What is a scone, anyway?

Sometimes, especially after spending a lot of time at the SconeWitch, we forget that scones—for all their buttery, flaky deliciousness—are not a snack time staple in many peoples’ lives. In fact, scones are a highly regional thing, with lots of variation in recipe, topping, and fillings across Britain, the scone’s homeland.

But how did this doughy pastry rise to popularity? How did they really get their start? Read on to find out the (sometimes surprisingly political) background of the humble scone.

Vanilla SconeWitch scone with rhubarb ginger jam from Moss Berry Farm. Photo by Amelia Garvey.

Confusing beginnings.

Ask who first invented the scone, and a chorus of different voices will answer you. The English, Scottish, Irish, and even Dutch all have a claim to the scones’ invention. The Dutch word for spoonbread, a sort of drop scone, is schoonbrood, which may have made its way across the Channel as the word ‘scone’. The first mention of the word scone in writing is in the 1500s.

Wherever the word comes from, it is almost definitely the Scots who started the scone as we know it. The early Scottish scone was a quick bread made with oats in a griddle. It would then be cut into triangles to be served. Eventually, with the advent of ovens, the dough was cut first, and each scone baked individually.

Queen Victoria Was a Scone Fan, Too.

Sometime in the 1800s, an English noblewoman got tired of feeling hungry in the time between lunch and dinner. She decided to have her staff bring her a snack in the afternoon, and thus the English tradition of tea time began.

It was really Queen Victoria who made the scone a staple of tea time, though. When she came to power, her household set the standard for domesticity in England. And every afternoon, Queen Victoria would partake in scones, clotted cream, and jam.

Of course, this meal—usually called ‘cream tea’—became wildly popular. If Queen Victoria was eating it every day, that meant everyone wanted to eat it every day. And so, the popularity of scones exploded.

Raw rhubarb SconeWitch scones. Photo by Amelia Garvey.

Scones Today

Today, scones have become a mainstay of English baking, with dozens of varieties and as many recipes as there are scone bakers.

At the SconeWitch, we like to bring that tradition to you—because there’s no better pick-me-up than a warm scone and tea.