Scones, crumpets and muffins are often grouped together because originally they were all cooked on a griddle or bakestone. Very few homes had any form of oven until the nineteenth century and, even today, in many parts of the world ovens are rare.
Records suggest that crumpets – or a very early variety – were made as long ago as the fourteenth century but the first known recipe, which uses milk, flour and barm, a form of yeast, comes from Elizabeth Raffald in 1769.
In her book, The Experienced English Housekeeper, Mrs Raffald includes advice on eating crumpets. “…and when you want to use them roast them very crisp, and butter them.”
The name likely comes from the Welsh word, cremog, meaning pancake or fritter.
Possibly originating in Scotland, a Scone was originally a flat round cake, made of fine white flour, buttermilk and a raising agent. Cooked on a griddle it was cut into triangular quarters for serving. It later developed into today’s individual round oven-baked cake.
Like the muffin, it’s possible that it developed from the Welsh bara maen (small round yeast cakes).
The first time the word, scone, is found in print is in a translation of The Aeneid in 1513. The word may be derived from Dutch, schoonbrot, or German, schonbrot, meaning ‘fine bread’; alternatively it could be from the Gaelic, sgon, meaning ‘large mouthful’.
There is one school of thought that says the cake takes its name from Scone, the site of a long-gone Abbey where the kings of Scotland were crowned.
There is no right way to say the word. Some people say scone to rhyme with stone; others, including Theodora Fitzgibbon in her book, Traditional Scottish Cookery, say it should be pronounced scon to rhyme with gone.
Like crumpets, English Muffins are yeast-based. They’re small, slightly flattened rolls, with a light texture, and a golden-brown top and bottom.
The first printed record of the name appears in about 1703. There is uncertainty over the origins: one suggestion is that it stems from the old French word, moufflet, meaning soft when applied to bread; another is that it is of German origin, from muffe meaning cake.
Muffins reached the height of their popularity in the nineteenth century when muffin men would walk through the town at tea-time selling muffins from a tray. As they walked they rang a bell – just like ice cream vans today always play Greensleeves! – to alert people to their presence. ‘Come and buy!’
In the 1840s an Act of Parliament was passed to stop muffin men ringing their bells because people objected to the noise – there were around 3,000 Muffin Men at the time!
In 1747, Hannah Glasse, in her book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, recommends avoiding using a knife on a muffin.
“And when you eat them, toast them with a Fork crisp on both Sides, then with your Hand pull them open, and they will be like a Honey-Comb; lay in as much Butter as you intend to use, then clap them together again, and set it by the Fire, when you think the Butter is melted turn them, that both Sides may be butter’d alike, but don’t touch them with a Knife, either to spread or cut them open, if you do they will be as heavy as Lead, only when they are quite butter’d and done, you may cut them across with a Knife.”
… are nothing like English muffins! But it wasn’t always so. Early American cookbooks show that the first muffin recipes were very similar to those for English muffins. However, gradually they changed into the Cupcakes we know today.
At first there were only a few basic varieties but by 1929, the cookbook Mrs. Allen on Cooking, Menus, Service, included 23 different muffin recipes. In the latter part of the twentieth century American-style Muffins became very popular in Britain, and today they’re not only much larger than their antecedents, they also come in a huge number of varieties.