While scones are said to have originated from Scotland way back in the 1500s, pumpkin scones seem to be an Australian invention – if, indeed, invention is the word – and, more specifically, a Queensland one.
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds arrived here with the First Fleet and found the climate here very much to their liking – even when other crops struggled. Pumpkins especially liked it up here in Queensland; we even have our own pumpkin, the Queensland Blue, with a ridiculously hard skin, but is perfect for roasts and scones. Goomeri, in the South Burnett region, has a pumpkin festival every May – apparently the only pumpkin festival in Australia. You heard it here first.
Anyways, despite being mostly cattle food in Britain, pumpkins very quickly found their way onto the Australian table (although recipes such as pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread and pumpkin cupcakes aren’t popular here…yet).
Who knows which Queensland housewife first put some mashed pumpkin – and it would have been leftover from either dinner or the Sunday roast – into her scone dough, but in 1913 The Queenslander published the first pumpkin scone recipe and by 1914 the Beenleigh Agricultural Show (again in Queensland) had a special category for pumpkin scones – and other country shows quickly followed.
Okay, before anyone throws anything at me, some caveats on what I’ve just said – pumpkin scones had almost certainly been made before this time and recipes shared around. This, however, was (probably) the first published recipe. Likewise, pumpkin scones had probably appeared in country shows before 1914, the Beenleigh Show, however, seems to have been the first to have offered a specific prize category.
Anyways, the recipe spread quickly and very soon popped up in all parts of the country – Mum said she remembers her grandmother making them in country NSW. Pumpkin scones really came to prominence when they became the signature recipe of Florence (Lady Flo) Bjelke-Peterson – the wife of the conservative Queensland premier from 1968 to 1987. Lady Flo even fed her pumpkin scones to the Queen.
Her recipe is very similar to the one first published in The Queenslander. It does, however, defy everything I know about scone making and would, for that reason, have been quite revolutionary. Instead of being rubbed into the flour the butter is beaten, or creamed, with sugar. This would have been done by hand so would have relied on the butter being soft – an absolute no-no in traditional scones which requires it to be ice-cold. I guess though, back in those days keeping anything cold would have been a challenge – especially in a Queensland summer. Also, the recipe uses an egg so is, in a way, probably more of a cake than a scone.
In the name of research, I baked Lady Flo’s recipe. The result was definitely cakier than a normal scone and while it rose well it didn’t have those lovely layers you’d expect from a scone. (As an aside, while the recipe calls for it to be baked for 15-20 mins at 225-250C, I did mine for 15 mins at 220C and I think they were in for a couple of minutes too long.)
When I first decided that I’d write pumpkin scones into Escape to Curlew Cottage, I knew I couldn’t use Lady Flo’s recipe – even if it was famous in Australia. The scones that Gail would make for an English High Tea needed to be made using a traditional method. The recipe below is the one I used in the novel.
Okay, first a disclaimer – I’ve never really been a fan of pumpkin. Mum used to do (in fact, she still does) a mash of pumpkin and potato that I’ve never liked (sorry, Mum). I’m also not a fan of pumpkin soup – unless it’s spiced up with something and is perfectly smooth.
I do, however, like roast pumpkin and that’s what I use in these scones. If you’re using mash ensure it’s completely dry. Also, regardless of whether you’re using roasted or mashed pumpkin it should also be fridge cold. Other than that, the usual rules apply for scones – don’t overwork them.
As for what pumpkin to use? Butternut pumpkin is sweeter and much easier to work with but use whatever is to hand. (Another sidenote for U.S. and Canadian readers – I think you guys refer to butternut as a squash.)
Finally, you don’t have to serve these with jam and cream. They are lovely with butter, even better with cream cheese, and absolutely fabulous with cream cheese and tomato chutney. I’ve even had them with, wait for it, butter and the tiniest of smears of vegemite.
What you need:
- 2 cups self-raising flour
- 60g butter – straight from the fridge and chopped into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- A pinch of salt
- ½ cup (125ml) buttermilk (plus extra to brush the tops)
- 2/3 cup mashed pumpkin.
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- If you want to add a Christmassy touch, you can add good shake of ground ginger, ground cinnamon and ground cloves – but this is, of course, optional.
What you do with it:
- Preheat the oven to 220C (200C if fan-forced) and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl, mix in the sugar and salt (it’s just as easy to use your hands for this) and rub the butter into the floury mix using the tips of your fingers until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. At this point I pop it into the fridge for ten minutes to chill the butter back down.
- Mix the nutmeg and other spices (if using) into the mashed pumpkin.
- Make a well in the buttery flour and add the buttermilk and pumpkin. Stir with an ordinary dinner knife – this will help avoid over-working – until a sticky dough forms.
- Tip it onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until it’s just smooth. This is quite a soft dough.
- Using a lightly floured rolling pin (or your hands), roll out to about 2-3cm high and, using a fluted-edge cutter, cut out the scones and place scones on the prepared tray. They’ll rise better and more evenly if they’re just touching. Bring any leftover dough together and repeat.
- Brush with buttermilk and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on top. They should also sound hollow underneath.