Let me begin by saying how much I love to bake. From cake to croissants, galette to gateaux, I love it all. If I’m feeling particularly virtuous, I dabble with alternative flours and sweeteners and sometimes if I need decadence there is nothing better than banoffee. Isn’t it strange though what we miss when we go without? Earlier in the year when New Zealand was in lockdown, I craved scones. Cheese, date, plain, it didn’t matter, I missed them. I made blueberry scones and peach, chocolate chip and raspberry. They made a delicious morning tea, sat in the sun and the eerie quiet of level 4 traffic.
Fast forward a few months, after purchasing my first tub of clotted cream in a while, I got to thinking how there is nothing quite as delicious as a Cornish cream tea. For the unfamiliar the cream tea where I’m from is made up of two scones with generous sides of clotted cream and strawberry jam. Call it nostalgia, gluttony or just good taste, I think the beauty of the cream tea is the amount of cream and jam it’s permissible to have on one half of a scone. It’s often indecent, always delicious.
Turns out though, the information available on the cream tea in particular is a little light, so for this entry I looked at baking generally to try and locate the timeline to the scone, and onto the cream tea.
What came first, bread or beer?
Tom Standage in A History of the World in Six Glasses (2006) was not the first to pose this question and he won’t be the last. Let’s look into it ourselves as bread, as far as we know was the first form of what we know as baking. Standage notes that beer was likely first discovered around 10,000BC as humans first started farming and settling in one location. Bread in his view was most likely discovered concurrently with beer, one being liquid and one being a solid form of gruel.
Recent research however has actually found bread samples that date as far back as 14,000BC predating farming by almost 4,000 years (Arranz-Otaegui et al., 2018). This research doesn’t claim to think that bread was a dietary staple at this point, they agree that this happened in the agricultural era however, it is a strong reminder that we don’t know everything. Just two years ago bread became 4000 years older than we imagined it to be and that’s a terrifying, wonderous concept. If we are still learning about the origins of some of the world’s most popular food, what will we know in another 14,000 years.
Lohman believes that from the earliest versions of bread, 3 things helped move us in the direction of the breads we know today, they are leavening, refined flour and mechanized slicing (Lohman, 2012). You would believe that at least leavening and refined flour had something to do with the broader world of baking too, onto the scone.
Scone or scone?
Baking as we know and love it really started to transpire in the 16th and 17th centuries as globalisation began to send exotic ingredients and flavours around the world and a new middle class emerged (Walter & Pennell, 2013).
The word scone was first used in print in the 16th Century (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019) also and is mostly believed to have been an evolution of the Scottish quick bread bannock (Lifestyle Direct, 2008). This isn’t to say that scones weren’t made prior to this date as print references were more limited compared to what they are today. Originally scones were made with oats, quite different to today’s version and cooked on a griddle.
There are two correct pronunciations of scone – one rhymes with gone, one rhymes with own. The first is more widely used in Scotland and Northern England whilst the second is more common in Southern England.
Side bar: since moving to New Zealand, scone is one of the words I now say quite differently. As a child I used the ‘own’ version. Now I use the ‘gone’ version.
The Cream Tea
Most articles suggest that the first recorded cream tea was created at Tavistock Abbey in Devon, but then as the case often is with food histories the specific details of its move from Devon to Cornwall, the neighbouring country are less well reported (Billington, 2020; The Cream Tea Society, n.d.). Some suggest travellers took the idea for the afternoon treat across the border as the headed west.
The naming rights for the cream tea are hotly contested. Imagine the debate between Australia and New Zealand over who invented Pavlova, coming to a head, where both countries want to prefix pavlova with Aussie or Kiwi. That is the debate that rages on around the cream tea. Both Cornwall and Devon currently claim the cream tea as their own, the Cornish Cream Tea and the Devonshire Cream Tea respectively, the only difference between the two the order of which the jam and cream are spread (Morris, 2010).
So what does this all mean? The story of scones and the cream tea in Britain is one of micro mobilities and cuisine evolving. The two counties are so passionate about the future of this dish and protecting its integrity that they want to go as far as protecting the name of the dish. It poses the question, what element of you cuisine would you do anything to protect, because it’s perfect the way it is?
Arranz-Otaegui, A., Carretero, L. G., Ramsey, M. N., Fuller, D. Q., & Richter, T. (2018, 07/31/). Archaeobotanical evidence reveals the origins of bread 14,400 years ago in northeastern Jordan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(31), 7925. https://ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=131045241&site=eds-live
Billington, J. (2020). History of the Cream Tea, and the Birth of one of History’s Greatest Arguements. Retrieved October 28th from https://foodtribe.com/p/history-of-the-cream-tea-and-the-fS71KjLYRO6tbEyDBKcc4Q?iid=Q6GteiCvQweOMgn35Youdw
Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019). Scone. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 28th 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/scone
Lifestyle Direct. (2008). The History Of Scones. Retrieved October 28th from https://www.thenibble.com/reviews/Main/breadstuffs/Scone-history.asp#history
Lohman, S. (2012, October 15 2019). A Brief History of Bread. Retrieved October 28th from https://www.history.com/news/a-brief-history-of-bread
Morris, S. (2010). Devon and Cornwall battle over true home of the cream tea. The Guardian. Retrieved October 28th from https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/may/20/devon-cornwall-cream-tea
Standage, T. (2006). A history of the world in 6 glasses (Pbk. edition. ed.) [Bibliographies
The Cream Tea Society. (n.d.). The History of the Cream Tea. Retrieved October 28th from https://www.creamteasociety.co.uk/cream-teas
Walter, J., & Pennell, S. (2013, August 28 2018). A brief history of baking. Retrieved October 28 2020 from https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/a-brief-history-of-baking/