Brenda Reed

Dirty Pages 2016 Brenda Reed scones

Dish: Scones with Strawberry and Whipped Cream
Roots: England
Cooking in Nashville since 2001

Brenda Reed wore a tennis outfit wrapped in a Nashville Food Project apron when she opened the door. Her kitchen was perfumed with scones.

The attire pointed to her pastimes both in sport and cooking, which she channels into the Food Project’s work to feed more than 1,000 homeless and working poor and working each week. But Brenda stays plenty busy outside of those endeavors, too.  She co-owns Sinema and The Hook restaurants with her husband, Colin, and sons, Ed and Sam.

With a renovation underway, Brenda’s kitchen felt unusually sparse with most teapots, cookbooks, and implements still in boxes. But a dusting of flour here and there, a bowl of freshly whipped cream, and an open jar of strawberry jam, provided signs of life.

“I’ve yet to find a good American scone,” she said, slicing and spreading jam onto the batch she had just made.

A cookbook splayed open beside her with its ’70s food photos smudged and wrinkled. It had been a wedding gift more than 40 years ago from her husband’s younger sisters. The binding and cover had been chewed by the Labrador retrievers she has raised over the years. But the recipe has remained her go-to for a Devonshire scone. It can be made slightly sweet like her strawberry version, or savory with additions like dry mustard and Parmesan cheese. The adaptability provides part of the appeal, and the recipe comes from Mary Berry, the English cookbook author and former co-host of the popular Great British Baking Show.

“It’s just a regular show,” Brenda said. “Not with some lunatic running bat-rapid. It’s very pal-y”, she added and then demonstrated how the contestants will compliment one another’s cakes and ask for advice. “Maybe it’s very English.”

When we lived in England, my husband played cricket. They would always break for tea. I would get a frantic call. Can you make four dozen scones?
— Brenda Reed

Brenda, too, is quite English. She grew up in London and says her love of cooking grew out of a love of food. But she really learned to cook as her mother grew ill.

“When I was about 14 or 15, [mother] was in her 40s and started to get early Alzheimer’s,” Brenda said. “She’d forget to get dinner. So, I’d go out, and then cook it.”

Her home didn’t have a refrigerator at the time; her older siblings were no longer in the nest; and her father worked as a school caretaker. He never learned to read, so Brenda remembers hearing her mother reading the newspaper to him. Meanwhile, the autonomy she had in the kitchen led to experimentation and cooking education through cookbooks she checked out from the library.

A lemon meringue pie provided an early experience in trial and error. She followed the directions to pre-bake the crust with dried beans in the bottom of the pie to weigh it down. But she didn’t know to use foil over the pastry and baked the beans right into the crust.

Brenda moved to Memphis when her husband took a job with Holiday Inn hotels and then to Las Vegas for a couple years for his work with Harrah’s. She came to Nashville in 2001 when Colin was recruited to oversee Gaylord’s entertainment including the hotel, the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium.

Having lived in Nashville for more than a decade, Brenda says her options for finding English favorites like mint sauce and Branston pickle have improved, and she still taps into her English upbringing through food by shredding suet for Christmas pudding or making mincemeat pies. Yet the scones, which she used to make for her husband’s cricket matches in England, remain her more regular choice for channeling her roots. She makes them for friends and parties and just to have with tea.  

As she finished topping the last of the batch with strawberries, a couple of businessmen with briefcases approached the front door for a meeting with her husband.

“I didn’t know they were coming,” she said. “Maybe they’ll eat some scones.”

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