Recently, in one of my favourite coffee havens, I ordered one--a scone that is, but as I scooped half of it, uneaten, into the garbage, I had to constrain my criticism of those who sold it to me as a scone. What I delivered to the garbage was a small mound of yeast bread that had been impregnated with cheese and herbs, then baked in a way that created a golden, crusty exterior. This lump of fat and carbs was tasty, in its own unique way, but it wasn’t something that you would put something on, other than maybe more cheese or butter. I couldn’t think of it as a scone. What a disappointment.
For me, a scone is a small, quick-bread, that breaks open easily. It is a small bit of bakery that you put something on, not in. The garnishes to be used are things like raspberry jam, strawberry jam, or in our prairie culture, Saskatoon berry jam. You should be able to eat one or two of these without feeling full.
Several weeks earlier, in another one of my favourite coffee havens, real Scottish scones were lined up in a tray beside the muffins. I couldn’t resist the temptation. Still, I had to explain to the nice young lady that I would like some jam with it. She quite willingly put a couple of sweet, red dollops on my plate.
What a nice little treat that was. Not a crumb of it went into the garbage. The baker had left for the day, so I will make sure I compliment her on the scones next time I’m in—which will be soon.
I should confess that I am of the generation that pronounces ‘scone’ like it rhymes with ‘gone’, whereas others pronounce it like it rhymes with ‘bone.’ My folks pronounced it like 'gone', so that pronunciation lives on with me. Many people, including me, consider its origin with the Scots1. They believe it was derived from the Scottish Gaelic word "Sgonn" meaning a ‘block’ or more precisely ‘Sgonn arain’ meaning a block of bread. Most places that I’ve been to in Scotland pronounce it ‘skon’.
The Americans call my version of the scone a ‘tea biscuit’, but the term ‘biscuit’ in Scotland has a different meaning and if you ask for a biscuit there you will end up with a cookie.
Call it what you will, scone or tea biscuit, but please, don't let those other things that I put in the garbage today displace the little treasures onto which I can spoon jams and jellies, and, if its served properly, some clotted cream.
The earliest record of a scone in Scotland dates back to the early 16th century.