WHAT IS A SCONE?
According to the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, the word scone derives from the Dutch schoonbrood – schoon meaning bright, white or beautiful and brood meaning bread, hence; ‘fine white bread’ . It made its way into Scottish English and did not become widespread in England until the 19th century. My partner Rob’s old school dictionary (Pocket Oxford revised ed.1946) describes the scone as Soft cake of barley-meal or wheat-flour baked on griddle.
Fifty years on, the concise Collins Dictionary (4th Australian ed 1999) describes it as; a light plain doughy cake made from flour with very little fat, cooked in an oven or (esp. originally) on a griddle..
I once had afternoon tea with Laurel Phillips, whose late husband’s family built the famous Glenella guesthouse, in my Blue Mountains’ village of Blackheath. Laurel ran the guesthouse herself for many years. Inevitably our conversation turned to food, and to one of the highlights of a stay at Glenella; Devonshire Tea. Laurel generously gave me her sister-in-law Liela Twyford’s recipe for scones (Liela was Laurel’s predecessor at the guesthouse).
2 cups of self-raising flour
2 heaped teaspoons of butter
1 cup of milk
Pinch of salt
METHOD – Sift the flour. Melt the butter in a small amount of boiling water then add to the milk. Add the milk and butter mixture to the flour, stir with a knife to produce a soft dough.
Cut out and bake in a hot oven. 7-10 minutes.
HOW TO SAY SCONES?
The continuing debate over modern pronunciation of the word scone is summed up by the following couplet, which sounds as though it must have been composed by a snobbish old lady from Oxford;
Scones rhyming with Dons are eaten with butter.
Scones rhyming with stones are eaten with margarine.
I’m pretty sure that throughout Australia we use the ‘Dons’ pronunciation, and therefore the word has no class connotation but in the UK there is north/south divide. Hmm, perhaps I won’t go there…!
Some unkind people say that if you pronounce scones rhyming with stones you must have rocks in your head!
CONFESSION TIME (update April 21 2017)
Two years ago a English author I know said she was going to call her new book, Game of Scones, as a word play on the famous television series Game of Thrones. Now I expressed some reservations about this, for obvious reasons. However, Samantha is from the north of England and took no notice of me whatsoever. And wouldn’t you know it? The book has been her most successful to date, and has sold 100,000 copies. I think she deserves a plug;
Recently I read Playing with Water by the Australian author Kate Llewellyn, which includes her mother’s prize winning scone recipe. Strangely enough, this book is not only as soft and pliable in the reader’s hands as a good scone dough, but has a deliciously creamy cover. I was temped to cut a few rounds from the book, and pop them in the oven
I would have a go at the recipe in Playing With Water, except that it includes eggs. Now when it comes to baking, women do as their mothers before them did , and my mother definitely did not put eggs in her scones. However, one tip from Kate’s mother is worth repeating; press out the dough then fold it once, to make a proper ‘split’
My friend and neighbour Sandra came over one day and happened to pick up Kate’s quite sizable book. ‘Oh… it’s surprisingly light!’ she said. I told her my fanciful notion about it having the sensual feel of scone dough and we decided that at some stage Kate must have left her manuscript to ‘prove’, rather like bread mixture. This is always a sensible thing for a writer to do, as the errors rise to the surface.
Is it generally accepted that the best scones in the Blue Mountains are made at the Megalong Valley Tearooms, a few kilometres from Blackheath. A sample serve is pictured below. And yes, they have my seal of approval.
I doubt if my mother’s recipe for scones was ever committed to paper. She was taught to make them by her mother, who had previously been taught by her mother. Shamefully, the chain virtually snapped with me, but I do have Mum’s recipe for date scones, which helped fill lunch baskets on our family farm for decades. In harvest season we would sit beside the baler with Dad, eating cream filled coffee sponge, raspberry shortbread, and spicy date scones, washed down with cold, sweet tea. I doubt if anything has tasted as good since. Oh my word, have just noticed that this recipe does call for an egg! Well…date scones are different. It doesn’t have spice among the ingredients either, but I reckon she must have added some.
MYRA’S HARVEST SCONES
2 cups S.R. flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup butter
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup milk
3 tablespoons chopped dates
1 tablespoon chopped mixed peel
METHOD – Sift the flour and combine with sugar. Melt the butter and add the milk to it. Stir the fruit and peel into flour and sugar and mix to a light dough with the beaten egg and milk. Knead lightly and quickly on floured board. Cut into rounds. Sprinkle with sugar and bake in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes.
A new controversy has broken out recently in relation to cream teas. What goes on first, the cream or the jam?
I say, if it’s firm, clotted cream it could go on first, like butter. But if it’s soft, whipped cream it’s easier to put a dollop on top of the jam.
FOOTNOTE – Rob and I also had afternoon tea with Kate Llewellyn many years ago after writing a story on her Blue Mountains garden at Leura (our story was inspired by her very special book, The Waterlily) I can’t remember whether we had scones or not, but would like to think we did!