just 15 more scone recipes to go!

See the previous scone bakes:
Scone bakes 26-30 - includes the amazing Fig, Orange and Walnut Scone!
Scone bakes 21-25 - includes the astounding Stollen Scone!
Scone bakes 16-20 - includes the zesty Lemon and Coconut Scone!
Scone bakes 11-15 - includes the Triple Chocolate Scone - say no more!
Scone bakes 6-10 - includes the world-famous Chocolate Orange Scone!
Scone bakes 1-5 - includes the very surprising Earl Grey Scone!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Six

This project to bake all 50 scone recipes in the National Trust Book of Scones is now over the half-way mark. Let's continue with scones 26-30!

The Fig, Orange & Walnut Scone
There are many scone recipes in the Book of Scones that surpass expectations and this is one of them. Lovely texture combined with a fantastic combination of flavours. I highly recommend that you give this one a go.  

Fig, Orange & Walnut Scone

The Hot Cross Scone
Don't wait for Easter to try these - although if you're really worried about people giving you funny looks, maybe pipe a 'B' on the top instead of a cross and call them Hot Bob's Scones? Whatever you do, just give them a try as they are utterly delicious:

Hot Cross Scones

The Apricot Scone
A lovely light and fruity scone! Delicious.

Apricot scones

The Blueberry & Lemon Scone
Another lovely light and fruity scone!

Blueberry & Lemon Scones

The Mulled Wine Scone
The downside of baking mulled wine scones in August is that I had to make the mulled wine as I couldn't find any ready-made stuff. This made my entire house smell of Christmas for 24 hours. Actually, there was no downside.

And with that we have just 20 scones to go! Those of you that prefer a savoury scone can start getting excited as that's what coming next. In the meantime you can get a copy of the Book of Scones at any National Trust shop or from Amazon.

To see the previous scone bakes, visit:
Scone bakes 21-25:
Scone bakes 16-20:
Scone bakes 11-15
Scone bakes 6-10

Scone bakes 1-5

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Five

I'm half-way through my mission to bake all 50 scones in the National Trust Book of Scones! Yes indeed, here are scones 20-25:

The Stollen Scone
Look, I know that mentioning C******* in August/September sends some people running over the nearest cliff, but I had to make sure that we were READY. These scones are the baking equivalent of the film The Ten Commandments, in that the ingredients list is a cast of thousands and you wonder how you'll ever fit everything in. But they are so worth it. Amazing. 

The Lemon & Cranberry Scone
I was a little concerned that the flavours in these scones would be very subtle, and they are but in a very good way.

Lemon & Cranberry

The Apple & Raisin Scone
Look at that greedy scone on the front right, delighted with himself that he stole all the raisins. Never mind; this is a simple yet totally delicious scone.

Apple & Raisin scone

The Peach, Poppyseed & Vanilla Scone
Poppyseeds are the strangest thing - they look so innocuous and yet they make a huge difference to any baked food item. A really lovely light scone.

Peach, Poppyseed, Vanilla scone

The Blackberry & Apple Scone
Move along here, folks, nothing to see - apart from a few scones where I accidentally used twice as many blackberries as were needed. Seriously though - if you ever needed any evidence that I am not an expert baker and anyone can bake scones, look no further: 

Blackberry and Apple scone

So there you have it! Only another 25 scone recipes to go! In the meantime, keep sending me your pictures of your scone bakes - you can get a copy of the Book of Scones at any National Trust shop or from Amazon.

To see the previous scone bakes, visit:
Scone bakes 16-20:
Scone bakes 11-15
Scone bakes 6-10
Scone bakes 1-5

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Four

I took a short break from my project to BAKE all 50 scone recipes in the National Trust Book of Scones - you might recall that my original mission was to EAT every National Trust scone, so I've been focusing on that, with recent expeditions to Mount Stewart, Castle Ward and Rowallane Garden in County Down.

So eyes down for scone bakes 16-20!

The Lemon & Coconut Scone
An absolute delight of a scone. I know coconut is not to everyone's liking - in which case, it's probably not the scone for you. But everyone else should make this one a priority.
Lemon and coconut scones

The Cherry & Vanilla Scones
These are miracle scones, in that they actually contain some cherries. It turns out the 43-year old me is very similar to the 12 year-old me, who used to see "glace cherries" on a recipe for Home Economics and know that those cherries would never see the inside of a mixing bowl, on account of having been eaten on the way to school. At least I have more restraint these days.

Cherry and vanilla scones

The Apple & Cinnamon Scones
A very autumnal scone! 

Apple and cinnamon scones

The Zesty Lemon Scone
Another lemony number - fresh and tasty as anything.

Zesty lemon scones

The Orange & Cranberry Scones
These would have been fantastic, but my orange wasn't very cooperative when it came to zesting, so it lacked a little bit of flavour. I will try it again with a friendlier orange. They look the part though!

Orange and cranberry scones

Only another 30 scone recipes to go! In the meantime, keep sending me your pictures of your scone bakes - you can get a copy of the Book of Scones at any National Trust shop or from Amazon.

To see my previous scone bakes, visit:
Scone bakes 11-15
Scone bakes 6-10
Scone bakes 1-5

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Rowallane Garden

Rowallane Garden near Belfast presented me with two very significant challenges:

1. I have a terror of mispronoucing place names - regular viewers will recall my traumas at Trerice last year - and naturally I got Rowallane completely wrong. "I'm off to Roe-a-lane Garden tomorrow!" I trilled to the woman at Castle Ward, who nobly didn't bat an eyelid but said "Oh, it's lovely at Roe-Alan!"

2. It's a garden. Whenever I see a nice garden, I hear Alan Titchmarsh's voice saying "and the gentle willow provides shelter for the charming crocuses that will surely peep through in the Spring" while a trumpet parps away beguilingly in the background, but my trusty inner cynic is always on hard to shout "it took 15 hours of back-breaking work to plant those bulbs". I will not be lulled into a false sense of security that I could be any good at gardening.

Luckily, Rowallane is not one of those extremely neat, structured gardens like Hidcote or Sissinghurst. It does have a nice neat, structured walled garden:

Rowallane Garden

But then the rest of it is more of a rambling estate of trees and shrubs and enclosed areas with boulders and other natural features. I kept expecting to come across a flock of sheep.

Rowallane Garden

There was no guide book so my knowledge is a bit scant:
  • The garden was created by the Reverend John Moore in the mid 1800s
  • His nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore, continued the work 

But onto the scone. Rowallane is the headquarters of the National Trust in Northern Ireland and so I was expecting the scones to be absolutely tip-top. 

In fact, it was a very surprising scone. Firstly, it was the cheapest cream tea in NT Scone Blog history - I think it was £2.75. Secondly, the cream was whipped cream and it was available in a big pot by the milk, as was the jam. The scone itself was well-baked but very tasty. I ate the whole thing, which is always a good sign.

Rowallane scone

Rowallane Garden: 3.5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Bargain hunter's score: 5 out of 5

Monday, 21 August 2017

Castle Ward

I never expected the National Trust to be a source of marital advice, but today I learned a useful, if possibly expensive, way to assure harmony with your spouse.

Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, built Castle Ward in County Down in the 1760s. He was a big fan of the Classical style, but his wife Ann wanted a Gothic look. So they built a house with two facades. The north side is Gothic:

Castle Ward gothic rear

while the front is designed in a Classical style:

Castle Ward classical front

You'll notice that I put my drowned rat of a sister into each picture to prove that these are indeed two sides of the same house.

Sadly, it seems like the compromise on the house build didn't do much for Bernie and Ann's marriage: once the house was finished, she left him and headed to Bath. 

I learned all of this from Dorothy, the very excellent tour guide, who also revealed that Bernard and Ann had actually hated each other on sight. They had to be cajoled into marriage on account of him having the estate and her having the money.

They were so opposed in their tastes that the entire house at Castle Ward is split down the middle - his side is all classical ceilings and door-frames:

Castle Ward classical ceiling

While her side is all Gothic ceilings and finishings:

Castle Ward gothic ceiling

They had eight children though, so presumably they did meet up occasionally.

And if that isn't enough to send you running for the next flight to Belfast, then let me share some other fascinating factoids:

1. Old Castle Ward is still there
The original house is actually a tower, built in 1590 to provide protection during troubled times. It was cramped but the Ward family was only relatively prosperous at the time.

2. The Boudoir has to be seen to be believed
Judge Michael Ward (1683-1749) built the family fortune on linen and other business interests. It was he who encouraged his son Bernard to marry Ann and it is she who is responsible for one of the most jaw-dropping rooms I have ever seen at the NT:

John Betjeman apparently said that being in the Boudoir was like living under the udders of a giant cow. I think we can see what he meant.

3. Attempted fratricide at Castle Ward!
Bernard and Ann had three sons. The eldest, Nicholas, was eventually certified insane. His brother Edward apparently looked after him, but when Edward died in 1812 the other brother, Robert, tried to kill Nicholas. It sounds like he chose his methods from the Laurel and Hardy book of murder techniques - he tried loosening the stair bannisters so Nicholas would fall through them, which failed, as well as removing a cover from a coal chute so he'd fall down it. Robert was an all-round rotter, as he also plundered the house of its valuable contents, carting them all off to his own home.

4. A mystery about a missing village!
The guide book explains how the widow of the 3rd Viscount may have paid for an entire village to board a ship and start a new life in America, allowing her to knock down their houses and take possession of the land. Nobody knows if it is true but the village of Audleystown did disappear completely.

5. Mary Ward - the first person killed in an automobile accident
The wife of the 5th Viscount was a very intelligent woman - she was hugely respected in scientific circles for her use of the microscope. However, she is probably most famous for being killed by a steam engine built by her cousin - she fell under its wheels and was crushed in 1869.

6. Castle Ward = Winterfell 
I haven't watched one single minute of Game of Thrones, so this was all a bit lost on me, but the farmyard at Castle Ward was used as the location for Winterfell! 

7. Boxing squirrels
Now. You know on TV when they say "this next report contains scenes that some viewers may find upsetting"? Well, this part of my post comes with a warning that you might find the next picture a little...odd. 

It is without the doubt the maddest thing I have ever seen at the National Trust (and there's some competition for that, let's face it):

Boxing squirrels

It's basically five glass cases depicting the stages of a boxing match between two red squirrels. Yes, for 150 years these ten squirrels have been frozen in a tableau where they're either shaking hands or being punched in the face by another squirrel. 

I borrowed this close-up from Castle Ward's Facebook page as I wanted to show you the detail involved - it's unbelievable. They were created by a taxidermist called Edward Hart - he made several copies and one of them recently sold for $70,000.

I had to be physically dragged from the room - I could have stood there all day boggling at the expressions on their little faces.

But into the scone. The Castle Ward tea-room is one of the nicest that I've encountered - the seats were really comfortable and we were very happy to sit in there out of the rain drinking our tea. The scone itself was very tasty - maybe just a little bit on the dry side but definitely fresh. 

Castle Ward scone

Castle Ward is one of those NT properties that you just have to visit - amazing architecture, fantastic history, and a bit of Game of Thrones thrown in if you're that way inclined. 

Castle Ward: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Boxing squirrels: 100 out of 5

Mount Stewart

I met my match at Mount Stewart in County Down. I don't mean that I found a giant scone that I couldn't eat, or that I was confronted by a posse of angry catering staff wanting vengeance for all the 0/5 marks that I've given out over the years.

I'm talking about my reading. I love it when I find a really good book about an NT property and I was over the moon to find one about Robert Stewart, aka Castlereagh, in the shop at Mount Stewart - I knew he was an interesting character. But in my excitement I failed to notice quite how weighty it was. 

Here it is, with the NT handbook (and my cat's tail) for perspective: 

Castlereagh book

Let's face it, scone fans; I was never going to read all of that on an Easyjet flight from Belfast to Luton. But let me share what I've learned so far:

1. Mount Stewart - the history

Mount Stewart House

  • A man called Alexander Stewart, born in Donegal but descended from Scottish Presbyterians, married a wealthy woman called Mary Cowan in 1737 and they acquired an estate on the shore of Strangford Lough in County Down
  • It was originally known as Mount Pleasant, but became Mount Stewart
  • Their son, Robert, became an MP in the Irish Parliament in 1771, and although the house at Mount Stewart remained relatively simple, additional pieces were added - an ornamental building called the Temple of the Winds, lodges and driveways
  • Robert's second wife was the daughter of the Earl of Camden, a mighty bigwig. This might explain how Robert was made Baron Londonderry in 1789, Viscount Castlereagh in 1795, and then Earl of Londonderry in 1796.
  • His eldest son by his first wife, also Robert, styled himself Viscount Castlereagh - he's the 'interesting' Castlereagh that we're going to come to in a minute
  • Work was carried out on the property to extend it over the years - after Castlereagh killed himself, his half-brother Charles made a very wealthy marriage of his own and building work took off in earnest
  • Mount Stewart was a bit neglected by the fourth and fifth marquesses (Charles' sons) but the seventh marquess transformed Mount Stewart with the help of his wife, Edith - the house is presented today as they had it
  • Charles and Edith left the house to their youngest daughter, Mairi, who died in 2009. Her daughter, Rose, still lives there today.
  • Interesting-factoid-probably-only-interesting-to-me-and-anyone-else-in-West-London: The title of Marquess of Londonderry passed to Mairi's brother, Robin. He had three children, one of whom went on to become Annabel Goldsmith, mother of Zach Goldsmith, current MP for Richmond.

2. Mount Stewart - the house
We got there early so we joined the guided tour, which was really good. A restoration project has been going on for five years and the guide pointed some highlights:

In the Central Hall, black and white linoleum tiles that had been put down in the 1960s were removed to reveal the original 1840s floor: 

Central Hall Mount Stewart

On the stairs is a picture of Hambletonian, a racehorse owned by the grandfather of the fifth Marquess of Londonderry. Hambletonian took part in a two horse 'race off' in 1799 and won - this portrait shows him being rubbed down afterwards.

George Stubbs, the painter, was apparently unimpressed by how badly the horse had been treated during the race and as a result the picture has some imperfections; the horse is standing on its two left legs, for example, and the stable lad would have to have been Mr Tickle to have an arm long enough to reach the horse's back like that:

Below is the study of the seventh Marquess, who was Minister for Education in the Northern Ireland government from 1921. The guide told us how his plan for education laid out two requisites for the education of children: Catholics and Protestants should be educated together, and religion should not be included on the curriculum. His ideas were not popular and children still attend church-run schools today.

3. Castlereagh - great statesman or despicable murderer?
But let's move on to the most famous owner of Mount Stewart. There's a poem by Shelley, written in 1819 after the Peterloo massacre, and our friend Castlereagh gets a couple of verses:
I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

I can tell you now; it doesn't matter what you read about Castlereagh - nearly 200 years after he killed himself, these verses from The Masque of Anarchy will be there, giving you a fairly graphic idea of why he's none too popular in certain circles.

However, the one place you won't hear about the poem is on the guided tour at Mount Stewart - he is just referred to as "one of the greatest foreign secretaries".

So what was so bad about him? Here's some background:
  • Castlereagh was born in Dublin into a Presbyterian family that was part of the English landed gentry
  • He was considered to be a brilliant young man - his father almost bankrupted himself getting his son elected as an MP in the Dublin Parliament
  • However, while some of Castlereagh's contemporaries allied themselves with the Irish Catholic populace and fought for an independent Ireland, Castlereagh went the other way and fought for an even closer union with Westminster
  • He is therefore reviled in Ireland for a) his response to the Irish Rebellion in 1798 when he was Chief Secretary of Ireland and b) bringing in the Acts of Union in 1800, which saw the abolition of the Irish Parliament
  • He moved to London where he held many prominent positions in government, including Secretary of State for War (1807-1809) and Foreign Secretary (1812-1822)
  • His reputation as a great statesman comes largely from his contribution as the main British representative at the Congress of Vienna, which put a peace plan in place for Europe following Napoleon's defeat in 1814
  • He wasn't the only one criticised for the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, when the cavalry charged into a gathering of 60,000-80,000 people in Manchester who were protesting for voting reform, killing 15 people and injuring 400-700 - the outcry was against the whole government and all of the MPs that supported the Six Acts, which banned further gatherings. 
  • In 1821, his father died and he became Marquess of Londonderry
  • However, by 1822 it was clear that he wasn't well - his family and even the King had noticed that he seemed to be suffering from paranoia or some sort of breakdown
  • On 12 August 1822 he cut his own throat and died - an inquest recorded that he was insane, allowing him to be buried in Westminster Abbey
A portrait of Castlereagh
4. Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry
Castlereagh isn't the only well-known inhabitant of Mount Stewart. I also picked up a book about Edith Londonderry, the wife of the seventh Marquess. It's an interesting read - for 50 years, from her marriage in 1899, she was hob-nobbing with the great and the not-so-great in society (they met Hitler and various other Nazi bigwigs, which damaged their reputation) and the book details all of it. She was responsible for creating the gardens that we see today at Mount Stewart.

5. The Scone
You're probably dying for a cup of tea and a scone after all that history (I know I was). And we weren't disappointed - the scone was really fresh and tasty. Top marks to Mount Stewart.          
Mount Stewart scone

So there you have it. It's probably just as well that I haven't read the Castlereagh book yet, otherwise this post would be twice as long. 

Mount Stewart: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Chances of me having finished my Castlereagh book by Christmas: 1 out of 5