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Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

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While we would quickly assume that scones originated in the South-west where they are an integral part of the ‘Cream tea’, they are actually quintessentially Scottish. Scones are closely related to Bannocks and other quick breads like soda bread and griddle cakes. Originally scones were baked on a griddle over a fire and although I still found griddle scones being sold in a bakery on the Scottish Isle of Skye, nowadays scones are usually baked in an oven.

Florence Marian McNeill explains in her 1929 book, The Scots Kitchen, that the names ‘scone’ and ‘bannock’ are used loosely and that a bannock is a large round scone that you can divide into four or more wedges or farls. When the dough is cut into small rounds, it is a scone. She claims the name derives from the Gaelic word ‘sgonn’, and translates it as a ‘shapeless mass’.

McNeill gives various recipes for scones and bannocks, but her recipe that she describes as the ‘old method’ and the one after it that she describes as the ‘modern method’ clearly show us that scones were indeed made before the invention of baking powder in the early 19th century. Baking powder made them lighter and more like the scone we know today. Scones became increasingly more popular in the Edwardian period, as we can clearly see from tearoom adverts in newspapers from that era.

In the South-west, another bake was popular at teatime and that was the Split, a small, soft white bun that is split and filled with cream and jam. Somehow the splits fell out of favour and scones took over to become the icon of a Cornish and Devonshire cream tea. It is possible that Scottish Highland folk emigrating south in search of better living conditions and work in the 18th century introduced the scone to the rest of the country.


  • 430 g (15¼ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 40 g ( oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 150 g ( oz) butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 90 ml (3 fl oz) full-fat milk
  • flour, for dusting
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk, for egg wash


Preheat your oven to 220°C (425°F) and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Put the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the eggs and then the lemon juice. Add the milk, a little at a time, and mix with a spatula until you have a soft and slightly sticky dough.

Place the dough on a generously floured work surface and gently knead it together until all the flour is incorporated and the dough no longer sticks but still feels soft. This takes around 1 minute. Flatten the dough with your hands until it’s about 2 cm (¾ inch) thick. Use a piece of baking paper to smooth the top of the dough to give the scones a nice finish.

Using a 5 cm (2 inch) round cutter for small scones or a 7 cm ( inch) cutter for large scones, cut out the scones by pushing the cutter straight down. Don’t twist the cutter, as this will affect how much the scones rise. Pat the remaining dough back together and cut out more scones until you have used all the dough.

Place the scones on the trays and brush with the egg wash. Bake in the middle of your oven for 10-15 minutes until the scones have risen and are golden in colour.

Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly. Cover them with a tea towel to keep them warm and soft. Serve with thick cream or clotted cream and your favourite jam. Scones must be eaten the same day they are made or reheated in the oven. They can also be frozen, thawed and revived in a hot oven.