I adore books that have food details. I like to know what the characters are eating. Even better, I like to know what they’re cooking and baking. And if there’s a food or feast that plays a prominent role in the plot, I’m hooked.
Turns out, these are the sorts of books I enjoy writing, as well. My novel, Giant Pumpkin Suite, has a grandmother who is quite dedicated to the culinary arts. And my picture book, Around the Table that Grandad Built, is entirely about food and gathering people to eat.
The novel I’m currently working on features a particular spice: cardamom. Full disclosure: I love cardamom. Sometimes when I just need a lift, I put some cardamom pods in my mortar and pestle and grind them up for fun — the smell alone can change the course of a day! If I could, I’d plant it in my garden.
Cardamom is a perennial in the ginger family. It grows wild in India and Sri Lanka, and is cultivated in other consistently warm countries like Guatemala and Tanzania, two of the leading producers of the spice here in the twenty-first century. It would not survive in my Minnesota garden, alas.
But cardamom is a common ingredient in Scandinavian baking, chai tea, Somali tea, and East Indian curries, all of which are favorite foods of mine, and all of which are readily available in Minnesota, so I manage to indulge regularly. Cardamom can be found in many cultures, actually — Chinese medicine, Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisines, and the foods, teas and coffees of most Arab countries, just to name a few. Such an interesting spice — at home in so many foods!
Cardamom is in the working title of my novel and is featured in all kinds of food and drink over the course of the book’s plot. I’ve been doing some cooking and baking experimentation along side the writing, which my family appreciates.
We love scones at our house and I’ve tried a number of recipes, borrowing certain parts from each to make my own recipe. This is the one we’ve landed on at our house — so easy and smells heavenly.
2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup of whole wheat flour
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom (It’s tempting to put in more — don’t! Cardamom is best subtly applied! And if you can’t find it to grind yourself, just buy it ground — fresh as you can find it.)
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
½ cup butter
1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract (vanilla paste is even better!)
Just a swallow over ¾ cup of cold buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake on the middle rack position. Use parchment paper for ease of clean-up and evenly browned scone bottoms.
- In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into tablespoon sized portions and add to the dry ingredients. Pulse until there are pea sized crumbs. Work quickly! It’s like pie crust — you don’t want the butter to get warm. (And yes, you could do this by hand, just like you do with pie crust, but I like the ease and uniform results of the food processor.)
- Whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla. Add these liquids to the buttery dry ingredients and mix just until the dough comes together — do not over mix!
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead just enough to get the dry pieces incorporated — do this quickly as you don’t want the butter to warm. Flatten into a 7−8” round and cut into pie shaped wedges. Place the resulting triangular scones on the baking sheet, leaving plenty of room around each. (They won’t expand much, but they need to brown evenly and so don’t like to be crowded.)
- Bake 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown. While they cool a bit, make yourself some Somali Tea, or Chai Tea to go with your scones — your house will smell heavenly!
You can find wonderful tea recipes replete with historic and cultural detail here:
These scones will warm up nicely in the oven or toaster oven the next day. If you have leftovers…