I‘m feeling pretty settled. I really am. Life here in Brisbane is steadily moving on:
- Colin has a job and has already put in his first two weeks.
- We’ve found a fully furnished apartment in the city, and will move in soon. I can’t wait to have our clothes and other stuff delivered as I’m getting a bit tired of living in the same three pairs of jeans and five T-shirts.
- I don’t have a job yet, but we expected that it could take a while. I spend my days combing the job ads and preparing applications, then usually take myself off to a 4.30pm yoga class.
- After months of hacking at my hair myself, I’ve finally gone to a hairdresser.
- I can now drive around in a 5km radius without the GPS.
- I am no longer constantly aware of the sound of crows (although I’m still surprised at the noise of toads at dusk).
- I made pumpkin scones.
Pumpkin scones are pretty significant within my family. In 1986 my maternal grandparents holidayed in Brisbane and were served pumpkin scones as a snack during a train excursion. My grandmother purchased a postcard with the recipe printed on the front (see below) and sent it to my mother, addressing it endearingly to “Henry”. I had forgotten, until I asked Mum to scan the postcard and send it to me, that this was Nana’s own nickname for Mum.
As my grandmother promised, the scones were indeed delicious – for such a quick and simple recipe, which gratifyingly doesn’t require any tedious rubbing of butter into flour, the end result is soothingly soft. The mashed pumpkin adds sweetness and moistness and a delicate nutty flavour, that cannot (and should not) be ‘improved’ with the addition of seemingly logical enhancements such as nutmeg or cinnamon.
The scones quickly became a firm family favourite, as the stained and battered postcard above attests. My mother and grandmother often made them on Saturday mornings along with a giant pot of soup, and after I left home to go to university, this was one of the family rituals that I missed. I made sure to copy the recipe during one of my visits home, and the scones then became an intermittent feature of my own weekend kitchen pottering.
During our third week in Brisbane, Colin and I walked into the bakery down the road and with a jolt of recognition, I spied a pile of bright orange pumpkin scones nestled amongst the lamingtons and caramel slice. I suppose I had been aware that pumpkin scones enjoyed an iconic status in Queensland – after all, this is why my grandparents had been served them as tourists. However, I didn’t know the full story behind Flo’s pumpkin scones.
The scones are attributed to Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen, the wife of Queensland’s longest-serving Premier. Sir Joh was a controversial figure, known for his uncompromising right-wing views (which included the heavy-handed suppression of demonstrations during the 1971 Springbok Tour) and his leadership of a government that was later found to be corrupt. Lady Flo enjoyed her own political career as a Queensland senator – apparently Joh may have pulled a few strings to originally achieve this, but whatever the case, she managed to get herself twice re-elected. Yet despite her career, like a good woman, Flo is remembered less for her politics and more for her pumpkin scones, which were promoted in the media just as often as her own conservative views about the family.
Despite the dubious parentage of these scones, it was with a real sense of occasion that I cleared the kitchen bench at Marie and Adam’s place one Saturday morning and proceeded to stir mashed pumpkin into a mixture of flour, sugar and butter. Making pumpkin scones, that are really my own, in an Australian state that claims them as its own, from a recipe printed on a postcard that my grandmother posted in 1986, made all the more precious for the fact that Nana herself can’t make scones anymore…well, it felt like something, I’m not sure what exactly, came full circle.
When I make and eat pumpkin scones I cannot help but think of crisp winter weekends at my parents’ house, of tea-towel covered baskets, and after-lunch coffee. Flo and Joh’s escapades are now colourfully threaded through my understandings of these scones, leading to a few murky wonderings about their possible cultural, familial and personal symbolism. But overarching these thoughts is one recent memory of eating a batch made by my sister when we first visited Nana at her rest home. This humble scone is more than the sum of pumpkin, flour and sugar; it is a way of wordlessly nurturing those we love, of paying tribute to the past, and a method for reintegrating selves within new contexts. With a hefty swipe of cold butter, and tart plum jam if you have it, these scones manage to conjure all this, and more.
Flo's Pumpkin Scones
1 Tbsp salted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cooked, cold, mashed pumpkin
2-2 1/4 cups self-raising flour
Preheat the oven to 225°C/440°F. Cream together the butter, sugar and salt for two minutes. Add the egg and beat for a further minute. Add the cold mashed pumpkin and beat for a further minute. Stir in the flour by hand, starting with the smaller amount and adding the extra 1/4 cup if the mixture feels too sticky. Turn out onto a floured bench or board and press out to a thickness of roughly 1 inch. Using a small water glass, cut rounds of dough, placing each on a baking tray. These scones tend to brown quickly on the bottom, so Flo recommended placing the tray on the top shelf of the oven. It’s good advice.