A big day’s coming up: Feb. 6 marks Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee celebrating 70 years since her accession to the throne after her father, George VI, died in 1952.
Come on, now—I won’t tell anyone, but you do sometimes follow the royal family’s comings and goings (mostly goings these days), don’t you? After all, it’s a bit like life mimicking the hit Netflix series, The Crown, only tastier and more incredible.
I’ve always kind of admired the Queen. She came to the throne just months after I was born, so we had that in common (add winking emoji), plus there weren’t many interesting role models for a young girl growing up in Edmonton in the 1950s who wasn’t remotely interested in being A., a nurse; B., a teacher; or C., an airline stewardess. Well, at least you got to travel to exotic places for free with that last one. But all those drunk and disorderly businessmen swilling rye and water?! No thanks.
The clincher was my Auntie Clare, who defied all expectations of post-war women’s roles, professionally and otherwise, travelling the world and living in Palm Springs or Lake Tahoe, where she met everyone from Bob Hope to Lucille Ball. She gave us kids a View-Master and a three-reel set of news images from the Queen’s coronation in London. That was a real eye-opener to so many things, the power of the press included.
So began my modest but continual interest in the Queen, who, as a human being (note, that excludes all the symbolism and baggage the monarchy embodies), seemed intelligent, witty and compassionate despite having the monstrous weight of The Crown to bear in her 20s. I think I was hitchhiking around Morocco about that age.
Leading up to the start of the Queen’s platinum jubilee—a distinction, reports The Guardian, shared only by three other monarchs: Louis XIV of France; Johann II, Prince of Liechtenstein; and King Bhumibol of Thailand—one of my favourite emails arrived: Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note. Always a delight.
Usually featuring an image of the original letter, complete with yellowed paper and hand-or-typewritten messages, these are a smorgasbord of insight and fun. They range from a letter Patti Smith wrote to her soulmate Robert Mapplethorpe just before he died from complications of HIV/AIDS, to Bertrand Russell, at age 89, brilliantly turning down a debate with a fascist: “Nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.”
The latest email featured a letter and recipe from the Queen to then-U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who loved Her Majesty’s drop scones. The timing, though, had nothing to do with the upcoming jubilee; today is the anniversary of the Queen’s original letter—January 24, 1960.
The president along with his wife, Mamie, had visited Queen Elizabeth et al. at Balmoral Castle in Scotland a few months earlier and the Queen had forgotten to fulfil his request for the drop scone recipe until she happened to see his photo in the newspaper. (That darn power of the press again.)
Since I had no idea what the difference might be between a drop scone versus a regular scone, I called my old pal who grew up in England and lives there now—Janine Gavin, a.k.a. Jan Hurley, depending on when and where you knew her at Whistler. That might have been 1973, when she first arrived and catered for Toni Sailer’s Summer Ski Camps out of the old Keg ’N Cleaver Restaurant on Alta Lake, which was trucked in sections up Lorimer Road to become Whistler’s muni hall, something I bore witness to, cub reporter for the Whistler Question that I was then. Or it might be when she worked at the Question itself as one of our fabulous typesetters, or helped Nancy Greene and Al Raine start their hotel in the village.
Either way, I figured Janine would be a good scone source, and she was. First off, is it “skawns” (rhymes with “lawns”) or “scones” (rhymes with Jones)?
“It might have been a class thing originally,” says Janine. “But more in the north they seem to say ‘skawns’ and in the rest of England it’s ‘scones.’”
Oxford dictionary says both pronunciations are equally correct, but the Queen probably would have offered a drop “skawn” to President Eisenhower and Mamie at Balmoral, a fitting location since scones likely originated in Scotland around the 1500s. Mind you, those historic ones were thick and heavy, made with oats and formed into one large round, then sliced like a cake, whereas the Queen’s recipe is for drop scones “are really more like a pancake,” says Janine.
“You cook them on a medium griddle on top of the stove, then serve them warm with butter in a chafing dish.” Likely a silver one for The Queen and her pals, and likely at afternoon tea. Butter only. No syrup or jam or clotted cream allowed.
Drop scones are also perfect for Pancake Day, a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday. It falls right before Ash Wednesday, 47 days before Easter Sunday. This year it’s on March 1, so get out your griddle, or a nice iron frying pan will do.
Otherwise, dig out your flour and eggs and caster sugar (we call it berry sugar) and get ready to celebrate Feb. 6 with the authentic recipe below.
Better yet, check out the Letters of Note website, where you can see the original typewritten recipe from the National Archives and hear it read aloud by Queen Elizabeth herself… oops, I mean the inimitable Olivia Colman, who played Her Majesty in Netflix’s The Crown. There’s no going back.
Don’t forget your white gloves. And keep your phone handy for updates on Prince Andrew.
Queen Elizabeth II's drop scones
• 4 teacups flour
• 4 tablespoons caster sugar (fine sugar like berry sugar)
• 2 teacups milk
• 2 whole eggs
• 2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
• 3 teaspoons cream of tartar
• 2 tablespoons melted butter
Beat eggs, sugar and about half the milk together, add flour, and mix well together adding remainder of milk as required, also bicarbonate and cream of tartar, fold in the melted butter.
Enough for 16 people.
Cook on a medium griddle on the stove top like pancakes, and serve warm with butter.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who foolishly gave away her grandad’s pancake griddle at Whistler.