Scottish Food and Drink
Traditional Scottish food consists of a hearty barley-vegetable soup (Scotch broth), Scotch (pot) pies, and stovied tatties (potatoes). Not being rich, Scots cooking relies on basic ingredients cooked up to provide warmth, strength and energy – a “meat and potatoes” diet. Vegetables grown and eaten in Scotland include potatoes, turnips, carrots, cabbage, peas and cauliflower – all suitable for their climate.
While the Lowlanders relied on mutton, the Highlanders always preferred beef. The Aberdeen-Angus breed of beef cattle are now widely reared across the world and reknown for their rich and tasty meat, which makes excellent steaks.
Living in a land of isles, lochs and burns, fish and seafood have always been Scottish staples. Today salmon tends to be smoked, and thinly sliced, served as an entree. A wide variety of seafood in the diet includes mussels, scallops, shrimp, and some of the world’s finest lobster and crabs.
The Scottish people have a “sweet tooth” and are famed for shortbread, scones, and other wonderful treats, many relying on honey and berries for their sweet flavor.
Traditionally, oatmeal and barley are basic to most Scots recipes, though wheat flour is often used today. Oatmeal was once described as “the backbone of many a sturdy Scotsman”.
The Scots make and eat a lot of cheese, particularly a soft white cheese called “crowdie”, made from the whey of slightly soured milk, seasoned with salt and a touch of pepper. The seasoned whey is squeezed in a muslin bag to remove excess water, left for two days and then rolled in oats and served.
Today, Scots often buy tea at neighborhood “take-aways” and “chippies” (fish-and-chip shops), which also offer haggis, sausage, and meat pies. The Asian Subcontinent has revolutionized Scottish dining. Thanks to immigrants from India and Pakistan, excellent Asian cooking can now be found in most Scottish towns, and “going out for a curry” has become an integral part of Scottish life.
A barley and oat-flour biscuit traditionally was baked on a griddle, but today a heavy frying pan is used. Bannocks are often eaten with cheese.
Scotch Broth or Hotch-Potch
A rich soup stock usually made by boiling mutton, beef, marrow-bone or chicken. Added to this is a choice of diced vegetables: carrots, garden peas, leeks, cabbage, turnips and a stick of celery. The hard vegetables are added first to the boiling stock with a handful of barley, and the softer vegetables are added last. The final consistency is thick and served piping hot.
Black Bun is a very rich fruit cake made with raisins, currants, finely-chopped peel, chopped almonds and brown sugar, with cinnamon and ginger added. Its name comes from the very dark colour. This traditional treat is often eaten at Hogmanay, but it should be made several weeks in advance so that it can mature.
This popular Scottish dish is served either hot or cold at picnics, using sausage meat, peeled hard boiled eggs, breadcrumbs, flour, egg, water and seasoning.
This traditional chicken, bacon and leek soup (with prunes included) is mentioned as early as the 16th century. It is often served at Burns Suppers or St. Andrew’s Night Dinner as well as an every-day soup in winter.
An oval delicacy, similar to the Scotch Pie but unlike it, the filling is crimped into the pastry case. The plain pastry is made with a stiff paste of flour and water, and rolled into an oval shape. In the centre is placed minced beef, a little suet (hard animal fat) and a sprinkling of very finely chopped onion. The pastry is then folded over along its longest dimension, brushed with milk and cooked until the pastry is golden brown.
A round crusty pastry pie, approximately 10 cm in size. These self-contained pies are filled with minced meat (mutton or beef and maybe onion), becoming a thick buttery pastry with a baked meat filling.
Haggis is perhaps the best known Scottish delicacy, and it has a rich flavour. Robert Burns said in his Address to the Haggis:
Fair fa’ yer honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudden race!
Haggis is made from sheep’s inner organs which are boiled and then minced. This is mixed with beef suet and lightly toasted oatmeal. This mixture is placed inside the sheep’s stomach, which is sewn closed. The resulting haggis is traditionally cooked by further boiling (up to 3 hours), although the partly-cooked haggis can be cooked in the oven which prevents the risk of bursting and spoiling.
A simple dish made of oatmeal, boiled slowly and stirred continuously with the traditional spirtle (a long wooden stick) to avoid lumps. Porridge should be thick and wholesome, and today it is often eaten for breakfast, with the addition of milk.
Scottish Porridge Traditions:
1. Stirring the porridge should always be clockwise.
2. Porridge used to be served with separate bowls of thick cream. A spoonful of porridge was dipped into a communal bowl of cream before eating.
3. Porridge is eaten standing up. Some say that this is out of respect for the noble dish, but it probably arose from busy farmers doing other things while eating – or as an aid to digestion.
4. Porridge must be cooked with salt to obtain the correct flavour. Those eating porridge outside Scotland have been known to cook it without salt and indeed eat it with sugar or even syrup.
5. While some people frown at the idea of sugar, others not only approve but suggest a tot of whisky!
6. Traditionally, crofters in the Highlands would make a large pot of porridge at the beginning of the week. It used to be poured into a “porridge drawer” and, once it had cooled, it could be cut up into slices and the crofter would place a slice in his pocket each day for lunch, since these were easier to carry than brittle oatcakes.
Stovies are a potato-based dish, designed to use leftover meat and vegetables.
Several onions are cut into small pieces and fried in beef fat in a large pot. Scraps of meat and leftover vegetables (carrots and peas) are then added to the frying onions. Six to eight good-sized potatoes are peeled and cut into 3 cm pieces. Approximately 2.5 cm of water is added to the pan containing the fried onion mixture and the potato pieces are added to this, seasoned with salt, and then left to simmer until the potatoes are soft. More water is added only if the pan becomes dry.
The resulting stovies should have the consistency of mashed potatoes, but the potato pieces should still be detectable. Modern cooks add a beef stock cube to the mixture prior to simmering.
Heather Ale (A Galloway Legend)
From the bonny bells of heather,
They brewed a drink Lang Syne
Was sweeter far than honey
Was stronger far than wine.
Heather has been used over the years to flavour many different foods and drinks. Little is known about the early beverages of Scotland, however, many tales are told of brewing ales and wines from heather flowers.
Place a teaspoon-full of sugar and a teaspoon-full of Scottish heather honey in a warm glass. Add a measure of scotch whisky and top up with boiling water. Traditionally, it should be stirred gently with a silver spoon. An excellent cure for the common cold, or just when feeling down!
Scotch Whisky (or simply “Scotch”) is certainly the best known Scottish drink. Scotch Whisky (only Irish and American varieties are spelled with an “e”) is distilled from a barley liquor and flavoured with peat-tainted water.
The are two basic classes of whisky: 1) Malt Whisky – more expensive, this is the product of a single distillery; and 2) Blended Whisky – cheaper and more popular, coming from several distilleries and is mixed with some industrial spirit to give a standard flavour.
The first documentary evidence of whisky was in the late 15th C. The Gaelic Uisge Beatha translates to “water of life” (as does the Latin Aqua Vitae). Uisge was anglicized into the word “whisky”. The Scotch whisky industry changed forever in 1833, when Aeneas Coffey of Dublin invented a new still, capable of producing 40 times as much spirit from a mix of maize, rye and malted barley. This grain whisky (virtually alcohol and water) has little of the distinctive character of malt whisky, but it could be made in large quantities. The trick soon learned was to blend the highly flavoured malt with grain to produce blended whisky. The more malt, the better the quality and the higher the price.
In the mid 19th C, with the outbreak of phylloxera in the vines of Europe, brandy prices skyrocketed. With the ability to produce large quantities of whisky for a waiting market, larger new companies were formed and the older ones expanded – Dewar, Walker, Haig, Bell, Buchanan, Sanderson and Grant – family firms became well known worldwide.
Today, while bottled Single Malt Whisky is ‘the jewel in the crown’ of Scotch Whisky it only accounts for 2% of that marketed. The vast majority of Scotch consumed is blended. Malt is made in much the same way as it was hundreds of years ago, in traditional pot stills made of copper.
FESTIVE TOASTS FOR DRINKING
May the mouse never leave your grain store
with a tear drop in its eye.
May you always stay hale and hearty
until you are old enough to die.
May the best you have ever seen
be the worst you will ever see.
May you still be as happy
as I always wish you to be.
Here’s to all those that I love
Here’s to all those that love me.
And here’s to all those that love those that I love,
And all those that love those that love me.
Here’s to the heath, the hill and the heather,
The bonnet, the plaid, the kilt and the feather!
Here’s to the heroes that Scotland can boast,
May their names never die –
That’s the Highland Man’s Toast!
Here’s to us – (And those) Wha’s like us –
Damn few – And they’re all dead –
More’s the pity!
Long may your chimney smoke
With other folks coal!
May ye ne’er want a frien’
Or a dram to give him.
When we’re going up the hill of fortune, may we ne’er meet a frien’ comin’ down!
Good health, every day, whether I see you or not!
May your cup overflow with health and happiness!