Two generations ago on a farm in Connecticut, my family milked cows in the barn, gathered eggs from the chickens in the coop and plucked apples from the trees in the orchard. Baked goods were made from scratch, often using the moulding board, and kept in the larder.
Back then, our family homestead was home to a number of generations who tended the farm, cooked and ate together … or at least that’s how I’ve heard it in family lore passed down.
Of all the stories, the ones that I loved most were about the kitchen, the larder and that moulding board, which I can practically picture if I try.
The moulding board, a term seldom heard anymore, was a board on which dough was kneaded. I have a wooden cutting board I use for that purpose … it’s just the right size and totally portable. But in my family’s homestead, it was a permanent fixture in the larder.
Growing up, I read and heard all about the baking that happened in my family’s kitchen. They were immortalized in our family cookbook, “The Moulding Board,” and in the memories of the older generations. I relished the stories and soaked in the history. But in my family’s kitchen in the 80s and 90s, the days of larders, moulding boards, scratch baking and family farming seemed so far away. They were an antiquated idea of days past. Why scratch bake, when Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines made mixes that took out all the work? Why cream butter and sugar for cookies when you could just slice and bake? So, I grew up fascinated by the old ways, but deeply burrowed in modern convenience.
It’s been more than two decades since I first read my family’s kitchen stories in our family cookbook, and it’s funny how time and perspective change. While growing up, the insta-satisfaction world of supermarkets carrying everything you could ever need or want to eat, and quick dinners being a mere drive-thru away, fooled me into thinking that farming and scratch cooking as a way of life was unnecessary anymore.
How wrong was I?
I recently listened to Michael Pollen’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and have just started listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and both have gotten me thinking more about our food supply chain, the local food shed and eating in season (which, to be fair, is something I have largely done for years). They’ve also renewed my interest in paying attention to what’s really in our food.
Convenience seems less convenient when you account for the health implications that can come with packaged foods and ready-to-use mixes and doughs. Are they tempting? Sure. But at what cost to our bodies?
When we scratch cook, we choose what goes into our food. We can skip the corn-based sweeteners and choose others — sugar or honey or maple for instance. We can choose ingredients made close to home — flours milled here, for instance, and yogurt produced on a farm not too far away. Through these choices we can make better decisions about what goes into our bodies.
I like having that power.
Somewhere over the years, I fell in love with scratch cooking and baking. There’s so much good that comes from choosing your own ingredients. And home cooked foods often just taste better.
Take scones, for instance. Packaged scones can be dry, crumbly, spit-stealing mounds. But when you make them at home, they are tender, slightly moist baked goods with more flavor and nuance.
These particular scones are dotted with sweet-tart dried cranberries and topped with a sprinkling of coarse sugar. Perfect with coffee, these are delightful to share — just ask my coworkers who devoured them.
Do you cook and bake from scratch?
- 1¾ cup all purpose flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp, divided
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- coarse sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda (a wire whisk is great for this). Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the ¼ cup of cold butter into the flour mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and yogurt until well-blended. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just moistened. The dough will be crumbly. Stir in the cranberries.
- Turn out the dough onto a floured board and with floured hands, knead lightly to incorporate the dried cranberries. Pat into a ¾-inch thick circle. Cut into 16 wedges. Transfer the scones from the board to the baking sheet.
- Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and brush onto each of the scones. Sprinkle liberally with coarse sugar.
- Bake for 20-24 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
- Enjoy immediately. These can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two days -- if they last that long.