A Modicum of Success

6 03 2021

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember my mum having an old Be-Ro baking book in the kitchen drawer. The contents of the drawer were simply not always available. This was years before I began reading Terry Pratchett and had no idea about Anoia, Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers. I just accepted that the knowledge held within its honoured pages would not always be available to us mere mortals. Incidentally, I can report that Anoia relocated to our current kitchen drawers when we emigrated from the UK.

Years later, I grew up (sort of) and remembered that my mum used to make really good scones. Not the cotton-wool “biscuits” found over here in the colonies, but propper, stodgy – dare I say “claggy”? – scones fit for showcasing butter, jam and yes – even clotted cream if the occasion demands it. (Though best of luck trying to find Devon clotted cream this side of well… Devon.)

Being pretty confident that the sum of human knowledge is available somewhere on the Internet I set to, and discovered you can buy the current edition of the Be-Ro recipe book here for a mere £2.99. But it only seems to be available for UK addresses which is a little, er, “Brexit-minded” if I might say so! They do offer a few basic pastry recipes and some tips and tricks in a PDF, but not the elusive scone recipe. There was a Cornish pasty recipe though… so the PDF does have some merit!

So – off I set again, and discovered an online 1923 version at FlashBak.com of the rich scone recipe.

Source: Flashbak.com 1923 Be-Ro Rich Scone recipe

So while this may very well have been the recipe I grew up with, I’m not entirely sure I’m as comfortable with eating lard as maybe I once was. A little more digging and I found a more up-to-date version. It was even in colour, though whoever scanned it had annotated it with a comment about the egg being too “strong”?! Interesting that the recipe was now half the quantities and that the editors had felt the need to make several changes to the instruction emphasis, though it remains essentially the same.

Source: Pintrest UK: Be-Ro Rich Scone recipe

The only slight issue was that in Canada there is no such thing as “self-raising flour”. No problem: a teaspoon of baking powder to go along with the “general purpose” flour we get here, and we were off to the races…

Being a representative of the male of the species I felt it necessary to use every utensil in the kitchen as part of the process. We’d acquired them for just such a purpose, surely!

The only other tweak I made was to bake the experiment for only 8 minutes. Theory being I could always add more time in the incinerator oven if necessary, but not wind back the clock. It turned out that 8 minutes was just right for my own preference. The result was given approval from Mrs E and even son-o-mine. Result!

Can’t say I was too disappointed on the whole. So… tonight I went all in, and doubled up the numbers and went for it…

Though I do say so myself… I think I’ll be fine when the zombie apocalypse comes! 🙂

Even More of His Nibs

3 03 2021

Exactly a month ago I ordered a few different dip pen nibs from John Neal Books in the States. I’ve used them before, and though they’re a little quirky (like taking your money, including cost of shipping, then a few days later contacting you to ask how you’d like your order shipping), I’ve found them pretty well priced and offering a reasonably wide range of products from Brause, Mitchell, Leonardt and Gillott as well as Speedball and Hunt from this side of the pond. They send your nibs or whatever very well packaged and in little jewellery boxes to protect them in the post. A month seems like quite a while from North Carolina to BC, but it’s COVID times – all bets are off at present!

Today they turned up and I had a set of 10 new dip nibs to play with. All but one were new to me, and I looked forward to playing with them.

So what did Canada Post drop today, exactly? Well – quite the selection… from the top, going clockwise:

Hiro Tape 0.5mm. With an integral reservoir, this range is described as “more flexible than Brause nibs but stiffer than Mitchell”. This turned out to be irrelevant though, as we’ll see later. I bought it as an alternative to my Mitchell range of straight-edged nibs. I’ve already homed in on preferring the #5-#6 range of sizes and this, at 0.5mm promised to be in that range and like a fine stub, if such a thing exists.

Brause 180 0.5mm. Nominally another alternative to the previous one, and anticipated to be a little stiffer. I found it suited my heavy handed writing quite well. The reservoir gives a nice long writing time and with such a fine nib, it help stretch it further. I could see myself using this as a playful alternative to a fountain pen for letter writing.

Leonardt Principal EF. One for the flex/copperplate attempts I sometimes amuse myself with. I had to use a very light touch with it, but it was a lot less scratchy than my Hunt 101

Speedball B6. This is a good, solid, uninteresting writer. It puts down a lovely consistent line similar to my Moonman T1’s steel nibbed fountain pen. I was using Robert Oster’s Australian Syrah which seemed to be a little wet on the paper I was using. It would be a ready alternative to a fountain pen for long sessions of “normal” writing, and the reservoir coupled with the relatively fine line lasts quite a while on a single dip. Speedball define the tip as 0.381mm. This puts it in the EF range for a fountain pen, but with the RO ink, it was a generout F, I’d say.

Speedball B5½. This is the only nib I already had a copy of. I liked it so much I bought this as a spare. Slightly wider than the #6, at 0.8636mm. Go on – I dare you to measure that last decimal place on a cold day… Today’s ink/paper had it at a similar line width to the #6 and only slightly broader. Certainly not the x2 the manufacturer would imply.

Speedball B5. Specified at 1.372mm this puts down a thirsty line and needed frequent dips to keep it writing. It’s smooth though, and not a wet line per se – just very broad, like a marker pen almost. I’m looking forward to trying some shimmering inks with this one!

Leonardt Round: #5. This is a straight edged version of my Mitchell #5 which is specifically a left-handed oblique. I found it blotted quite easily and I think I need to condition it a little to be better behaved. Toothpaste, probably, to help with the surface tension. Stiffer than Mitchell and easier to write with given my heavy hand. Noticeably less scratchy.

Leonardt Round: #6. Similar story – a straight edged, stiffer version of my Mitchell #6 left oblique, and easier to master because of that. Didn’t suffer the blotchiness of the #5 and puts down a lovely variable line with normal handwriting. Though I’ve not tried yet, I’m hoping the Mitchell slip-on reservoirs will work with these nibs too.

Gillott 404. This is the easiest pointed nib I’ve tried to date. Coated black and similar to the Hunt 101 or Leonardt Principal in general design. Needs a lighter touch and much practice still, but this seems to be a good gateway nib to learn flex writing styles.

Brause 513. This is a smaller nib, not to be confused with the bowl-designed Hunt 513EF discussed elsewhere in these pages. It can produce very fine lines, and with patience I got it to write quite well. More suited to drawing though, I think.

OK – so what of the Hiro Tape? Well… when I came to use it I noticed a pretty major manufacturing flaw…

The tines were not cut evenly, and the nib slit was so off-centre it barely makes it to the end of the nib. I gave it a go anyway, but the nib was very finicky and not usable in practice. A shame though, because it promised to have been an even writer – slightly broader than the Brause despite nominally the same nib width (possibly due to the manufacturing flaw) – and a very pleasant line weight. I’ll try contacting John Neal, but since the nib is only US$1.06… I don’t expect much recourse*.

The Nib Nest is starting to look full and I’ve got another few nibs en route from Northern Ireland yet…

*Update: I let John Neal Books know about the defective nib so they could check it was a one-off and wasn’t a whole defective batch. They got back to me immediately and offered a refund or a credit. It was only a dollar or so, so this was impressive as the processing fees to them to recredit a Visa card would likely be more than the value of the nib. I thanked them for their excellent customer service and opted for a credit – nothing more guaranteed to make me return and spend more than great service and a company that values its customers.