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This page - Scotland food - the one you're on now! - tells you about some of the traditional ingredients used in Scottish cuisine.
As there are quite a few food-related and drink pages on this site, here is a summary.
* Take a look here for more on on traditional foods in Scotland.
* If you are looking for specific food suggestions such as ideas on what to serve at Burns Suppers or St Andrew's Night celebrations, then follow this link to another page on Scottish Food.
* Even more on old-style traditional Scottish food - in case you want to make sheep's head broth! (Bleah.)
* Background information on Scottish cooking, including all you ever need to know about kale (or kail).
* All about Scottish high tea, the carbohydrate Olympics.
* Did I mention oats? That must mean porridge. (Tip: soak the oatmeal/rolled oats in milk or water overnight.)
* And finally, What are neeps? A humble root vegetable, actually. They turn up on the menu for Burns Suppers.
* And to drink? The Scots sometimes observe certain protocols about how to drink whisky so you may want to take a look. (Och, maybe I'm making too much of this. Drink it any way you like!! Drink malt whiskies with mixers if you really, really want to....)
When I used to write about traditional Scotland food for clients, these tourism-promoting folk always preferred if I started with an assurance of its authenticity and quality.
And it's true. These days there are some superb places to eat in Scotland - restaurants that just let the quality of the local ingredients speak for themselves. You're on quite a big page here - packed with really useful information, of course! - and on it I also wander into some byways of Scotland food and cooking, so I thought I should start with a truly foody picture (below). This is a reminder of the quality you can often find even if you opt for simple pub dining. I suppose it also assumes you like mussels, grown in the unpolluted waters of the north-west. I enjoyed this particular plateful outside The Old Forge - the only pub in the wild lands of Knoydart.
So, about this quality bit, let me point you to our ancestors - the Stone Age ones. I do hope I'm not mentioning Skara Brae too often. (Remember? The preserved Neolithic village in Orkney.) But as you peer down into their subterranean houses and their long-vanished lives you can see, amongst the stone furniture, slabs set into the sandy floors. These take the form of rectangular tanks.
Personally, I've always thought that these might be the earliest examples of flat-pack, self-assembly furniture - after all, IKEA started in these northern, Scandinavian places. But no - there are those who believe that these 'tanks' were for holding shellfish, to keep them fresh. (Neolithic man enters, flings down a neatly-skewered sabre-toothed tiger and grunts in a way that suggests that a couple of scallops flash-fried and served on those wee squares of black pudding would be great after the exertions of the hunt….)
Actually, aside from the Flintstones-like scene, as well as being gourmet consumers of bivalves, apparently, these early folk were also farmers and herdsmen with a quite wide ranging choice of Scotland food. Probably they grew bere, an early form of barley, and made bannocks - primitive oat cookies. No doubt these had a taste not unlike the nutty flavour of the bere-bannocks still made on Orkney today - an authentic link to ancient traditions with which many of Scotland's foodstuffs are associated.
(Sorry about that, but the use of the above sub-head involving the oat cuisine pun is statutory when writing about Scotland food.) Moving on, it's a small step from bere to oats, because this is a crop especially associated with Scotland - originally because in the poorer soils of the Highlands and in the cooler summers it was a reliable cereal crop.
Before the introduction of the potato (or tattie), for example, it was very important in the Highland diet. Many a clansman, cattle drover or soldier would march all day on just a portion of it, perhaps cooked over an open fire on a griddle (called a girdle in Scotland) to form a kind of bannock.
In the Lowlands, too, oatmeal was an important Scotland food. Well into the 20th century it was the staple diet of Lowland farm servants. Slightly earlier it was part of the salary both of the rural minister and of the rural schoolmaster (or dominie). Scottish universities even had a holiday called 'Meal Monday' when students from outlying parts would trudge home for another sack of it, as it was their staple term-time diet before the invention of the pot-noodle or the peanut-butter sandwich. As a curiosity, I acquired from an old neighbour a long time ago, a custom-made meal barrel. Her family,from old farming stock, had used it for years.
In farm or cottar house kitchen, the art of oatcake making was also highly regarded. Traditionally, these were made on a girdle as a round shape cut into quarters. From this quartering comes the traditional word for a Scots oatcake - fardel, from Old English feorth-dail or fourth part. Sometimes these oatcakes were referred to as 'sooty bannocks'. This was really sauté (or fried) bannocks, from the French influence on traditional Scottish cooking. More on this on the Scottish cooking page.
In rural communities, in its simplest form oatmeal was made into brose, that is, oatmeal with hot water, the first cousin of the more familiar porridge still popular today with those concerned with a healthy diet. (Oats are an excellent source of soluble fibre.) Oats are also the chief ingredient of the Scots' skirlie (oatmeal fried with onions and animal fat, sometimes as a stuffing for chicken) or in the white or mealy pudding, a particular favourite Scotland food in north-east Scotland.
Oatmeal is also is used as a coating for fried fish, especially herring. It also coats chicken in those restaurants following the philosophy that anything with a coating of oatmeal must be authentically Scottish. That's why you may find oats turning up mixed with cream or ice-cream on the sweet course.
Oats are an important ingredient in haggis, which is probably the best known item of Scotland food thanks to Robert Burns. Haggis, perhaps the most famous of Scotland food, is a sheep or lamb's stomach bag, which, along with oatmeal, is stuffed with suet, stock, liver and other offal (eg heart), onion, pepper and spices. Though associated with Scotland food, again, there is a school of thought that says this method of stuffing and cooking inside a natural bag is found all over the world.
I don't know any Scots who make it at home. Some butchers make a vegetarian version. It has an important ritual function as the main item to be consumed at Burns Suppers. Several hotels and restaurants offer it as a starter so that visitors can at least say they have tried it.
Search around hard enough and you can also try varieties such as haggis wonton, haggis tortellini, pakora, dumplings, fritters and so on as imaginative Scottish chefs find new takes on what was a very humble dish. Failing all that, try a bag of haggis crisps. (Potato chips.)
And can I just take off on a hobby-horse of mine for a moment? It's about the role of whisky at Burns Suppers. I have observed that some guests - few of them Scots, perhaps - pour whisky over the haggis. What's that all about? Sounds like a waste of good whisky to me. Scotland's national drink is understandably an element in this particular mid-winter revelry. But picture the equivalent scene at a fine dinner in France. Your host pours you a glass of wine. You thank him and pour it over your main course. I don't think so. So it's up to you. I don't want to be prescriptive, but…..
This high-calorie, cholesterol inducing start to the day is still standard fare - or at least an option - in most Scots-owned bed and breakfast establishments and will be on the menu on all hotels. This substantial option of Scotland food has evolved from the lavish spreads enjoyed by the well-to-do in the Scotland of old. Contemporary descriptions of breakfast spreads in the houses of clan chiefs in the 18th century describe plates of salt beef, salt herrings and smoked salmon all being commonly available.
Though salt herring, as a Scotland food, seems to have disappeared, porridge, kippers or yellow (smoked) fish, bacon, black pudding, sausage, mushrooms, tattie scones and eggs of all kinds in any combination form the basis of a meal designed to sustain a hard day's sight-seeing, or possibly a couple of thousand feet of mountain ascent. 'In the breakfast', the English lexicographer Dr Johnson pontificated, during his 1773 visit, 'the Scots...must be confessed to excel us....If an epicure could remove by a wish in quest of sensual gratification....he would breakfast in Scotland'. Doesn't he sound a pompous old so-and-so?
One traditional dish which is a direct descendant of those days is 'Ham and Haddie'. Today, the ham would be traditionally cured Ayrshire bacon and the smoked haddock perhaps Finnan haddie or Arbroath smokie, the names referring to two east coast fishing communities (Finnan = Findon)
Recipe - Ham and Haddie
Put the rashers of bacon on to grill until crisp. Place the smoked haddock (sometimes called 'yellow fish') in a pan with just enough milk to cover. Add a knob of butter. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Carefully transfer fish to a warmed dish and set aside.Melt a little more butter in a second pan, stir in two tablespoons of double cream and same amount of the milky poaching liquid. Reduce for a minute or so till it thickens. Add pepper to taste. Pour the creamy sauce over the fish and top with the bacon rashers. If really really hungry add a fried or poached egg as well!Before tea and coffee, much stronger beverages were on offer at breakfast time. The Highland laird Mackintosh of Borlum, writing in 1729, laments that 'When I come to a friend's house of a morning, I used to be asked if I had had my morning's draught yet. I am now asked if I have had my tea.' He complains that instead of 'the big quaich with strong ale' all he gets is a cup of tea!
Plenty more traditional Scottish recipes here.
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Granny's Scone Recipe.
My granny, writes Scottish guide Johanna Campbell, was called Flora Macdonald (1904 - 1991). This recipe came from her mother Catherine Gillies from Snizort on Skye - born 1879. Before that, I reckon it came from her mother, Flora Gillies, a Highland crofter's wife.
8oz (225 g) self raising flour
1.5 oz (40g) caster sugar, pinch of salt
3 oz (75g) soft-ish butter or margarine - chopped into chunks
1 egg - beaten
3 or 4 tablspns of milk
(Optional) 2 tablespoons yoghurt and reduce milk accordingly
(Optional) a few drops of vanilla essence
As for the milk, use whatever kind you have in the fridge. Granny would use milk she had allowed to go sour - and her scones were always so light and soft - but I haven't tried this. Buttermilk works well, if you can find it in the shops - otherwise ordinary milk mixed with plain yogurt - or just milk is fine too
Turn the oven up to its highest setting , say, 220 C / 390 F (as long as it is hot!).
Pre-heat a baking tray. (No grease or flour on tray yet.)
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Most recipes say rub in the butter or margarine into the flour - but I hardy rub it. Like granny did, I start off using a knife - as it helps to keep the mixture cold. Chop up the butter as small as possible with the (not too sharp) knife and only at the end rub in the last little bits with finger-tips. The mixture should resemble breadcrumbs - don't worry about every last piece of butter - it is better not to over-handle the mixture. Then add the beaten egg and some of the milk - mix with the knife too at this point. Add vanilla essence at this point - though I don't think granny would have used such an exotic ingredient! Then add the rest of milk to get the mixture to bind - do not make the mixture too wet. It should come together in a softish ball. Obviously, if it's sloppy, you'll not be able to cut out your scones!
Flatten the ball gently with your hands. I usually have the ball at least 1.5 inches thick. Remove the hot tray from oven and sprinkle with a little flour. Place scones on tray and bake for about 10 minutes, depending on the oven. I place the tray near the top of my oven.
These scones are nicest eaten the same day. The next day they are okay, but after that, they are best toasted. They freeze very well though. The original Granny's scones were an exception though - it may have been the sour milk or the knife - I recall hers were soft and tasty even 2 or 3 days later. I have never quite managed to reproduce that texture - I think it might have been her cold hands! - as her pastry was excellent too!
It's long gone from the family, but here is the croft on the Isle of Skye as it looks today, where my great, great grandmother, Flora Gillies, made her scones!
Scotland in Three Days