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September 24, 2007


Rachel Laudan

Fascinating Adam. Flatbreads, oatcakes, scones, pancakes. All those griddle cooked breads of one kind or another. When I arrived in the United States, I was surprised to learn that what Americans called biscuits were my scones. In the Appalachians, people had a real hand with "biscuits." They were, of course, served with sausage and gravy (white sauce) as often or more often than with butter.

Adam Balic

Rachel - I have a facination with griddle breads. At some point I will write about some of the native British griddle breads (after I have made more of them). Regarding UK "Scone", USA "Biscuit" it is interesting to see how they are related. However, even with the early "American" recipe I have found I feel that they most likely evolved seperately, but ended up being the same sort of product because there are a limited number of solutions to the same basic problem of getting a light cake/bread using a chemical raising agent.

Rachel Laudan

Another couple of comments as I think about this. First, I will be fascinated to see why you think American biscuits are an independent invention. Second, drop scones in England were always associated with the Scots and turned out like a fat wheat flour pancake.

Adam Balic

I think that the USA and UK versions may be "independent" in so much as so far I have found little evident that the complete recipe(s) were imported wholesale from the former to the later. The 'Potash Cakes'I show here are a rare exception. I haven't seen any other examples of actual USA recipes being copied into UK cookbooks. UK writers don't say "An American recipe" for instance. However, the "technology" was a USA firstand this was imported to the UK. Also, a lot of the early British recipes for Soda scones/biscuits were not baked in an oven, they were griddle breads, a sort of a transition between the original griddle scone and the later oven baked soda scone. For example this recipe from Scotland (1854)

Rub six ounces of butter into four pounds of flour,
one ounce of soda, half an ounce of tartaric acid,
and make all into a soft dough with butter-milk,
divide into twelve scones, roll out and prickle them
on the top, bake in a quick oven, or girdle.

My mother made "drop scones", other families in the area called them "pikelets". In Scotland they are mostly just called "pancakes" (English pancakes are thin, like crépes). One difference between my mothers version and the commercial types I saw in Scotland was size. Mum's were small, where as the commercial types were roughly the same size and shape as American pancakes. "Pikelet" is a local term used in Northern England and Wales. Originally, it seems to be an alternate name for "crumpet", but now means something like the drop scones. Crumpet/Pikelet/Muffin seem to be interchangable terms in some regions/periods.

Modern Scottish crumpets are similar to modern English Pikelets, not English style crumpets. The batter/dough is the same as for drop scones/pancakes but is more runny so they spread out more. They are cooked through on one side which gives them their characteristic holey surface, but use chemical raising agent, not yeast.


Hi Adam,

I am really enjoying your blog postings, thank you!

Regarding American biscuits, etc., have you read Bill Neal's "Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie"? There are many interesting scone and biscuit recipes in there from the South. There are historical comments preceding each recipe and there is an extensive bibliography which includes mainly older texts from the 18th and 19th century.


Adam Balic

Thank you for the kind comments Ludja.

I haven't read this book actually, although your description makes it sound very interesting. The history of food in America is such a huge topic in it's own right that I haven't really had the time to study. There are a number of Southern cookery books that I have looked through and a few items here and there from New England.

One interest that I have is food "at the boundries", colonial food, post-colonial food, immigrant food etc, so a really obvious place to look into this would be in America.

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