plagiarism and the starbucks pumpkin scone clones

October 26, 2012

Lately I’ve been thinking about plagiarism.

The topic made big news recently in the Canadian media when our once pre-eminent national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, had an epic plagiarism scandal.

A regular Globe and Mail columnist was said to have “borrowed” copy directly from a blog.

The newspaper’s silence was followed by botched, half-hearted, insincere, patronizing explanations, and a lack of transparency about disciplinary measures taken. The columnist wrote a column in her own defence and the public commentary that followed was brilliant. The story was widely reported throughout Canadian print media and blogged about extensively. If you want to read more – here’s a link with an excellent summary of the story:

Incredibly, the same newspaper has recently introduced a “paywall” – that is a fee to view certain newspaper articles. Their timing could not have been worse. The defence is that we need to pay for good journalism. I agree but when the paid journalists are plagiarizing the work of bloggers – it kind of defeats the paywall. Blogs are free. A labour of love. So far as I know, most bloggers are not plagiarizing journalists.  As a freelancer – I find it especially galling to think that salaried journalists are plagiarizing the works of underpaid and unpaid writers.

Since I also work in a university, I hear a lot about plagiarism and the steps taken to prevent it. Let’s be clear – plagiarism is not restricted to students. A dean at a Canadian university gave a brilliant and moving but almost entirely plagiarized speech at a convocation ceremony not too long ago. Sophisticated plagiarism tracking software is one of many new tools being used by some lofty academic journals. Plagiarism, it seems, is a widespread problem.

It got me thinking about recipes – and what defines a new recipe – since surely almost every conceivable combination of ingredients has appeared in a recipe somewhere, at some time.

Take for example pumpkin scones. I’ve been on a pumpkin kick of late. I thought I’d make some scones and rather than hunt through my own recipe file, I googled pumpkin scones. I came up with 3,750,000 hits – and the first thing to appear in my search was a Starbuck’s pumpkin scone-clone recipe. A stack of similar recipes followed. I can’t decide if this is a form of plagiarism or not. I think it comes down to correct attribution.

When I published my cookbook – A Taste of Wintergreen – I did some research about what constitutes an original recipe. One of the best resources I found about recipe attribution was an article by David Lebovitz at

Essentially if you change three or more ingredients in a recipe – you can call it your own. My own rule about this is that changes must be substantive – not adjusting measurements or adding or subtracting spices! If in doubt – you should indicate where the inspiration came from. Citing sources is the best and safest way to avoid anything vaguely smacking of plagiarism.

This is my own vegan version of the many Starbuck’s pumpkin scone-clone recipes. I can assure you it has been substantively changed from the recipes I looked at.  And I can’t even tell you which recipe inspired me – since there are millions of them – all more or less the same!

Enough – whether you’re vegan or not – make a batch of these scones. There was no plagiarism involved and no animal products used. So they’re politically and ethically correct, healthy, and as it happens they’re irresistibly tasty too.

Vegan Pumpkin Scones

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 cup cold vegan margarine (I used Becel Vegan – you could easily substitute butter for a non-vegan version)
1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin
1/3 cup almond milk (or cream for a non-vegan version)
2 tsp vanilla


1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp almond milk
pinch of ground cinnamon and ginger

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl.

Cut in the margarine until reasonably well blended. The mixture should be slightly crumbly.

In a separate bowl combine the pumpkin, almond milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and form dough into a ball. If you need to add more liquid add almond milk by the tablespoonful until you have a slightly wet, but not sopping wet, dough.

Pat out on a lightly floured board, folding the dough over itself two or three times. Shape into a circle about 3/4 inch thick and cut into eighths.  Place on prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for about 14 minutes or until the scones are browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine glaze ingredients and use a whisk or a fork to drizzle over the scones. Allow to set before serving.

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  • Reply Jennifer Smeltzer October 26, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Another excellent entry, Lindy.
    Even better read, regarding plagiarism…I agree, when paid writers are plagiarizing the work of unpaid bloggers, it is really sad. Rest assured, when I use this recipe, I give credit to it’s creator. And no, not Starbucks……

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen October 26, 2012 at 10:15 am

      thanks Jennifer! Plagiarism is never right. Something to think about over scones and tea.

  • Reply Laurie Gough October 26, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Great post, Lindy! So interesting about the plagiarism in the Globe and Mail, and in recipes! Oh, and I’m going to make your delicious-sounding vegan pumpkin scones (but adding some nuts and, let me think, maybe two other original ingredients, like carob chips, and oatmeal? What do you think?)

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen October 26, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Thanks Laurie – I love it!! You make me laugh. But seriously we should re-blog each other. xox

  • Reply laura mechefske October 26, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Ah ha, this will be my weekend study break – one break for cooking and then later breaks for nom-ing… 🙂 Thanks for being so deliciously inspiring Mum!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen October 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      You will like this one Laura – simple and tasty and vegan. More vegan posts coming soon.

  • Reply Elly October 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Mum – love this post! So topical. Plagiarism is such a tricky thing – not as black and white as one might think. Recipe plagiarism is an interesting concept. Makes you wonder how much the big names in the food industry have “borrowed”.

    Is this the same recipe for the scones you gave me? Soooo yummy!

    Love you! xoxoxoxoxox

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen October 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm

      I don’t think it’s the same recipe Elly – because this one is vegan. I like it even better. GREAT scones. I’ve made you some darling. See you tomorrow. x0x0

  • Reply tonettejoyce October 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Yes; I have been hesitant to put recipes in my blog that are not my own creations, family recipes or those I have not done a great deal of ‘playing ‘ with.I think it is just wrong,(I own copyrights to writings, btw). Also, it doesn’t seem right to even use a lot of recipes and give credit; I mean, why would someone have a blog and just copy other people’s recipes? Seems lazy and like a huge waste of time. You and I post the same way, only I do alternative vegan versions of some while you do alternative non-vegan versions of some…but we’re both in the same ballpark!

  • Reply nancy October 29, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I have to admit, it was with some schadenfreude that I read Wente was outed for her plagiarism. I stopped reading her column long ago I was so irritated by her arrogant “opinions” based on what? Nothing but biased opinion from an intellectual poser. Turns out my feeling was right!! She belongs to a group of the likes of Black, Murdoch, Berlusconi, and others caught lying…

  • Reply julie January 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Made these scones for the second time today. They are AWESOME! Thank you for the recipe! I am too lazy to actually knead the dough, so I use my large cookie scoop instead. Then I flatten them to 3/4 inch. It ends up making 14 scones. Thanks, again!

  • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen January 2, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Hi Julie! Thank you so much for the feedback. I haven’t made these for a bit so you reminded me to make them again – and I’ll use your technique – genius!
    Happy happy New Year!

  • Reply petit4chocolatier January 10, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Excellent post!! It is like citing your research, you always give your source. If it wasn’t yours, state it. I have never tasted the Starbuck pumpkin scones. But these look delicious on every level imaginable!!

  • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen January 10, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Thanks Judy – that’s very sweet especially coming from you who makes the most beautiful desserts ever…

  • Reply the complicated business of ethical eating – and the Starbuck’s pumpkin scone clones | a taste of wintergreen October 6, 2013 at 10:26 am

    […] post is my September Kingston This Week column. And true confessions, I did post this recipe previously but it’s such a favourite of mine – that I’m […]

  • Reply Hilda October 24, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    I just made these scones and they are really delicious. While they baked I reread your comments on plagiarism. I like how you work interesting blog-related issues into your posts.

    • Reply Lindy Mechefske October 24, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      I’m so glad you liked these Hilda. I end up making several batches every fall…as I go into pumpkin overdrive. Thanks so much for the comment. Looking forward to catching up.

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