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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Day 62

Before the Duchess of Bedford ordered a tray of sweetbreads and tea to quench her hunger in the summer of 1840, scones held no particular pride of place within English cuisine. In fact, very few recipes of how to make scones exist in early Victorian times (there is no mention of ‘scones’ in Mrs. Beeton’s for example) though that’s not to say they weren’t being made throughout Britain before the Duchess of Bedford and Queen Victoria popularized them. For we know that the first written appearance of the word ‘scone’ was in a Scottish version of the Aeneid in 1513. Though this would have been in reference to a round flat bread, made from oats and scored into four or six wedges; cooked on a griddle over a flame it would have been known as a ‘bannock’ and the wedges known as ‘scones’. With the advent of oven baking, the round of dough was cut into wedges and the scones were baked individually. Though this is just one theory, as the origin of the term ‘scone’ is still unknown: one suggestion is the name comes from the ancient capital city where Kings of Scotland were crowned, on the Stone (of Scone) of Destiny; another is that the name derives from the Dutch word ‘schoonbrot’ which means ‘fine white bread’; another from the German word ‘sconbrot’ which means ‘fine or beautiful bread’; or the Gaelic ‘sgonn’ which can mean ‘shapeless mass’ or ‘large mouthful’. Interestingly, the history of scones has also been traced to a Welsh tradition, involving the cooking of tiny cakes made with yeast on bakestones. Whatever the origin, there’s no doubt the concept of individual sized sweetbreads, involving a rising agent, wouldn’t have been a far stretch from the far and wide practice of bread making. The recipe of scones being unpublished until after they were popularised doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t widely consumed, but quite the opposite, in that they were so commonplace; recipes being passed down the generations. Today, ongoing bias gives rise to every other mother, aunt or friend holding the title for “best scones”. I have no doubt that this practice has long been a tradition, well before scones took pride of place alongside tea and of an afternoon.