Speaking For Others: Is A Scone A Cultural Touchstone?

Scones, a measure of customs and traditions for Expats: Over or Under? The Great Jam and Cream Debate!

Over or Under? The Great Jam and Cream Debate!

Recently, after I posted a message about New Year’s traditions, Karen Van Der Zee (of Miss Footloose fame) and I were chatting online about how we would create the perfect country, with all the holidays and customs we like from all the places we have visited and lived.

In a tongue-in-cheek comment, she suggested we call our new home simply, Expatria…

Yes, that has a nice ring to it.

But as I got to daydreaming a bit about what customs and traditions would I choose to include if I could, my thoughts were broken by a message I received concerning a Scottish friend here whose husband just passed away this weekend. Oh, dear. They plan to have an afternoon service this Sunday and follow it with “a tea.”

I imagine this has overloaded Google with us Americans looking up what exactly is required for a proper tea, details that become all the more important when combined with respectful mourning.

Close friends who are helping organize this have asked us to make tea sandwiches, scones, petits fours and French Fancies. I volunteered to make scones and bring along the butter, jam and clotted cream. I thought that would be a nice tribute to my Scottish friend, and one I thought I could handle (I really have no clue about constitutes a proper French Fancy…)

Scones, a measure of customs and traditions for Expats:  Circles or Triangles-  Which is Proper?

Circles or Triangles? Which is Proper?

I want to make something like I had at Bettys Harrogate Tea Room rather than what I can make from a Crate & Barrel mix (fine as they may be for Americans, they’re just not the same!).

When I was in London and Yorkshire, I could go to Waitrose, Tesco, even Marks & Spencer, and other grocers to buy proper ingredients like clotted cream but here in the U.S. it isn’t as easy as all that.

I went online looking for something that the good citizens of the U.K. would recommend as the “ultimate scone.”

To Google I went and, lo and behold, the Ultimate Scone recipe does exist according to BBC’s Good Food weblog.

Well, in theory, anyway…

As I read through the comments, I was bemused at the way one small (to me), seemingly  inconsequential  statement sparked a series of comments highlighting the lack of consensus on what constitutes a proper scone, and moreover, which exactly is the “correct” order to add clotted cream and jam, or is it jam and clotted cream?

Oh dear, indeed!

Here’s the recipe I found, and a “sampling” of the more than 5 pages of comments on this recipe:

Scones, a measure of customs and traditions for Expats:  Circles or Triangles? Sweet or Savory?

A Scone in any other shape would taste as … Sweet or Savory?

Angela Nilsen’s Ultimate Scone recipe, courtesy BBC Good Food
225g self-raising flour, preferably organic
¼ tsp salt
50g slightly salted butter, chilled, cut in small pieces
25g golden caster sugar
125ml buttermilk
4 Tbsp full-fat milk
a little extra flour for dusting
strawberry jam and clotted cream, to serve.

To one of the commenters:

If you go to http://www.convert-me.com there you can convert Metric/U.S./U.K. measurements with 1 click!

Eat them as fresh as you can. Serve with strawberry jam and a generous mound of clotted cream.

(Cornish people put cream first, then jam, Devonians the other way round).

That little statement above generated this outcry of comments and more.

“A lovely light recipe…. But you have got your Devonshire and Cornish muddled up! Devonians put the cream first then the jam (the sensible way!) The Cornish folk do it the wrong way round!

“I am Cornish and it’s jam first and that is the RIGHT way!!!!!!!”

“Cornish woman here. By gum, I didn’t know we did the cream differently, but we do. Spread a bit of jam and a big dollop of cream on top. Personally think it is silly to do the other way round as can’t see how you could spread jam onto cream. Maybe we are just prefer a bigger dollop of cream and the Devonians are more healthy :-)”

“…people usually serve them with jam, then quite thickly whipped cream. That’s how I grew up and still prefer them that way to clotted cream! Also in NZ we don’t use cutters – people tend to cut the dough with a knife into halves then into eight or so oblong shapes which look very rustic, more farmhouse style I guess!”

Delicious and very easy to make; Cornish put jam then cream which is definitely the correct way, this is the way The Ritz in London recommend it!”

“Actually it’s the Devonians that have clotted cream with jam on top. The Cornish do butter then jam then cream.”

“The Devons and Cornish do it both ways, the jam and cream, it just depends on how YOUR Mum or Gran did it; that’ll always be considered “The Right Way, Period.” I love it however I can get it!”

Imagine how Americans feel when they read these comments.

Cross-Cultural confusion over how to honor traditional foods

Oh, Nevermind… let’s settle for Lox & Bagels!

Speaking only for myself (not the Californians), we are bewildered enough over how to get our cream clotted, looking for castor/caster sugar, and so on, without as well having to follow the “over vs under” discussion on which sequence is the correct one to layer on the jam and cream, and whether to butter first or not…

It’s a bit overwhelming… Just who keeps the cultural touchstones for our countries? Who are the arbiters of what is truly British, French or American (and all the other countries)?

Karen, maybe we’ll have to table the Expatria idea for now… Oh wait, even that phrase once had precisely the opposite meaning in the UK as in America.

If it’s this cumbersome to come to a consensus over language and the “scone affair,” how could ever agree on which holidays and traditions make sense for Expatria?

Oy vey!

(Check out the Global Favorites page for the complete recipe with mixing/method instructions. If you’re not in the UK or using a UK type measuring system, use the site recommended above to convert measures to your equivalents:  www.convert-me.com there you can convert Metric/U.S./U.K. measurements with 1 click!)


3 thoughts on “Speaking For Others: Is A Scone A Cultural Touchstone?

  1. Pingback: Ex-Pat Living: Divided By Common Language, Even In America | Life Lessons

  2. Ah, scones! Let me muddle this up some more: I had scones once in Australia, absolutely divine! Never had them as good anywhere, but I’ve not been to Cornwall. As far as “our” country Expatria goes, we as expats will love scones of different sorts as we are open minded. We’ll just all have fun trying out all the different cuisines. I’ll promise I’ll make us a big pot of split pea soup, the Dutch kind, which is not like anything you find in the USA, canned or homemade.


    • That sounds wonderful! Hot baking and fragrant soups- yum!

      Especially now, since we’re experiencing such chilly weather here (I hate to say “cold” weather since we were “only” at zero degrees yesterday and many of our friends up north are well below zero… definitely Dutch split pea soup time!

      I had a favorite place to have split pea soup when I was in high school. Near the Danish town of Solvang, CA (in Buellton actually) Pea Soup Andersen’s was the place we always stopped when going to or through Santa Barbara and up the coast of California.

      In those days, the Traveler Special was a bowl of the best (maybe 2nd best?) soup and a half ham sandwich on homemade sourdough. $5.95… such a bargain! I’m still a fan, but as you pointed out, modern commercial cans just don’t measure up to home made!

      I’m looking forward to taking you up on that promise someday. 😉


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