This week a dear friend of mine passed away. It wasn't unexpected - she had been ill for two years - but nonetheless it seemed sudden and came as a shock. We worked together for more than ten years at my previous school, and although she was considerably older than I am, we developed a firm friendship outside of school. Five years ago she retired; three years ago she became seriously ill with cancer. This struck me as odd: it seemed Hanna had never been ill a day in her life; she was a workhorse, with the energy of an army.
She was also one of those fearless types who enjoyed life tremendously. Hanna was what many people would call eccentric: she lived with a cat in a rambling nineteenth century house in the centre of a historic town, loved going to Berlin, Paris, and Rome - as well as Antwerp most Saturdays. By train, of course: Hanna didn't own a driver's license due to an almost blind eye, something only close friends knew about. She didn't own a television either, joking that she had one once, back in 1972, but that when it broke down she never got round to buying a new one. The truth is that she loved reading - and that is how she spent her evenings, until 1a.m., after which she drank an espresso, went to bed, and slept solidly until 5.30 before getting up to commute an hour to school and enjoy a whole day of teaching. She worked hard and lived the good life.
One of the things she loved most was food. Hanna was always on the lookout for that special little restaurant, that interesting little shop selling rare delicacies (particularly chocolate ones), or that place where they serve a perfect espresso. She also delighted in anything home baked, and on more than one occasion I sent her home with a box of jam tart biscuits which she loved. The last time she was here - with short hair after another harrowing episode of chemo - I made scones, which she said did her good. She wanted the recipe, and although I gave it to her, I believe she never got round to baking them herself.
The greater part of the last two years were dominated by pain and nausea. Despite this, she grabbed every opportunity at treatment that was offered to her, anything to savour life a little longer. When, this week, the doctor told her there was nothing more that could be done, she reluctantly accepted her fate and passed away within a matter of hours. Thankfully she was at home, with her sister and brother-in-law by her side.
Hanna was someone who understood the art of living. She was a dear friend and will be sorely missed.
adapted from the recipe I learned at school
250g spelt flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
50g butter, cubed
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
75ml milk (buttermilk is even better)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
yields 8-10 scones
- preheat oven 225 degrees Celsius
- sift flour, bicarb, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl
- add sugar, stir; then add butter
- add vanilla and milk to the lightly beaten egg, mix together, then pour into the flour mixture
- with a light hand, bring together the mixture to form a ball of dough, making sure not to over-knead (you may need to flour your fingers as the dough will be sticky)
- on a lightly floured worktop, roll out the dough - about 2 cm thick
- using a round cutter of some sort (I use a small cup), cut out eight to ten rounds, making a clean cut rather that twisting the dough
- place the rounds on a baking tray lined with baking paper
- optional: brush the tops of the scones with a beaten egg
- bake for 10 minutes, until golden
- serve warm with butter and jam