The Tea Room – tea outside the home

The Social Space of The English Tea Room

Many of my students over the years have dreams of opening an English tea room, whether this be here in the UK or in their own country. They have attended classes with me to find out how they can make their tea room authentic or traditional. It is a fascinating subject to talke as we sort out the truth from the myths.

Family Respectability and the Tea Room

Since its arrival in the 17th century, tea drinking has been associated with the home. Tea has an implicit sense of respectability, of family values and the codes of polite behaviour associated with the the domestic social sphere.

The performance of business discourse, the making of money, the exchange of ideas is related to coffee drinking. The Coffee House was the public space beyond the domestic arena that housed the performance of coffee drinking activities. See the article about the coffee house here.

Today, as in the past, we consume tea and coffee, along with chocolate and alcoholic beverages in the domestic home with its family values. We also consume them in the public space of the Coffee House and offices with their business values.

The Tea Table and its cargo of assorted breads, tea, sugar, was the focal point of the particular ritual or event that occurred during the implicitly recognized hours of social interaction. These are the hours after noon. The domestic tea table provided the conduit for the performance of respectable (gentlemanly) behaviour. It was at the tea table that polite discourse between one private home and another would take place. The hours of sociability took place after noon in the polite social space of the home.

Breads and Cakes of the Tea-Table

If you look carefully, breads and cakes are displayed on the tea-tables in the 18th Century Conversation Piece paintings. This has taken me on a journey to study contemporary cookbooks. I have found that the words cake and bread describe assorted spongy textured ‘bread’. These breads included variations on a theme; simple sponge cakes, tea breads, buns, muffins and biscuits and it is these that be found in the old fashioned British-style bakeries.

The likelihood that is that the role of the bread as one component of the ritual of polite (respectable, gentlemanly) behaviour associated with domestic tea table led to concept of the public Tea Room.

Respectable Tea and the Bakery

The earliest Tea Room is attributed to the Aerated Bread Company, and opened at the entrance of Fenchurch Street Station 1864. The ABC, as it became known, was responsible for the new ‘sanitary’ bread making methods that changed commercial bread production with its revolutionary new production methods. With the increasing number of women starting to work, and the new pastime of shopping, these tea rooms with their implicit moral values with foods associated with the home, became the place that women could frequent without the risk of not being respectable. The Tea Room fulfilled the role of providing the implicit values of respectability and polite behaviour of the family home in a public place.

Photograph of Aerated Bread Company menu September 1900

As you can see the ABC menu card provides foods produced in the bakery plus a few hot dishes that were easy to prepare. This food is loosely based on the staple diet of the home, bread. There is no alcohol on the menu. There is little focus on the meat of the Chophouse, a mainly male preserve. The Tea Room almost provided a home from home during the the working day thus providing an air of familiarity. It was and is not open in the evening hours. The menu offers tea, coffee, milk and other soft drinks. The focus is on the food and there is no discrimination between different types of tea, just one offering.

The Tea Room provides a home from home.

In the late 19th Century, day trips out of the big cities became more popular. Workers flooded out to the seaside or inland picturesque resorts. Alongside village bakeries who might open a tea room, private individuals started to open tea rooms to supplement their income. The heading picture to this page displays the problematically themed Rhodesia tea rooms opened in Alford, Surrey. The tea room provided a space that welcomed the public with its implicit values of family life. There was a promise of enjoyment of home baked fare, tea and coffee(for a fee).

The presence of tea also afforded a means of income for genteel folk, as opening a tea room is a respectable trade. Somehow it did not carry the attendant stigma associated with commerce and trade.

Never underestimate how physically demanding it is to run such a food related business as it is exceptionally hard work!

Why not read more about Caroline’s Complete Tea Course.

Or join one of Caroline’s free online tea parties here -see which subject topic might interest you.

The Cream Tea

A West Country Delicacy

The Cream Tea is a regional delicacy associated with the south west England (colloquially known as The West Country). Clotted Cream is the essential ingredient of a Cream Tea.

The components of a Cream Tea are very simple. Clotted Cream, a luxurious freshly-produced replacement to butter provides the unique quality of a Cream Tea. A freshly- baked bread provides a base for the clotted cream. The form of this bread might be a quickly-baked scone or the more traditional “Split” in Cornwall. Usually a home-made strawberry or raspberry jam will finish the combination, along with a pot of freshly brewed black tea. The key to the enjoyment of a Cream Tea is the word fresh, or freshly produced.

What is Clotted Cream?

The concept of clotting cream was not particular to the South West of England. Large country houses with their own cows and a dairy maid would be making a range of dairy products. These included butter, cheese, cream and cheeses, all with varying lengths of shelf life. Nothing was pasteurized. These foods were consumed by the house to which the dairy was attached or in the local area. Although its origin is uncertain, the cream’s production is associated with dairy farms in South West England (The West Country). This area, in particular the counties of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, produces the best quality because of the pasture. The unique, slightly yellow, Cornish clotted cream colour is due to the high carotene levels in the grass.

The cream is clotted by gently cooking the cream for an extended time. Clots or clouts form at the surface. This thicker, lightly cooked cream has a far higher fat content (65%) than thick or double (heavy) cream(48%). The process also extends the life of the cream by a few days.

Clotted cream tastes like a “nutty, cooked-milk”. The flavour is rich and sweet and it has no hint of cheesiness. The texture is grainy, sometimes with oily globules on the crusted surface. It is similar to kaymak (or kajmak), a speciality of Southeast Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Turkey.

A Local Delicacy

Until recently, (and certainly within my lifetime) very little clotted cream travelled out of the West Country. This maintained its position as a local delicacy. It could only be enjoyed within that local area as it was difficult to transport at a cool temperature. West Country Tea Rooms and farms could open in the summer months to provide this local speciality to visiting tourists. A Cream Tea is a highlight of any holiday down to South West England, a major tourist attraction.

Flash freezing and refrigerated transport of the past decades have completely changed the concept of a local regional delicacy. Today high tech low temperature containers transport it around the world to hotels and housewives in countries as far away as Japan and China. Sadly the context of the Cream Tea being a local delicacy is not really visible any more.

The Cream Tea has its values in the tea rooms and farmhouse kitchens of the south west of England. These are both extensions of the home in which familiar home-style food is accessible in a public space.

How to eat the Cream Tea

If you create your own Cream Tea, with its deliciously fresh components, I recommend always sitting at a dining table to eat it.. You will need a knife for spreading the cream and jam onto your scone or split. A large napkin is also necessary to mop up any crumbs and spills of the fresh cream and jam.

A Cream Tea is not really suitable for the finger-food style of eating of the grand afternoon tea-table as it is quite messy to eat if your scones are very fresh. It is a worthy reward for a long coastal cliff-top walk or mackerel fishing on a windswept sea.  

The Cream Tea has become the focal point of the 21st Century deluxe hotel-style Afternoon Tea table. I find this a mystery as this is more of a rustic delicacy. Somehow the qualities of a Cream Tea do not translate well to the performance of pastry chef skills of the deluxe hotel.

Cream or Jam on top – who cares as long as it is Fresh?

The argument of cream or jam on top is a regular PR-driven argument. It appears to raise a debate about whether it is correct to eat the scone with cream on top of jam or jam on top of cream. Does this really matter? It is a pertinent example of how easy it is to create a fictitious battle, this time between Cornwall and Devon. A rift that does not exist, probably to get social media coverage for one particular brand of jam, or scone or clotted cream.

A Cream Tea is so right to get right and so easy to get wrong. Ideally your scones will be no more than hour since coming out of the oven, The clotted cream should be be unctuously rich and creamy with no hint of turning sour. The jam wantes to taste of a fresh burst of fruit from which it has been made. It is an utterly sublime combination of three very simple and humble ingredients.

Options to create your own Cream Tea

If you want to learn how to make Scones, why not join my afternoon tea party baking class.

I recommend Rodda’s clotted cream as it has the best flavour. It is is available today in most large UK supermarkets. You can also buy it in its flash frozen form – either in one large 907g box or 96 x 40g individual pots.

In terms of commercial jams, you cannot beat Wilkin & Sons Tiptree Little Scarlet. I can no longer find it on the supermarket shelf and either buy direct from Tiptree or from Amazon. This jam is what jam should be! The tiny Little Scarlet Strawberries give a burst of fresh strawberry flavour when they hit your tastebuds.

Victoria Sandwich Sponge Cake

The Victoria Sandwich Cake: the classic sponge cake

There has been a resurgence of interest in this deceptively simple Victoria Sandwich sponge cake in recent years. It lacks the dazzle and photogenic qualities of the highly-decorated, richly-iced cup cakes. It is only when you taste a well-made sponge cake that we can understand the skill of the baker in harmonising the basic ingredients of butter, sugar, flour and eggs to become something much, much more than the sum of the ingredients. 

With the onus on the priority of saving time and effort in our lives, the desire to deploy our senses and gain baking skills has disappeared. We want to produce perfect results instantly without going through the process of repeated practice to build up the tacit knowledge of the cooks of yesteryear. There is almost a fear of trusting one’s own intuition.

Making and teaching many hundreds of people to make this cake by hand has honed my practice. As a consequence I continually build and improve my skills. The joy is imparting the key steps to making a good rich sponge cake, and understanding this skill can then underpin the baking of so many other, what I call quick-rise cakes, biscuits, breads and buns.

Victorian Sandwiches

The likelihood is that the Victoria Sponge Cake evolved out of the recipe named as Victorian Sandwiches. The first edition of Mrs Beeton’s ‘Book of Household Management’ of 1861 lists a recipe for Victorian Sandwiches. Later editions of this invaluable household manual hold the same recipe with slight variations.

The original cake was baked in a rectangular tin, cut in half horizontally, filled with jam and then cut and served as rectangular fingers – the final outcome is a food ready to pick at with the fingers, like a bread sandwich. I have photographed the recipe in one edition I have dating from the early 1950s. The ingredients list remains similar to that of 1861. Confusingly, the image provided is that of the large round cake that we see today. It is an unsurprising editing error bearing in mind the size of the volume!

Pages copied from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management circa 1959. Note the image of the cake described does not match the recipe description of Victorian Sandwiches although the index links the two together.

The ratio of ingredients I use is more along the lines of a ‘rich’ Sponge Cake or Quatre Quart of France, sometimes known as a pound cake. The two cakes have almost identical ingredients however there is a different method of execution. Pound Cake is a heavier, denser sponge and perhaps its role is more akin to the role of bread. It was frequently used as an interchangeable substitute for bread at breakfast, toasted and served with butter. The present day Victoria sponge wants to be so light and moist that it is not necessary to have anything more than a thin layer of jam in the middle of the cake.

Reading a recipe for Victoria Sandwich Cake

Baking often creates anxiety because there is a perception that a precision or obscure knowledge involved. The novice baker can follow a single recipe a few times. When the cake come out differently each time, the novice baker is left wondering why and assumes there must be an obscure skill that he or she lacks.

Perhaps the first step is to think how we read a recipe. The recipe provides a clue is the list of ingredients. There is scant information on the techniques and processes that occur in the techniques of mixing and baking .  In addition the words used in most old recipe books do not translate well into modern day language. There is little definition to the term a slack oven or what is process of mixing lightly.

Autonomy in the kitchen

Remember that whichever recipe you read and want to replicate in your kitchen, the author is not there. Your recipe for a Victoria Sandwich sponge cake does not know whether the conditions in which you are baking a cake is the same as that of the author, whether your flour is the same texture and quality as that specified in the recipe? You don’t know if your butter is churned to the same level of creaminess as mine. Does it have the same fat content? Are your eggs identical in size to the ones that I am using? Is your kitchen the same ambient temperature and atmosphere as mine, the same height above sea level? All these factors will influence your outcomes to a lesser and greater degree.

Having said that, there are things you can do in terms of measuring sponge cake ingredients that help with getting consistent results each time in your own kitchen. Rather than comparing your results with other people, compare your results with earlier and later outcomes to see if you can maintain a pattern of consistency.

Measuring and Weighing

With a recipe for Victoria Sandwich sponge cake that calls for identical quantities of ingredients (In this instance flour, sugar, butter and eggs), weigh the variable ingredient first – the eggs. This way your ratios will be identical every time. Most of the old recipe books would call for a certain number of eggs and then the same weight in flour or one and half times the weight in sugar etc. The eggs provide the base start point. The cook never assumed that chickens laid eggs of the same weight so why do we today? When making the same cake time after time, consistent measuring of the ingredients allows me an element of control. I know that the ingredient weighing is not the issue if I have a problematic outcome and can then look elsewhere for the source of the problem.

Temperature of ingredients

Ambient room temperature is another factor to consider in baking your Victoria Sandwich sponge cake. Ideally you want your ingredients at a similar temperature, especially the eggs and butter so they amalgamate properly. If they are, then it is another point to tick off as not being the issue if there is a problem.

When describing butter to be at room temperature this does not mean the temperature of the room on the day you decide to bake. It refers to the temperature in the kitchen in which a fire is burning all the time on which to cook or there is a range giving out constant heat. Perhaps an easier description is to ensure that you can cut through the block of butter with ease with horizontal blade of a knife. This is very soft but not melted. Cold butter creates a hurdle before you even start.

Beating and Creaming

To create a really light Victoria Sandwich sponge cake, it is very helpful to understand the words creaming and beating.

The purpose of creaming is to create a metamorphic change to the ingredients, butter and sugar, with the addition of one more ‘ingredient’ which is invisible and rarely-mentioned; air. The combination of power and a certain length of time will add the air and change the structure of the two separate ingredients to make them as one. You can test if this change has taken place by doing the following:

LOOK: You need to beat long enough for the colour of the butter and sugar to change from yellow to white, the colour of whipped cream. You will see the that mixture will almost double in size. The mixture will stop looking like a combination of sticky and granular butter and sugar. It becomes a vision of whipped cream.

FEEL: Once you have mixed the butter and sugar to become a sticky granular ball, scoop a quantity on to your spoon and drop it back into the bowl. It will feel heavy, dense and try to stick to the spoon. As you progress with your beating, keep testing. It gets lighter and lighter until the point, when you drop it back in the bowl it has no weight at all, like whipped cream.

TASTE: Before you start the serious beating, take a small bit to taste. The sugar will come through as sweet and gritty with an oily aftertaste of the butter. By the time you have finished beating, the grittiness of the sugar will have almost disappeared. The sugar and butter will have homogenised into one, a true butter cream.

I would anticipate to be beating for at least ten minutes, obviously longer with a large cake. Both hand-mixing and the machine take about the same amount of time. The latter is less effort – obviously! It is quicker to execute on a warmer day.  

The key here is to rely on your senses – you beat until you are confident that the change has occurred. This puts you in control.

When adding the eggs I recommend adding these in small quantities and beating each addition properly until fully amalgamated. If you put in a large quantity of egg you need to beat for a longer period of time. This allows the adequate ratio of speed and time to create a homogenous mousse like texture for these three ingredients.

Cutting and Folding in the Flour

When adding my final ingredient flour, I employ a different process. To maintain the lightness (airiness) of the mousse-like texture of the beaten butter, eggs and sugar, the flour needs to be added with care.

I always sift my flour, from as high a practical point as possible. As the flour lightly falls on to the mousse air is trapped between the particles.

Taking a large metal spoon, I cut and fold my flour into the mousse. This is a different technique. We are combining not mixing the mousse with the flour NOT mixing. We do not want to create something new as we did with the butter and sugar. If the flour is overworked, the gluten will become activated. This is to be avoided when working with a quick rise agent (bicarbonate of soda or baking powder). It will result in a heavy, dense sponge cake. Stop cutting and folding once you can no longer see loose flour particles. Your ‘dough’ will be slightly crumbly looking as opposed to smooth and creamy. Care is required here, not mindless brute force.

If you would like to learn to make a Victoria Sandwich sponge cake with Caroline please see available Classes.

My magic ingredient for flavouring the sponge of the sandwich cake is Little Pod’s Vanilla Paste

If you would like a step-by-step booklet of Caroline’s methods and recipes this can be purchased here.

Afternoon tea party sandwiches

Sandwiches at tea-time

Sandwiches have been a strong favourite for the afternoon tea party. They are what I classify as being a variation of the staple core carbohydrate, bread. Bread and butter has been evident on the English tea table from the early 18th Century. It has remained there, in a variety of forms, to the present day.

The afternoon tea party sandwich is a finger food, comprised of two thin slices of good white or brown bread, each buttered on one side and surrounding a simple filling. The crusts are removed. The final shape is usually very practical for eating whether it is fingers, squares, triangles, circles.

Clean Fingers

The advantage of the closed afternoon tea party sandwich is the ability to eat the little morsels without soiling the fingers with any butter or fillings. These small sandwiches are ideal to serve at a cocktail or drinks party, a wedding, christening or garden party. All of these were originally a form of tea party.

I always remember the day we collected our new Jack Russell puppy when I was about ten years old. It was tea-time and to this day, I remember the cucumber sandwiches. The bread of each delicate thin white sandwich was cut around a single slice of cucumber. It was the first (and last) time I have been served round sandwiches!

It is easy to forget that these simple morsels were once more complicated to produce as a delicacy than they are today. Friends of my mother have regaled me with tales of making sandwiches when they were unable to cut the bread slices very thin. They would make the overall sandwich, probably still with the crusts on, and then flatten it with either an iron or rolling pin. Finally they cut the crusts off and cut the overall sandwich cut into fingers or triangles.

Elegant Economy

Afternoon tea party sandwiches come under the heading of elegant economy. They incorporate care in the presentation and preparations with simple and inexpensive ingredients. Always use butter (making sure it is malleable to ensure you get a thin layer across each bread slice). Never use margarine. Apart from the taste, margarine leave a greasy taste in the mouth and soaks into the bread. Butter is a natural pure fat and acts as a barrier between the moist filling and the drier bread. This is especially important when making a few hours ahead.

Afternoon tea party sandwiches embody simple balanced flavours. My favourites are plain cucumber, plain tomato, perhaps a good smoked ham or egg mayonnaise with cress. None has a strong flavour, nor is the intention to fill you up. They are merely an accompaniment to the tea drinking. They do not constitute a meal.

How to make Cucumber Sandwiches

See my little video about making cucumber sandwiches here. Apart from serving them for an afternoon tea party, you can make these as accompaniment for early evening drinks, and any other entertainment that needs finger food.

Tea, the evening meal and ‘the deserving poor’!

‘A Cottage Interior – an Old Woman Preparing Tea’, William Redmore Bigg, 1793 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When we think about present day iterations of ‘Tea’ as anything other than the beverage, the dominant presence of the fashionable, urban upper and elite classes overwhelms the silent majority of British tea drinkers. Despite being a very small landmass, Great Britain is made up of many different social groups. The groups fluctuate in terms of their social status, geographical location, whether urban or rural. These groups continue to change  and merge into each other today.

Tea, the evening meal

Tea, the evening meal is not an afternoon tea (party), the social event that is associated with the genteel practice of paying social calls. It is also not High Tea, a similar form of repast that probably evolved from an institutional setting as opposed to the domestic space.

The origins of Tea, the evening meal

The above painting, is in store at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The artist, William Redmore Bigg (1755 – 1828) was known for his stylised genre paintings depicting rustic scenes and acts of charity.

The story of this picture is told not by actions, but by the objects displayed in it. The poverty is indicated by the exquisite depiction of the modest and unshowy nature of the few things on display. The little table is set with the old lady’s frugal meal of bread, butter and tea. She sits before a small fire of twigs, where her kettle is boiling. Everything is carefully portrayed; the teapot, cup and saucer, knife and tea caddy on the along with the square wooden platter, with a circular hole for the salt, shown propped up on the shelf behind her.

Here we have an example of the ‘deserving’ poor. The placement of the objects show understanding of contemporary moral codes. The elderly woman’s home is basic in its furnishings yet she is to be applauded for knowing her place, in having tea-wares that are made of simple, understated yet not crude materials. She is shown to be cognisant of the ways of a gentleman and this imbues her with virtue. She does not presume to be an equal. Her body is turned away from the table, with no anticipation of participating in the social tea rituals of the arbiters of moral code, the rich, landowning elite.

Who is orchestrating the dance of agency in this narrative?

We, the viewers of the painting, are being shown a composition, an act of virtue in which tea is performing a role, all set within the stage of the picture frame. The painter shows us that he knows the rules, perhaps as an insider of the particular social group who controlled the message of the narrative. ‘The poor’ were deserving of the viewers’ interest if they complied with an idealised vision of poverty. In this idyll of the simpler life, the basic tools used in the performance of polite (gentlemanly) social interaction, the simple teapot, bread and butter, sugar (brown in this instance) are on display.

Objectification

There is little sense in image of the sitter having any control in the narrative being presented. Does the viewer know or care whether she has anything else to consume apart from tea and the bread and butter?

This type of painting might have been commissioned or sold to members of the Tory landowning classes, for example those who appeared in the Conversation Pieces of Arthur Devis in the 1730s with their own props of exquisitely painted Chinese tea sets. These merchant classes aspired to the values of the feudal landowning knights of earlier generations. The picture would have provided them with the image that they wanted to see, the reinforced myth of the feudal knight taking an interest in his hardworking tenants. This fetishized perception is reinforced by the exquisite execution of the painting, and lulls the viewer into a false sense of the bucolic value of poverty.

This diet of tea with bread and butter (or dripping or margarine) became a cheap staple of the malnourished factory workers of the expanding industrial heartland of Great Britain and the urban poor of large city slums. Many of these had migrated from rural areas in their search for work of any kind. The hot cheap tea with lashings of sugar and served with the bread and butter provided an illusory, short-lived panacea of warm comfort in a harsh world of poverty. If there was a man in the family unit any few extra pennies might have been allowed for the addition of meat (a meat tea). This afforded him slightly more nutrition to support his performance as breadwinner for his half-starved, malnourished family. This meal was enjoyed at the of the working day.

The reality of this tea is a far cry from the image portrayed in Bigg’s painting. The starving factory worker, driven to become rebellious and uncouth in the necessity of getting his needs met, was ‘othered’ for his inability to comply with the myth, the idealised world of gentlemanly tea drinking.

Today the term tea, as an evening meal still exists. It still has a strong link to the descendants of those whose ancestors had a heritage of manufacturing, heavy industry or labour, and the areas of the country that they were located. This is predominantly the Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire and Glasgow in Scotland and large urban cities in the South such as London.

In a recent exhibition, A Tea Journey: From the Mountains to the Table at Compton Verney, 2019 this painting was displayed as an example of the democratisation of tea. I wonder if the sitter would feel she was the case if she could see herself stored in a repository of exclusive designed and valuable objects of the very rich?

Scones

The Scottish Scone: the ultimate quick bread

My secret ingredients are free and can be added at any me –confidence and care. Be confident that you will make the best scones and they will be sensational. Care about them, using good quality ingredients and they will reward you with their deliciousness. If you worry, something will go wrong – perhaps the worry is transmitted through the fingers. I remember my heavy, lumpy offerings when a scone novice. Just keep practising.

I think many people forget this is a simple farmhouse food, to be rustled up at the last minute if uninvited guests suddenly turn up for tea. It is a simple quick bread that can be served with good butter and jam or go for the ultimate local delicacy of the West Country, a Cream Tea.

Traditional Scones

There are many, many different recipes for scones. Some recipes use eggs, some don’t. Everybody seems to have a closely guarded secret to make sure their scones are the best. My secret ingredients are free and can be added at any me – confidence and care. I personally don’t use egg as I view scones as a quick bread – the simpler the btter.

Be confident that you will make the best scones and they will be sensational. Care about them, using good quality ingredients, and they will reward you with their deliciousness. If you worry, something will go wrong – perhaps the worry is transmitted through the fingers. I remember my heavy, lumpy offerings when a scone novice. Just keep practising. This recipe for plain scones is pretty fool-proof.

A scone is a form of bread, the core complex carbohydrate of the British diet. Today this humble quick-baked staple food has reached an almost mythical status of importance at the English tea table.

Biscuits, Bread, Buns and Cakes

Evidence of different forms of breads have been present on the domestic English tea table since the early 18th Century. Bread was the staple food in the ecosystem of the of the English home, holding a relationship with the home brewing of ale as the everyday drink and the consequential production of yeast as the main raising agent for breads, buns and cakes. We talk of toasted tea cakes which are spongy bread buns with spices and dried fruits, muffins that are yeasty flat buttermilk breads, and tea breads, more of a loaf cake, this time flavoured with dried fruits, spices and tea. All are served with butter.

The scone is closely allied to the Scottish Bannock and the term, scone is used to cover a wide range of fairly plain small cakes (the term cake being a reference to a small round entity of foodstuffs pressed together – think oatcakes and fishcakes). The frontiers between the terms cake, biscuit, bread and bun are indistinct. 

The 1861 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management makes no mention of the scone. There are numerous recipes for similar quick breads (breads that do not use yeast as the leavening agent) that are listed under the names of Light Buns (with dried fruits and spices), Soda Bread (no butter), and Nice Breakfast Cakes, (no butter but enriched with eggs).  

Mrs Beeton’s recipe for Soda Biscuits is probably the nearest that I can find for what I call a traditional scone in terms of ingredients although it has a hefty amount of sugar.

The Common Theme that runs through scones and quick-bread recipes

All the recipes for these quick breads carry the instruction to work quickly and lightly when using bicarbonate of soda or baking powder and to get the items into the hot oven as quickly as possible otherwise they become ‘heavy’. Unlike breads made with yeast where you want to knead the dough to release the gluten in the flour and let it slowly rise and knock back, the use of chemical raising agents need a different and very light touch.

The advantage of making scones, soda biscuits, soda breads agents is the speed at which they can be produced. I can get them from the initial thought in my head to table as a finished bread within 20 minutes. There is no need for advance preparation(I always have flour, butter, baking powder and milk). They are not designed for longevity – ideally you want to eat them on the day of baking and you will find that good old-fashioned bakeries will not sell them on the following day after making.

I have recipes for Soda Scones that can be made on a hot griddle plate or in the oven that are both forms of quick breads, and there is no reason why you cannot make your scones over a fire either in a heavy frying pan or even in a cast iron pot – they just need a high even heat.

Alongside this we have drop scones or Scotch Pancakes that are like thick mini pancakes cooked in a pan or on a hot griddle plate.

The scone is very much a product of the home and definitely a food to eat at a dining table. They can be served with a thick layer of cream or good farmhouse butter if you can get it. No other bread type food is required as one or two of these are going to completely fill you up.

DOUBLE CHECK THE PICTURS AND RECIPES FROM THE OLD SCONE ARTICLE