In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, some of the greatest achievers are not only our doctors, nurses, paramedics, and scientists. Some of the most inspiring go-getters are among our most elderly citizens. Happy Ali discovers why age is sometimes no barrier at all…
Muriel Halsted knows all about finding the recipe for success. Muriel, a 92-year-old member of the much-admired Country Women’s Association (CWA) – a century-old social and charitable organisation for Australia’s isolated outback women – has always been a keen baker.
In fact, her scones have long earned her accolades in her local community, in the aptly named Hunter Valley town of Scone, about 250 kilometres north-west of Sydney, the capital of New South Wales.
That’s one of the reasons that Muriel, a mother of seven, decided to take her scones global via a Facebook account. Frustrated by the fact that Sydney’s annual Royal Easter Show – Australia’s biggest and most iconic celebration of country lifestyle and produce – was cancelled due to the pandemic restrictions, Muriel, aided by Australia’s national broadcaster ABC-TV, took her famous and simple recipe online with a video of her making a batch of scones in her own kitchen.
The CWA, a keen and prolific supporter of traditional Australian cooking, usually sends as many as 50,000 entries in a single year across a wide range of cooking awards to the annual Easter Show. Muriel has been an enthusiastic CWA member for more than 70 years.
But Muriel never expected the incredible reaction that her kitchen artistry attracted. Almost overnight her video was watched more than 4.6 million times by a global population clamouring for an uplifting experience in the middle of a disheartening and distressing event.
More than that, Muriel was suddenly inundated with messages and phone calls from people anxious to perfectly replicate her recipe, which is a pared-back combination of flour, a little salt, cream and a small bottle of lemonade.
But as with all recipes, it’s not just the ingredients that matter; it also depends on the skill of the cook and the quality of her utensils. Well, perhaps it’s not so much the utensils in this case and more the cook’s skill, as Muriel explains:
“I got all these messages from people saying that they didn’t have a bone-handled knife like the one I used in the video and asking if it would be all right to use a metal handled one,” says Muriel.
“Of course, it doesn’t really matter, it’s just that I have been using that knife for decades. But you can use any knife as long as you do it slowly to let the air into the mixture. That’s what makes it so fluffy.”
She also has a secret that she’s willing to share. This recipe comes from her own recipe book.
“It’s actually a more modern recipe than the usual CWA one,” she says. “But this one is the easiest of the lot”.
Muriel’s Perfect Scone Recipe
- Five cups of self-raising flour
- 300ml of cold full-fat cream
- 300ml of lemonade
- Full cream milk to brush
- Preheat an oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
- Sift the flour three times, then add a pinch or so of salt.
- In a bowl, hollow out a depression in the flour, then slowly pour and fold in the cream.
- Once combined, add lemonade and fold in until fully absorbed.
- Fold slowly and carefully with a knife, not a spoon to aid aeration.
- Turn dough out onto a floured board, pat down to an even thickness.
- Cut dough into lengths, then divide into equal square portions.
- Brush with milk and lay out on a greased oven tray.
- Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the tray once.
But Muriel is not the only, or even the oldest, inspiring personality to be discovered during the global lockdown.
Former British Army Captain Thomas Moore, who served during World War Two, decided he still had the energy to serve Britain again when he decided to raise money for the National Health Service (NHS) Charities Together by walking laps of his garden in the lead up to his 100th birthday.
Captain Moore, popularly known to all and sundry as Captain Tom, a former instructor in armoured warfare, took to his walking frame to help him through the marathon. Initially hoped he might be able to help raise POUNDS 1000.
But his efforts proved far more inspiring to a nation in lockdown than he ever thought possible. In fact, he captured the hearts of millions across Britain and the world, as well as raising a stunning £32 million by the time he reached his 100th birthday on April 20.
“When we started off with this exercise we didn’t anticipate we’d get anything near that sort of money,” he says. “It’s really amazing. All of them, from top to bottom, in the National Health Service, they deserve everything that we can possibly put in their place. They’re all so brave. Because every morning or every night they’re putting themselves into harm’s way, and I think you’ve got to give them full marks for that effort.
“We’re a little bit like having a war at the moment. But the doctors and the nurses, they’re all on the front line, and all of us behind, we’ve got to supply them and keep them going with everything that they need, so that they can do their jobs even better than they’re doing now.”
Since then, the heroic Captain Tom, who has had a hip replacement and two knee replacements, has been swept up in a frenzy of adulation. More than 800,000 people signed a petition calling on the Crown and the Government to make him a knight of the realm. The Yorkshire Regiment awarded him a medal for his “outstanding contribution” to Britain’s military effectiveness and reputation. The BBC even devoted an entire 30-minute news special to him entitled Captain Tom Moore: We Salute You.
The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself a COVID-19 survivor, says he will look very closely at future official recognition for the plucky veteran – by the way, Capt. Tom also raced motorcycles in his youth – who has proved that not only are you never too old to serve but you’re never too old to be a hero.