Tea and Scones for The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Jennifer Ryan's debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, is just marvelous, so inspiring and heart-warming.  A World War II tale, involving the women of Chilbury in Kent, who have been left to manage on their own, with most of the men away fighting.  How, with the encouragement of a new singing teacher, they re-organize their disbanded Village choir, in defiance of a notice posted at the Village Hall by their Vicar.  "As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close."  That bold little turnaround is just the beginning.  Singing competitions, and concerts soon follow, cheering and lifting hearts in a sad, dreary time, as they put aside differences and learn to rely upon and draw strength from God and their own inner resources through music.

A bit reminiscent of Maeve Binchy, Ryan follows individual members of the choir in a pivotal year - 1940, with excellent characterizations, through diaries, letters and journals.  We see in these pages women and young ladies developing character, wisdom and maturity,  with occasionally gripping, emotionally stirring, even humorous, and interconnected village life stories, which draw the reader in.  My interest was held throughout.  There is mystery, a love story or two, bossy individuals, tragic death, greedy looters and spies.  These are not perfect people, but people tried, enduring and growing through their circumstances.

Music provides a unifying, comforting common bond.  As their choral director states: 'Music takes us out of ourselves, away from our worries and tragedies, helps us look into a different world, a bigger picture."

 Kitty, the Choir's 13 year old, talented lead soprano notes in her diary, "Does Hitler have any idea of the force and determination of 13 impassioned women?  At the very least, I suspect he's never considered the lethal potential of a three-tiered cake stand."  They had been practicing self-defense with objects to hand during a WIC (Women's Invasion Committee) meeting.

And always, throughout, there is the traditional English comfort - A Nice Cup of Tea.  Here, mine is Lapsang Souchong, and  with a scone.  I made a batch of blueberry ones.  Recipe to follow, for those interested.

We find rather incredibly, that even war can actually have a good effect, as Mrs. Tilling says in her journal, "everything has been turned around, all the unfairness made grimly plain.  It has given us everyday women a voice - dared us to stand up for ourselves, and to stand up for others."  Which she proceeds to do, putting aside her previously rather wimpy persona.  I truly enjoyed this lovely novel, and highly recommend it.

The author, Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor. You can connect with Jennifer on her website or Facebook.

Beautiful Blueberry Scones
   Adapted from Alice Waters' recipe in The Art of Simple Food

Preheat oven to 400F.
Measure and mix together in a large bowl:
2 cups unbleached flour (I use about 1/2 whole wheat and the rest white)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
Stir in:
1/3 cup dry blueberries, softened in 1/4 cup hot water
1 cup cream (more if needed)

Mix until the dough starts to come together; turn out on a floured surface and knead briefly, just enough to bring the dough completely together.  Pat it into an 8-inch circle.  Brush with 2 tablespoons of melted butter and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar if desired.  I usually don't bother, adding my butter, clotted cream, jam, etc. later.  Cut the circle into 8 pie shaped wedges and place the wedges on a parchment lined baking sheet or a silicone liner, about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 17 minutes or until golden brown.
Endless variations are possible with your preferred dried fruits or spices.

 I received a copy of the novel from Blogging for Books for review, though the opinions expressed are absolutely my own.  I'll share the post with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and with Simona for her Novel Foods round- up. Be sure to drop in for a look at some fine books and good food.


jama said...

Sounds like a really lovely, satisfying read. Love the quotes you shared, and of course, nothing's better than tea and scones!

Jackie McGuinness said...

I consider myself a good cook but scones have always eluded me!

This book sounds interesting.

Claudia said...

Scones are so quick and easy. I often make them Monday or Tues., and we have them for breakfast the rest of the week, as they re-heat beautifully.

The Candid Cover said...

If there is one thing that I enjoy with tea, it is a blueberry scone. Yummy! I think that this sounds like a book that I would enjoy. It sort of reminds me of The Sound of Music with the WWII era and the singing as a coping mechanism. Thanks for sharing! :)

The Inky Whisk said...

I have heard wonderful things about this book! And your scone turned out picture perfect.

nishitak said...

Book sounds good but I love the tea and blueberry scones. Especially the tea cups look so pretty!

Beth F said...

I've been meaning to read this book and now I really must. :) I love scones . . . maybe I'll stage a little afternoon tea today.

Tina said...

I absolutely loved this book. It may be in my top favorite books of the year. Lovely scones!

Simona Carini said...

You definitely piqued my curiosity, Claudia: the novel sounds fascinating. Although I can't sing to save my life, I love music and believe in its power to comfort, heal and elevate people. And you reminded me how much I love scones. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food!

Debra Eliotseats said...

The scones look delicious, especially warm with some soft butter.