Agatha Christie: Fig and Orange Scones with Devonshire Cream

Certain foods defy any attempt at portion control. Think chocolate chips, or those disturbingly addictive pretzel pieces that must be flavored with some kind of stimulant in addition to the honey mustard. I have such a Cheez-It obsession that, studying abroad in Paris and unable to find them in any grocery, I ordered three boxes online in a hunger-fueled panic. My host mother – who, in typical French fashion, served perfectly portioned meals on an adorable tea tray – brought the package to my room with a look of pure horror. I guiltily ate a whole box as soon as her back was turned.

But Agatha Christie clearly felt no such shame when it came to her food addiction: She loved cream, and all of Devon county knew it. “Agatha was very fond of food – she was passionate about cream,” the local vicar’s daughter remembered. “She would have it by the cupful. She would have a cup of cream by her typewriter.” Even Christie’s fictional characters couldn’t escape the obsession. Miss Marple is similarly famed for her love of cream, and even the picky Hercule Poirot partakes.

Christie made minor attempts to curb her appetite, to no avail. “She used to drink cream from a huge cup with ‘Don’t be greedy’ written on the side, an injunction she never showed any sign of obeying,” her grandson Mathew recalled. Frankly, I think that anyone who has a designated cream-sipping cup is fighting a losing battle with willpower, but I’m the one with a personal bag of chocolate chips in the pantry, so who am I to judge?

There was only one person who had control over Christie’s dessert intake: her butler. George Gowler oversaw the elaborate two-hour dinner parties at Greenway, Christie’s country estate. But instead of letting her choose the menu for the final course, Gowler would randomly assign everyone a different plate of fruit – a game of dessert roulette – allowing guests to choose their favorite dish only once a week. Christie’s favorite was fresh figs, which you can still sample from the trees she grew at Greenway. But beware if you encounter them in one of her mysteries: One unlucky lady who indulges in Syrup of Figs gets poisoned for her trouble. Safer to stick with the cream instead.

* * *

Tea was one of Christie’s favorite meals, especially as it was traditionally served in Devon—with scones, jam, and epic amounts of clotted cream. Recalling these ‘cream teas’ of her childhood, Christie wrote, “Devonshire cream was eaten in quantities; so much nicer than cod liver oil, my mother used to say.” Sometimes she would bypass the scone altogether and just eat it from the jar with a spoon. And if that thought makes you cringe, buy a jar of Nutella and take a spoon to it; I guarantee it tastes better that way.

“Alas! You never see real Devonshire cream in Devon nowadays – not as it used to be – scalded and taken off the milk in layers.” That’s Christie again, sounding like someone’s ornery great-aunt. She’s right, though: There are lots of shortcuts out there for making clotted cream, and there don’t need to be. Anyone with a working oven and a bit of time can make the real thing. You can even use a slow-cooker in a pinch, with apologies to Agatha – I get the sense that modern conveniences weren’t her thing.

Devonshire Cream:

24 ounces (3 cups) heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)

1. In an oven: Preheat oven to 180°F. Pour cream into a 8- by 10-inch baking dish, and cover with foil. Heat 8 to 10 hours, until a dark yellow film forms on top. In a slow-cooker: Pour cream into the crock of the slow-cooker. Heat on “warm” 10 to 12 hours, until a dark yellow film forms on top.

2. Transfer pan/crock, still covered, to a countertop until it reaches room temperature. Refrigerate overnight, or at least 8 hours.

3. Skim solid top layer into a small bowl or glass jar. Stir well, until clotted cream reaches a smooth consistency. Reserve remaining cream for cooking or baking.

Fig and Orange Scones:
(Adapted from Pinch My Salt)

1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup fresh figs, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, and orange zest.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and salt. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender or rub together with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add chopped figs and toss lightly until spread throughout.

4. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir until the mixture clumps together, being careful not to overmix. On a floured countertop, gather mixture into a ball and knead once or twice to combine. Pat into a 1/2-inch-thick circle. Cut into 8 slices, like a pie, or into circles using a biscuit cutter. Place on lined baking sheet.

5. Bake 13 to 15 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to cooling rack, and eat warm with an “enormous amount” of cream, as Christie dictated.

34 thoughts on “Agatha Christie: Fig and Orange Scones with Devonshire Cream

  1. Frances antoinette

    I grew up reading her books I borrowed from the public library—good to know I share a love of clotted cream with Agatha !

    1. I remember getting my first Christie (it was one of the short story collections, because my 11-year-old wannabe hipster self was really into avoiding ‘mainstream’ things). But then I was hooked. And I admit that ‘Orient Express’ is my favorite – the most mainstream of them all!

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  3. I am thrilled to discover your site via the article in The Daily Beast. Historical cooking is a new experience for me, and the literary connections here are delicious. Wonderful, wonderful blog.

  4. Pingback: C.S. Lewis: Cinnamon Bourbon Rice Pudding « Paper and Salt

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Julia! This is embarrassing, but I actually got such a kick out of the cream cup that … I made my own on CafePress. It’s not a classy one like Agatha’s, but it still makes me happy. I’m a complete nerd, what can I say?

  5. Julieanne martin

    Good Afternoon,
    So very kind of you to reference my Grandfather Mr George Gowler. He adored his time working for Agatha at Greenways. I am sure he would have thoroughly enjoyed reading your article.
    Kind regards,
    Julieanne.

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  8. Thanks for the recipe! I made them this morning. So delicate. I am a scone fanatic and have three fig trees. I love them raw but am always looking for good recipes to use my fresh figs in. Yum!

    1. Oh, fig trees – how wonderful! Do you have any other favorite ways to use them? I usually just eat them whenever I have some left over, but am curious about how else I might incorporate them …

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  10. I love reading Agatha Christie! Many of her books are some of my favorite literary pieces. She has a great passion for cream and I can see that her passion also translates into her writing. I also love your connection of recipes to the authors. Now I’m craving some scones and a good mystery book!

  11. Hey Ms. Nicole (If that’s really your name),

    These scones look awesome! I have never heard of Devonshire Cream (though I have heard of Clotted Cream), so I’ll give it a try.

    My mom is also a big mystery fan, so she loves Agatha Christie. I think I might surprise her next Mother’s day with these for Breakfast. I’m sure she’ll love it.

    Did you hear that Kenneth Branagh is doing a new “adaptation” of “Murder on The Orient Express”. He’s going to star in it as Poirot. He’s also gonna direct it. He’s a pretty good director/actor. He really is. Also, what gets on my nerves is that people are calling it a “remake” (which it is not!) instead of a “new adaptation”. It’s a new adaptation of a previous source that has already been adapted, but no…”remakes” would be more accurate for more-original screenplay type movies being redone (which isn’t always bad). So, don’t jump on the bandwagon…just approach the adaptation with cautious optimism, because hey! You might just enjoy yourself or find yourself too caught up in it to be making criticism. Take my word for it, that’s how I try to view things. See the movie first before you make an opinion based on reviews.

  12. Great blog here! Also your site rather a lot up
    fast! What host are you using? Can I am getting your associate hyperlink to your host?

    I want my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  13. Danuta Richiardi

    Would you be so kind and tell me where you found such interesting information about Agatha? I’m writing thesis about her and I have to base on books and articles not on websites.

  14. Asking questions are really pleasant thing if you are not understanding something entirely, except this paragraph
    offers good understanding yet.

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