Scones: The Great British Controversy


July 2, 2020

Traditionally consumed with a nice cup of tea in sedate surroundings, the scone - a little like an American biscuit - is as quintessential a part of British culture as the queen, fish and chips and an incomprehensible fascination with the weather. It is one of the most sacred parts of the famous Afternoon Tea - a feature of English high society since the mid 19th Century and which these days can set you back over a hundred pounds to experience it in the country’s more exclusive hotels. 

It is perhaps not surprising that something so synonymous with the upper echelons of English culture should also be a constant source of disagreement and consternation among the country’s inhabitants, who have a reputation for liking things to be “just so”. Just as any self-respecting Brit would react with understandable horror if you were to put the milk in first when making a cup of tea - or indeed add any milk at all if that tea is Earl Grey - they have very strong opinions on the scone: how the word should be pronounced and whether you should apply the jam or the cream first. The problem is, unlike the aforementioned tea consensus, they cannot agree on either, yet opinions on both are passionately held. If there is another civil war in this country it’s as likely to be over the presentation of the scone as it is to be about Brexit.

Let’s start with the pronunciation. Do you say “scone” to rhyme with “stone”, or to rhyme with “gone”? I say the former, but have practically been disowned by others from the area in which I grew up, ridiculed for my “posh” pronunciation and seen as some sort of infiltrator to that place I used to call home. In fact, the spread of pronunciation looks to be geographically random, with the exception of Scotland where the “gone” pronunciation is prevalent. Elsewhere, some regions are spread 50/50, and where I grew up it rhymes with “gone” 10 miles north of me, and “stone” ten miles south, with everyone in the middle apparently indecisive, according to Cambridge University, who inexplicably mapped it a few years ago. Either way, no link to social class was found, but try telling that to your average Brit, to whom such things are important.

Then there’s the jam/cream debate, which frankly reduces the pronunciation debate to a mere skirmish. People get so agitated by this that I once saw ten minutes of cricket commentary devoted to it, the camera panning the crowd at Lord’s to get a definitive answer one way or the other. My husband is Cornish, so in our house the jam always goes on first followed by the cream - to do otherwise would probably be ground for divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour. In neighbouring Devon, however, the cream goes on first. Of course, there are some people who probably take their scones with only one or the other, or something else entirely, such as butter, but this is just too shocking for us to contemplate right now while we’re already trying to cope with a global pandemic.

The Queen apparently settled the debate back in 2018, and avid viewers of The Crown will praise its accuracy when it showed the monarch taking tea with a nervous Jackie Kennedy and putting - but of course - the jam on first. While I’m no great monarchist myself, this nonetheless proves that those strange cream-first people are simply unpatriotic.

We’ll be making scones next week 8th July as part of our Midweek Meals. If you’d like the link and list of ingredients, drop us an email on