Scottish Food

Cooking in Scotland, traditional cooking that is, is has been heavily influenced by three things - fish, oats and the "Auld Alliance".

Fish

Fish has always been a staple in the Scottish diet, both freshwater and sea. Scotland has some of the best fresh water fishing in the EU. As well as the, almost legendary, salmon and trout fishing many other coarse fish abound in Scotland's largely unpolluted rivers, streams and lochs. Sea fishing has harvested the bounty of the seas all around the Scottish coast. Cod, pollack, skate, hake and mackerel have all been fished, but to my mind the best sea fish of all is haddock.

Finnan Haddie (one type of smoked haddock) is actually a corruption of the name of the small fishing village of Findon, just a few miles south of Aberdeen. Many believe this was the first place to smoke haddock. Real smoked haddock isn't the bright yellow fish you see in a lot a shops. Real smoked haddock is still mostly white with a pale brown tinge. It is lightly smoked, traditionally over peat fires, and has a delicate taste. Probably the most famous Scottish recipe involving smoked haddock is a soup called Cullen Skink, which translates as 'essence of Cullen', another small fishing village on the north east coast. Many variations abound, but Cullen Skink is basically a smoked haddock and potato soup. An easy recipe to serve four people can be found in the menu on the right.

Oats

Oats are the cornerstone of the Scottish diet. They can be found in almost everything. They are the traditional breakfast of porridge, they are used as a coating for fish and cheese, and they are used in soups and stews and in cakes, breads and desserts. Samuel Johnson, the famous lexicography, and who hailed from Lichfield in the English Midlands, infamously defined oats in his dictionary as:

      “A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”

Famously his biographer James Boswell, a Scot from Edinburgh and 9th Laird of Auchinleck, replied:

      “Which is why England is known for its horses and Scotland for its men”

No article on oats in Scotland can be written without a good look at porridge. In Scotland porridge is made from oatmeal, NOT rolled oats. Proper oatmeal comes in three varieties depending on the amount of processing it has had - Pinhead (coarse), medium and fine. Medium can be used for porridge but pinhead is best. A recipe for traditional Scottish porridge can be found in the menu on the right.

In Scotland even the eating is surrounded by strange practices. In some areas porridge had to be eaten standing up. In others it was eaten only with a spoon made of horn. In the old days on St Kilda they had no salt. One old story says that the islanders would boil up a puffin with the porridge, the saltiness of the puffin providing the required amount of seasoning. In the Outer Hebrides it was the custom to serve a small bowl of fresh milk with each bowl of porridge, the idea being to scoop up some porridge then some milk and eat the two together. My own personal favourites are porridge made the traditional way with a piece of good quality black pudding in it, and porridge made the alternative way with cheese and onion, can be also be found in the menu on the right.

Auld Alliance

The "Auld Alliance", is all about France. In the days when England and Scotland were at war with each other more often than not France was at war with England as well. In became natural for Scotland and France to become allies. Under the alliance first signed by William the Lion in 1165, one aspect was the arrangement of 'dual citizenship'. This made it very easy for travellers from the two countries to move from one to the other. As far as the respective governments were concerned the alliance was dissolved some time in the mid fifteen hundreds. This wasn’t the case though with the ordinary people, with traders, and with some of the nobility. Those who had contacts in France kept the alliance going, unofficially, for hundreds of years after this time. Dr Samuel Johnson on his tour of Scotland in 1773 observed that in the lowliest hovel, in the most out of the way place, the French wine was often better than anything in London. This close connection with France is reflected in some aspects of Scottish Food.

Howtowdie is a Scottish dish of oatmeal stuffed chicken, casseroled whole. Howtowdie is a corruption of the French word 'hutaudeau', meaning a young chicken or pullet, Chicken in a Pot is the Scottish version of the French 'Pot au Feu'. Lorraine Soup is a concoction of chicken and almonds in cream thought to have been brought to Scotland by the personal chefs of Marie de Guise Lorraine, wife of King James V, mother of Mary Queen of Scots and grandmother of James VI of Scotland / I of England.