Chapter 5  

Previous chapters have shown various influences upon diet and the use of food both generally and in relation to Scotland. It is appropriate now to consider some of the specific foods consumed by Scots and in their historical contexts.
The assertion made in the first chapter that the standard of diet around 1550 was reasonable can be supported before looking in more detail at the subsequent decline in those standards. Grant sees that decline both in terms of the later successes with the production of oatmeal and identification of the reliance on that commodity: “The eighteenth century description of the Scots (when the droving trade was at its height) as a nation that lived upon oatmeal, have so much captured the popular fancy that it is quite surprising to remember that until the seventeenth century the people were probably largely meat eaters. Corn and other grains were often scarce … the export of hides and skins was one of the principal industries of the country … it is clear that the canny Scot, who is scarcely likely to have wasted the carcass of these animals, must have indulged in a good deal of meat …”1 There was also such an abundance of salmon too, at this time, that people got quite bored with having it each day. Truckel2 has produced a list from original documents of various items described in the inventory of goods at Torthorwold Castle, near Dumfries, in 1544. Included in the list are accounts relating to “34 salt salmond, price of the pece 3s; 12 dry kipper … 12d; 8 stane of butter, 12s stane; ane dosand stanis of cheis … as stane; ane pitcher of huny contenand tua gallonis, price of the galloun 20s”. The documents show that such commodities were eaten by the serfs.
Accepting the previously stated limitation that the bulk of reports relate to the rich, at least some of their fare would have been consumed by their servants. Another assumption worthy of contesting is that battle and contest were the downfall of the medieval aristocrat. Excessive eating of the “idle rich at the close of the sixteenth century, killed more than sword and knife”
            “Qutia wuld tak rest upoun the nicht,      Who would take rest at night,
            The supper sould be schort and licht;                 The supper should be short and light;
            The stommok hes ane full grit [great] pane, The stomach has a lot of pain,
            Auhen at the supper mekle is tane.” 3           When at the supper much is taken.
The contemporary culinary-cum-dietary advice included: “’bulyeit’ or boiled meat … ‘fosteris weill’; ‘rostit’ meat is said to dry the blood; of salt there is never a good word to say; it is pronounced ‘warst of any fude’”. Besides perhaps predicting the modern concern for the effect of salt we may have the beginnings of the lack of any desire for roast meats. Allen4 considers that there is a “poorly developed tradition of roasting in Scotland”. Grant’s proposition that meat consumption lessened in theseventeenth century was not quite supported by Smout.
“Early in the [eighteenth] century it had been customary to eat enormous meat meals without vegetables throughout the summer and winter, and to subsist in the winter on salt beef, chickens, broth, eggs and fish, with, of course, quantities of oatmeal prepared in different ways. By 1800 meals were less gargantuan but diet was much better balanced, with a big choice of vegetables (especially turnips, potatoes and greens) more fruit, much more wheatbread used, and fresh meat available in every month.” 5
We will look at turnips, potatoes, fruit etc., later on. Meanwhile let us remain with the early eighteenth century. The years of plenty might seem to have been at the time of the Union of Parliaments which is not to say that such plenty was influenced by increased contact with England. The household books of Lady Grisell Baillie concern 1692 to 17336 and those of Lady Castlehill concern 1712. Although this type of book is about the life of the aristocracy there is ample indication of a reasonable level of diet of servants which is to be expected.  Referring to Lady Castlehill, Whyte2 comments: “As the wide variety of home-produced foodstuffs required by the Receipt Book testifies, Scotland at the beginning of the eighteenth century, despite years of death and famine, was not such a poverty stricken land as is often supposed … if the Scots were not so sophisticated as the English, they were at least healthier … The food was gutsy, solid, ample and rich …”
Contrast such a view with that of another writer who reviewed a much wider period:
“The new foods, new cooking techniques, and new eating habits that began to revolutionize and then refine the diet of so much of Europe after about AD 1200 passed Scotland by. Despite the French connection, despite the Scots nobility’s undoubted familiarity with the rice and spices, almonds, sugar, fruits and other delicacies so integral to the new cuisine, the great mass of Scotland’s people continued, until after the Union of 1707, to eat much the same food, prepared in much the same way, as their ancestors had done a thousand years before. Or even earlier. Nowhere else in Europe – not even in Ireland – did a ‘national’ cuisine preserve its innocence for so long.” 8
In Chapter One it was suggested that Scotland was at least a century behind in general progress compared with England. That suggestion has some worth in the light of Tannahill’s comment. Consider also Burt’s view of the Islands. As late as the late 1720s, according to Burt9 metal containers were unavailable to many in the further Scottish Islands “ … being destitute of vessels of metal … they put water into a block of wood, made hollow with the help of the dirk and burning; and then with pretty large stones heated red-hot, and successively quenched in that vessel, they keep the water boiling, till they have dressed their food.” Prior to this boiling-in-the-hide process “… the lower orders of Highlanders” boild the blood taken from the living animal “into cakes, which together with a little milk and a short allowance of oatmeal, is their food” 10
As if to confirm that meat eating on the grand scale as discussed earlier may have ended in the eighteenth century we see that an Englishman who visited a random village, Lesmahago in Lanarkshire in 1704 “… found the people living on cakes made of pease and barley mixed. ‘They ate no meat, nor drank anything but water all the year round … I pitied their poverty but observed the people were fresh and lusty and did not seem to be under any uneasiness with their way of living’.”11 So with lusty people eating gutsy food, despite disagreement about the amount of meat consumed, the diet seems to have been, on balance, approaching acceptable levels. Accepting limitations already announced concerning the type of information forthcoming it is of interest at this stage to look more closely at a household book.
Analysis of the “Bills of Fair” of Lady Grisell Baillie’s heyday [early 1700s] reveals a good range of foodstuffs and the vegetables are of particular interest. The following detail is taken from herHousehold Book12 and the page number gives first mention of the repeated use of the item.


Page No
Meat & Fish
Fruit, Nuts etc.
Sewd beef
Pidgion py
Pickled sols
Sweat breads
With sallarly
Apples pears
Peald walnuts
Rost bief
Rost mutton
Ragow cokscoms
Rosted larks
Sheap head
Relief of salmond
Dryd whitiens
Limon cream
Shelld walnuts
Rost hear
Boyled hame
Green peas
Boyld sols
Broyld eels
Frayed eles
Rost fillet bief
Pistache nuts
Soup with marrabon
Sheaps head


Page No
Meat & Fish
Fruit, Nuts etc.
Boyld goos (once only)
Hagis (once only)
A dish turbet
Bacon and benns
Broyled herrins
Red cabage
Aples in cyrop
Rosted breast of pork (once only)
Boyld wild ducks
Colerd pig
Rost udder

“It will be noted that in these menus there is only one mention of potatoes, and that in the foreign menus of 1733.”13 (That menu is not included in the above analysis). The variety in spelling has been discussed by White14 in his introduction to a similar book. “… the unstandardised spelling (which often is merely the phonetic rendering of a word) …” indicates to the present writer a variety of hands also. The low number of pork-based dishes suggest that this is a topic for further discussion which is to be found later.
Opinion relating to the diet of those of lesser importance and later in the century is given by Stephens whose concern was that the decline in dietary standards was at its most marked. “It need hardly be said that is it largely social conditions which shape the diet of a people. Looking, then, at the sheer social deprivation of large numbers of people following the Industrial Revolution in Scotland – reckoned to have begun with the first blasts of the Carron Ironworks in 1759, but gathering momentum from around 1800 onwards – it would be difficult to expect anything other than a very poor diet indeed.”15 She has summarised the rural menu around the 1790s and argued that those living in the country had a sound intake notwithstanding its “grinding monotony” as compared with those in the towns.
Late 18th Century onwards
Breakfast Porridge, brose or “brochan” (gruel) with milk or oat or barley bannocks (eaten dry)
Noon Meal       Whole potatoes with butter or Broth with kail or potatoes Oat or barley bannocks. Milk or ale.
Supper     Oatmeal brose (with turnip or kail juice) or barley broth with Milk or ale.”16
Sievwright, however, found considerable variety in the diet (in 1830 rural Brechin) “amongst the same class of people”17 due to differences in character, size of family etc., and fluctuations in the “conditions of the staple trades of the town and wages which workers could command.”18 Perhaps a typical situation related to the “decent, honest, sober weavers in Brechin, I have heard, [who] had to resort to unnatural expedients to stiffle the cravings of hunger on the part of their children, such as keeping out the light of the incoming morning to quieten the cry of the bairns for their morning porritch, or giving them salt herrings to eat, that their extreme thirst might lead them to fill their empty stomachs with water.”19
While the general decline from the standard of diet in more medieval times is perceptible, the variations are much more apparent. Levitt and Smout20 looked at “The State of the Scottish Working Class in 1843” and concluded several things. “The far north … was probably better fed than the Highlands …”21but the Shetlanders were not as well fed as the Orcadians. The north western parts of the Highlands and Hebrides “includes the worst fed districts in the entire country with little to eat but potatoes and fish, supplemented by milk and a little meal.” The central Highlands seemed to be more adequately supplied but there was a lack of fish.
The Aberdeen area had “abundant supplies of oatmeal and drank more milk than anywhere else.” A lot of green vegetables were consumed but rather less potato than other parts. Pork seems to have been favoured in Southern Perthshire and Fife along with a generally higher level of meat consumption there and in Angus. Fish was the mainstay of diet on the seaboard of Fife which is, of course, extensive.
People in Edinburgh ate less meat in the mid 1800s than their countrymen across the Forth but more than those towards the border where we observe a much more frugal diet of oatmeal and potatoes again. Weavers are singled out once more for attention and spent two thirds of their income on meal, milk and potatoes.22
MacKinnon was not as detailed in comment as Levitt and Smout. “About the middle of the [nineteenth] century the use of butcher meat was still very limited and oatmeal and potatoes were still the staple diet. By the end of the century the use of meat had become common, at the expense, however, of the decrease in the use of oatmeal which is greatly to be deplored.”23
The turn of the twentieth century sees the end of the present study. There are occasional references to more recent times in contrast to events or circumstances in the past.
Food on the Plate
“The fire was on the hearth, of peat or wood, and the goodwife toasted her oatcakes on the girdle, and finished them off by drying them in front of the fire …”24 This is perhaps everyman’s image of Scotland in a byegone age and as a hand-me-down from mother to daughter the gastronomic heritage of Scotland was perpetrated until technology took over probably just after World War 1.
Oats v wheat v barley etc., has been the concern of farmers for centuries as an early writer suggests:
“Nocht withstande­ng amang the mountanis and hiche cuntreyis, ates is mekle mair prosperous than quheit. Of ates in Britannie, by the opinione of mony, is maid verie gude brede, nocht tasteles, bot with grett labour, quhilke al the north parte of Ingland, and the Gretter parte of Scotland vses, and ar susteyned vpon commounlie.” 25
‘Ates’, with great labour, is turned into gude brede. This was probably aerated with yeast from the brewing of ‘wholesome ale for the whole isle’.
If any one food-stuff could be singled out as longest runner in the food marathon it would be oatmeal. It was well established in Scotland by the sixth century26  but such a statement should not be taken too literally; as we have already seen that there were difficulties in the middle ages. Such problems were not really solved until the agricultural revolution of the 1800s. The same writer has noted that its ease of preparation (which does not count it as the first convenience food) has been a significant factor in its early acceptance and “could be made ready for eating within an hour or so of being reaped if the cook used the neolithic threshing method (still known in the nineteenth century Highlands as gradaning) of setting fire to the chaff. This also toasted the grain and made it digestible.” (She did not note, however, that this operation may also have led to a different flavoured alcoholic fermentation if its products were left in water in the warmer months. Thus, malted beers may have had their origins in an activity which had been carried out for hundreds of years before the particular effect had been noted. Today, of course, the matter discussed here is carried out in the brewery mashtun).
But to return to the question of ease of preparation and the acceptance of oats as the staple foodstuff in earlier times, ingenuity was not confined to setting light to the chaff. “In his chronicle for the year 1327 Froissart noted that on their forays into England, Scottish soldiers never bothered with pots and pans, but seemed content to ride with a bag of oatmeal and a flat stone strapped between the saddle and the saddle cloth. When they got tired of a diet of stolen cattle, they mixed up a paste of oatmeal and water and made little cakes, cooked on the stone among the campfire embers.”27
While today oatmeal is looked upon as food for the poor, there was a time in Scotland when it was a special treat. I.F.Grant has written several books on Scottish history and in her “Everyday Life in Old Scotland” draws upon “Henryson, the poet who was born about 1425 and died about 1500.” Henryson describes “… the ordinary diet of the poorest people in the fifteenth century. Oatmeal was rather a luxury to them. In bad years, especially, they did not have it every day, or they had to mix it with cheaper food such as rye meal.”28 But still there was very little that was more appetizing than the “little cakes” almost half-baked through the heat created by equestrian friction. Grant notes29 that it was not until 1560 that a slightly better product was available in the form of fuskean scone. “This is the earliest mention of the word scone in Scots literature.” 30
At least the carbohydrate intake provided by oatmeal was not limited to the scone although boiling it was looked down upon by visitors to Scotland. Then, as today, tourists made sure that they saw the Islands.
“In the Western Island about 1695, little flesh was said to be eaten, and the ordinary diet was butter, cheese, coleworts, and a dish called brochan. Brochan, a kind of gruel consisting of oatmeal and water, boiled, was a standard dish in winter and spring, as long as the grain lasted. Travellers regarded it as the dish of the ‘Vilgar’.” 31
Fenton was writing about “The Place of Oatmeal in the Diet …” Returning to the mainland we can also widen the discussion to include barley: Fenton32 comments “Until Fletcher of Saltoun started his barley mill in 1711, pot barley was made in a ‘Knock in Stane’ i.e. a stone with a deep hollow, in which the grain could be rubbed or pounded with a stone or mallet.” As time progressed such activities became mechanised but: “Barley mills were not in common use till the year 1742, and they were unknown in the Highlands until the close of the century.” I.e. 1800.33 Other improvements included proper storage facilities for the grain. Graham here discusses the period 1700 – 1750.
“When snow set in, each country house was blockaded: there was nothing to look on but the bleak, white, treeless waste. Then it was that the isolated home appreciated the advantage of having within doors … the girnalls full of grain to make their ‘groats’, and ‘knockit bear’ their brew house to supply the ale.” 34
Such an improvement as “girnalls” were clearly unavailable to those in a more urban environment. Grant refers to the diet of the poor in the 1750s. “Poorer people could seldom afford meat, white bread they never had. They lived on milk, cheese, kail, herring, barley, rye and oatmeal, and in bad years they went very short of food.” 35
Anderson would support such a description “For the majority of people in Scotland, prior to about 1750, the daily diet was monotonous and limited. The staple foods were oats, barley, milk and kale. Variations of these were eaten at every single meal – meat was almost never served and fish only very rarely.    Oatmeal was used for porage, bannocks and a dish called ‘sowens’. A typical supper would be a brose of kale (the main home-grown green vegetable) followed by oatcakes and cheese.36 (We have already seen that meat was probably in much greater use than Anderson would have us believe). “Sowens” is not described and briefly stated at this stage it is soaked (two days) oatmeal, sieved and then boiled.
Ashley took a more restrictive view and quotes from what we would today term a ‘personal communication’ from “the well-known Scottish antiquary Mr David Murray of Glasgow”:
“There can be no question that oatmeal and bere meal or barley meal constituted the cereal food of the people of Scotland all through the Middle Ages, and I think we may safely say until the end of the eighteenth century … the general food was oatmeal cakes, barley or mashlum bannocks and scones.”37
It would be as well to clarify one or two words arising from Ashley’s quotation, not that is much help. “Barley or bere bannocks and mashlum or mixed grain bannocks were baked on a barred brander over the fire.”34 Bere is six-rowed barley. The bannocks were “also baked on toasting stones”39 The bannock is a “thick, round flat cake, generally of oatmeal, baked on a girdle” 40
Collins was referring to the nineteenth century and remarked that: “Scotland may be divided into three dietary regions: (1) the border counties, with their oat-cake and barley and peas and bannocks; (2) the central Lowlands where, in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as some of the larger villages, wheaten bread was already ‘an infatuation’ with the lower classes, although large quantities of oatmeal for cake and porridge, and of pot barley for soups, were also used; and (3) most of the rest of Scotland, where oatcake, and to a lesser extent barley bread and bannocks, were ‘indispensable’ foods.”41 Without wanting to test such a statement too rigidly we can look at Montrose, a town south of Dumfries, and Fife. The general assumption can be made that it was a ‘bread in the town and oats in the country’.
Turning attention now more closely to bread, Zealand looked at “Evidence for food and drink consumption in Montrose from Burgh Court civil claims for petty debts: 1707-1820” as a private research project and in a personal communication comments that “Wheaten, especially white bread was consumed a great deal by townspeople and was baked by professional bakers, the weight was fixed by the Wheaten Bread Assize appointed by the magistrates. The bread was made from fine white flour from locally grown wheat which was also exported.”42
Other bread, namely oatcake was made from not-so-fine flour and, while held in high regard by Scots, was less favoured by an English visitor to Dumfrieshire around 1815. “… at “Man’s Riddle” W. of Southerness (then Alturness) at an inn, my host … brought me some oat-cake and butter, and a mutchkin of whisky … as if he had set before me a feast for a prince. ‘There, Sire, sit you doon and fill yoursel’. The oat-cake as made in Scotland is a very coarse kind of bread, and I often find it so rank and bitter, that with every disposition to make the best of things I could scarcely consent to swallow it. At least one-third of the husk of the grain is mixed up in the cake so that when baked hard it has a surface like a file, and proves very offensive to gums not properly seasoned. I know not whether it be from this quantity of roughness that it has an unpleasant effect on the bowels of those unaccustomed to such rugged food, yet, coarse as it is, this is the bread which the majority of the people of Scotland are content to eat … it is … far more nutritious than wheaten bread.” 43
We are informed by R. Chambers44 that “The girdle, a round iron plate used for baking [sic] oaten cakes over a fire – a household article once universal among the middle and humbler classes in Scotland – was invented and first made at the little burgh of Culross in Fife. In 1599 King James gave the Culrossians an exclusive privilege to make girdles, and this has been confirmed by a gift from Charles II in 1666.” We can discern from the detail of Chamber’s discussion that the girdle had largely gone out of fashion in the 1850s, that it was used by most of the population up to that time, and that Fifers did not leave it hanging up very often.
The dietary shift which takes place as a result of the collective aspiration of the lower classes to follow the lifestyle (and hence their menus) portrayed by those of a higher social order is apparent through the ages and in relation to oatmeal has also46 been discussed by Letheby. “Oatmeal and Rye bread were once the chief diet of the servants of the wealthy, and even now the former is used by 90 per cent of the agricultural labourers of England, and by a still larger proportion of the Scotch. The grain is very rich in gluten and fat, and it contains a good quantity of sugar and starch … The Scotch meal is always preferable to the English, on account of its higher nutritive power … Like barley meal it cannot be resiculated into bread, but it makes good cakes, and these may be either leavened, as is the custome in Yorkshire, or unleavened, as in Scotland.” 2
Some nutritional analysis is appropriate in assessing the significance of oatmeal in the earlier Scottish diet. Stephens, a State Registered Dietician, has done some detailed research into the diet of the early nineteenth century farm employee.
(circa 1800)
Estimated amounts of basic foods
                                             Potatoes …        …        …        20 oz
                                             Oatmeal …        …        …        8 oz
                                             Kail         …        …        …        4 oz
                                             Turnips   …        …        …        2 oz
                                             Barley     …        …        …        1 oz
                                             Butter     …        …        …        1 oz
                                             Cheese …        …        …        1 oz
                                             Milk         …        …        …        1 pt
                                             Ale          …        …        …        1 pt”47
The caloric intake from oatmeal is almost double that obtained from potatoes and while about two thirds of the available protein (74 grams) is obtained from cereal and vegetables (47 grams) oatmeal would have contributed about half.
Relevant to later in the same century there is a comment on the diet in general: “… there was a basic uniformity of diet throughout, and oatmeal was said in 1869 to have formed ‘the leading article of daily subsistence amongst 90 per cent of the labouring classes of Scotland.”48 It may be, however, that there was no particular concern about such a predominance of oatmeal. Sir Henry Thompson, writing in 1891, held that such cereals contain “all the elements necessary to life and being therefore the most largely consumed.”49
The general consumption of oatmeal was surely a matter of a century before the one under discussion: Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language50 gives oatmeal the identification mark of Scottish nationality. The often quoted entry pejoratively suggests that oats was only food for horses: “A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” Renner, however, talks of the accepted use of oats “for human food without competing with the requirements of animals” as one dimension in the formulation of the “food habit”. The other is climate:
“Oats is a cereal which is capable of growing under the most unfavourable conditions of soil and climate, and which is grown furthest north and highest up in the mountains. It therefore became a convenient cereal in Scotland. The fact that its use as a food became such a habit in Scotland is probably due to the fact that grass grows so plentifully there that the competition for oats between beast and man is less keen than in other countries with poorer pastures, where horses require the whole crop of oats.51
Salaman, however, puts it in terms of inevitability, at least in the Highlands: “The excessive rainfall and high winds make cereal growing, other than oats, impossible, while the harvesting of the latter is a prolonged and wearisome gamble”. With such efforts to harvest it oats would perhaps be a rare inclusion in the nose bag.
The question of “food habits” being absorbed into everyday living reminds us of Allen’s “oat culture” which “still ordains the Scotsman’s poridge [sic] and his biscuit confectionery …”52 We have seen a little of the girdle confectionery and consideration of porridge would be deemed mandatory in a study of this kind.
We need to remember that the methods available for grinding oatmeal in those times differ markedly from those today and the resulting concoction may not have been all that edible. If there is a continuum with porridge in the middle, ‘crowdie’ at one end, then ‘sowens’ is at the other. Renner53considered some aspects of the dishes he gives Sir Frederick Eden’s method for making Crowdie: “The process is extremely simple: and consists in pouring boiling water over oatmeal, and stirring it a little … there is another sort of Crowdie made by pouring boiling broth on oatmeal …”54 Eden continues with “this dish is very common in Scotland, and is accounted a very great luxury by labourers”.
Fenton describes a preparation of sowens as follows: “The meally sid or hull of the ground oat, is steeped in blood-warm water for about two days, when it is run out, and the liquor put through a search [sieve]; if it too thick, they add a little fresh cold water to it, and then put it on the fire to boil, constantly stirring it, till it thickens, and continuing the boiling till it comes tough like a paste. In the stirring they mix a little salt, and dish it up for the table”.55
Since most people have some idea of the preparation of porridge, we will not give a description here. They know also that the Scot is nationalistic concerning this dish. McNeill56 took offence when Scottish dishes were described under the title of “English Fare”. “Why, even to describe Scottish porridge as English porridge is an injustice to Scotland! Many good things come out of England, but porridge, as it happens, is not one of them”.
There is much ground to cover before we see Scotland’s place in Aymard’s “… industrialized Europe, where in the twentieth century country after country changed from a diet dominated by cereals of the wheat family to a diet in which most of the proteins are furnished by products of animal origin”57. The way it has been put implies an immediate change but change has been shown to be gradual so far and will continue to be thus shown in relation to other commodities including protein foods.
The debate concerning oatmeal could continue in a similar vein for many pages yet and it is appropriate to move forward to the decline in its use as a staple, and where the emphasis today is more on its role within ‘tartan food’ as previously discussed.
“The remarkable thing, all the same, is the length of time the traditional pattern lasted. Although trends are hard to pinpoint, it seems fairly clear that the use of oatmeal began to decline during and after World War I: from that time onwards vans began increasingly to wend their way around the countryside, bringing such items as white breads and buns, sugar and syrup – alluring wares for those accustomed to simple fare. Sadly the story becomes one of progressive deterioration from then on, although many of the old ways persisted in the more remote places until as late as World War II58
A Taste of Scotland is used by caterers (and housewives if they adjust the recipes). The “… frequent and original use of oatmeal has characterised so many traditional dishes. These traditions are the Scottish heritage and as such must form the backbone of any promotion of Scottish fare”.59 They form the backbone of ‘tartan food’ as discussed in this study. The book recognises that “they do not constitute an adequate repertoire” and numerous additional “dishes which have no particular place in the traditions of Scottish fare” are added to make up a varied temporary diet for the visitor. The main point made by Stephens above and elsewhere in her study is that Scots have turned their backs upon the wholesome fare within their heritage but probably most of all on oatmeal.
“… when they had not kail they probably had nothing” (Samuel Johnson)
Kail, or kale as it is sometimes spelt, was the most significant of a very limited range of vegetables in times before the advent of the potato, turnips and the later availability of leek, celery etc. It is “cole or cabbage, especially borecole, kind with wrinkled leaves; Scotch -, kind with purple leaves; broth made of this and other vegetables …”60 “Kale is grown mainly for autumn and winter harvest because cold improves its eating quality and its hardiness permits harvest of fresh greens after most fresh vegetables have become unavailable.”61 Comment is passed in Chapter Four on the climate but there need be no dispute here concerning the extent of cold in previous Scottish winters.
While modern cookery books contain numerous methods for its preparation we are more interested here in its position with the social situation and this has been hinted by the Oxford Dictionary quotation extending to the synonymity with broth. Warrack62 shows kail as being “colewort; broth made of colewort and other greens; food, dinner.” From this it is easy to see the way in which synonymity extends to eponymity and the word has a much wider connotation beyond a form of cabbage. Within his specialised Scots Dictionary, Warrack63 shows that it is linked to dinner-bell (kail bell) and kail-brose (the scum of ‘kail broth’) mixed with oatmeal. Kail broth is a more conventional soup “boiled with meat” and was obviously the cooking liquor of the boiled joint taken as a first course. Kail-kennin is cabbages and potatoes mashed together (known as ‘bubble and squeak’ south of the border).
Moving outwards from the many direct references to food we note that kail has links with the manse: the kail-kirk is “a Glassite64 church where members dined together after the services” and a “kail-pot-whig” is “one who stops at home from church on Sundays.” The Glassites would not have eaten a kail-supper, surprisingly enough as it is “one who is fond of broth, a name given to Fifeshire people.”65
Wilson66 has shown that while the kail type of vegetables were used in interesting ways in England long after the Middle Ages – “Only in Scotland did kail pottages made in medieval style survive virtually unchanged until late in the eighteenth century.” If we believe Samuel Johnson, kail was only introduced into Scotland in the middle of the second half of the seventeenth century.
“Yet what the Romans did to other nations, was in a great degree done by Cromwell to the Scots; he civilized them by conquest and introduced by useful violence the arts of peace. I was told at Aberdeen that the people learned from Cromwell’s soldiers to make shoes and to plant kail.
How they lived without kail, it is not easy to guess; they cultivate hardly any other plant for common tables, and when they had not kail they probably had nothing.”67
Salaman68 also asserts that Cromwell took kail with him to Scotland (and if we interpret Johnson correctly we can see it as another phase in what is now accepted within this study as the civilizing process). Boswell was with Johnson, of course, but there is a little confusion as to which vegetable is the topic of discussion for we note that “Johnson laughed to hear that Cromwell’s soldiers taught the Aberdeen people to make shoes and stockings and brought in cabbages.”69 Aberdonians seem to have a good association with kail in verse, too, and McNeill70 provides a useful illustration:
                                There’s cauld kail in Aberdeen
                                And custocks [colewort] in Strathbogie
                                Where ilka lad maun hae his lass,
                                But I maun hae my cogie [bowl]
                                                                        Old Song
The kailyard is “a kitchen garden; a small cottage garden”71 but the wider connotation is the “so called Kail Yard School of Fiction.”72 To Cambell73 “the term [kail yard] is associated with the exceeding successful novelists of the late nineteenth century (Crockett, MacLaran and Barrie) who are all lumped together in this frequently derogatory definition.” Perhaps the nostalgic forces behind the ways in which ‘tartan food’ has been exported all over the world through the medium of St. Andrews / Robert Burns dinners, have helped ensure that “Scots overseas preferred to read about a Scotland they remembered.”74
The Turnip
                                “If the man who turnip cries,
                                Cry not when his father dies,
                                ‘Tis a proof that he had rather,
                                Have a turnip than his father.”
                                                        Johnsonian Miscellanies
Such comment indicates the probable dependence upon the turnip but, according to MacKie, they were the result of an accident and even thereafter fed to animals only.
“Till a few years before Dr. Johnson’s visit Cattle and sheep had been kept under cover all winter and fed on mashed straw, a treatment which left them so weak that they had to be carried to the pasture in the Spring. Only by an accident was a more rational method discovered. A Perthshire laird had fallen on evil days; he became an innkeeper, and at the beginning of winter turned his sheep adrift. In the Spring he discovered that the animals were in better condition than they ever had been before. Winter fodder in the shape of turnips had been introduced by one or two enterprising lairds, though the innovation, as usual, was regarded as ‘the idle project of a young head, heated with English fancies’.”75
MacKie was not given to revealing his sources but had this contribution been checked ‘to horse’s mouth’ as it were, at least by Johnson’s companion, it would have been shown that turnips were available on the Hebrides. In that event they should have been reasonably well established on the mainland. On 6 October, 1773 Boswell noted that “we saw a pretty turnip field which the young Coll hoed all with his own hand.”
But to return to MacKie’s account, the “few years before” go back as far as: “… not till 1747 did one enthusiast venture to sow them in the open field.”76 MacPhail77 puts the date of their introduction somewhat earlier and, indeed, indicates a wider acceptance: “They had been grown in gardens since the beginning of the century. In 1725 John Cockburn of Ormiston was instructing one of his tenants, Alexander Wight, on their cultivation and the necessity for hoeing.” We should accept that turnips had been established in some areas in Scotland at around this time and Fenton’s contribution is that they “… were also grown by the Earl of Haddington before 1733 … without conspicuous success.” He goes on to relate that the former Marquis of Tweeddale “brought in an English Steward called Wade, about 1740, who raised turnips broad cast on the lands of Yester.” Perhaps the English Steward received instruction from Lord Townsend (1675-1738) and the introduction of the turnip is generally attributed to him.78   Chambers asserts that “it is particularly remembered to the honour of the Earl of Stair, that he was the first to raise turnips in the open fields, and so laid the foundation of the most important branch of store-husbandry of modern times.”79
Ignoring as we must Clark’s comment that “Turnips … were mention in agricultural text books of the ancient world”80 we learn from Marshall that the involvement of the peerage in the Scottish turnip story goes back to 1670 and the Duke of Lauderdale.81 Curtis-Bennet points out that, due to the introduction of the turnip: “It was no longer necessary to kill off all but the best cattle as soon as autumn came round.”82 This points up an important stage in the development of the meat supply which is dealt with later. The same is said by MacPhail who also comments that the introduction of the turnip “was one of the greatest benefits which Scottish farmers owed to England.”83
The turnip, then, is an important element of the transition between a cereal-based to a meat-based diet. The turnip was used for animal food before it was consumed by the Scot and even then it was put to odd use. Henry Grey Graham84 draws upon Humphrey Clinker85 and MacKie86 goes as far as saying that it was Jim Melford in Humphrey Clinker who revealed the use of the turnip as a dessert item. Graham joins Allen in supplementing the information using Letters from Edinburgh87: Turnips “ were often introduced as dessert and eaten like fruit.”88 Haldane89 has also stated that they were “at first used as dessert at gentlemen’s tables” but no one ventures to suggest how they were presented at the table. It is likely that they were eaten hot with sugar which qualifies them more as a pudding. If that idea draws surprise from English eyes it should be stated that the Scottish turnip is otherwise termed swede, even rutabaga, elsewhere. Even so, swede with sugar is sufficiently surprising to modern readers. Marian McNeill includes a reference to suggest that “The Cleikum Club put a little powdered ginger to their mashed turnips, which were studiously chosen of the yellow, sweet, juicy sort, for which Scotland is celebrated…”90 Such detail suggests a cautiously innovative gastronomy in Scotland born of the distance from the general dietary and cultural development in England and elsewhere. It also accords with the assertion that Scotland was often behind other European countries in its ‘civilizing process’. Thus, the turnip took longer to become an established vegetable. “Twenty years ago [1778], there were scarcely ten acres of turnips in the whole county [of Roxburgh]; those raised in some corners of cornfields in different farms, were generally destroyed by the sheep.”91 Elsewhere the same writer informs us that “In the higher parts of the county there are few turnips and peas …” and “oats occupy 9/10 of all arable land”.92 The remainder was shared between barley, turnips and many lesser vegetables.
The Potato
“The potato has always arrived in the baggage carts of distress …”
It is not the intention to give any detailed history of the potato which can be found in Salaman.93 We are interested, however, in its impact on the Scottish diet and a good idea of the date of its introduction is necessary. Salaman informs us that: “The earliest mention of the potato in Scotland so far recorded, is to be found in James Sutherland’s Catalogue of the Plants in the Physical Gardens of Edinburgh, published in 1683”.94 Henry Grey Graham95 comments that “They are mentioned as vegetables for the garden … by John Reid, 1683” and “had been cultivated in a few private gardens in the beginning of the century, but rarely raised in the fields before 1735, or produced in the kailyards of the people.” That prolific Scots writer, Chambers was equally emphatic but gives a slightly later date. The potato ”is first heard of in Scotland in 1701, when the Duchesse of Buccleuch’s household-book mentions a peck of the esculent as bought from Edinburgh and costing 2s 6d. We hear of it in 1733, as used occasionally at supper in the home of the Earl of Eglinton, in Ayrshire. About this time it was beginning to be cultivated in gardens … and farm lazy-beds” 96
Fullarton and Baird97 although somewhat earlier in their observation were more distant if we believe Salaman. They state that “Potatoes were introduced into Scotland in 1728 …”98 and “… now consitute nearly four-fifths of the food of the common people.”99 According to MacPhail100 “Thomas Prentice, a day-labourer of Kilsyth” was the first to grow them as a field crop in 1729. Fenton101 cites A. Collier102whose opinion was that from the 1740s the potato was the basic food and “… provided subsistence for about two thirds of the people by the end of the century.”
Haldane103 suggests that the potato was “brought in a small quantity from Ireland in 1740 as garden produce, and gradually introduced as a valuable article of food for the lower ranks and
a substitute for bread at the tables of all superior ranks.” Perhaps she had forgotten her earlier advice that it was first grown in “Kirkcudbright in 1725.”104 Douglas105 held that “potatoes found their way into the country some years before turnips; though I cannot learn that they were planted, except with a spade, till the year 1772 or 1773. Although the earliest reported reference given here it should be pointed out that Douglas was referring to Roxburgh and Selkirk. If it was 1773 and further north he may have noted with Boswell and Johnson that spades had been at work in “Anoch’, a village in Glenmorrison”
“As we came hither early in the day, we had time sufficient to survey the place. The house was built … near it was a garden of turnips and a field of potatoes.” 106
A more general comment relating to the period comes from T.C. Smout, Professor of Scottish History at the University of St. Andrews.
“It is probably true to say that by 1770 the potato was a common crop on the holdings of the poor throughout most of the Lowlands and fifteen years later universal … in all the parishes of the Highlands.” 107
Another professor of a different age, Adam Smith was pessimistic and the progress of the potato seems to have fared very differently from his forecast in 1775:
“It is difficult to preserve potatoes through the year … The fear of not being able to sell them before they rot, discourages their cultivation and is, perhaps, the chief obstacle to their ever becoming in any great country, like bread, the principal vegetable food of all the different ranks of the people”.108
The main carbohydrate before the potato was, of course, oatmeal. There was as much theorizing as suspicion when the potato was still a new food. Thompson109 commented implicitly on the transition from oatmeal to potatoes when “The Highlander, living mainly on oatmeal, requires a very much smaller weight …” but this was in comparison with an “Irishman” [who] requires for his support ten to eleven pounds of potatoes daily …”! It is a wonder that there were any potatoes left in Ireland to put in Scottish gardens. More seriously, though, there has been “Another estimate, for an able bodied labourer … in Urquhart, suggested a … diet of 8 to 10 lbs of potatoes …” a day.110
The position in Scotland was such that the continual use of cereals was possible with the introduction of the potato although it is debateable which predominated. Forster and Rannum111 comment “Historically, potatoes were successful in Europe only as a complement, and not as a substitute for bread …” Aymard, in the same volume, agrees and develops the debate:
“Whatever the extent of its popularity, [in the 18th century] the potato was – and continued to be – a secondary, supplementary crop by comparison with the main crops, the major cereals, wheat and rye. Indeed, it was considered a crop for the poor, as can be seen in geography text books on every educational level.”112
Earlier in his discussion Aymard had commented that “The potato had always arrived in the baggage carts of distress” and suggests that “its favourite terrain was in the poor regions such as the desolate islands of the North Sea or the Hebrides”. It was, however favoured in the less desolate islands as Campbell has pointed out.
“The potato first reached the Islands at South Uist in 1743, and though initially planted in Lewis only in 1753, by 1764 the potato had taken the place of bread in the diet there for about six months in the year.113
Once experience had been gained as to the ease of growing and the keeping quantities of the potato, and Adam Smith proved wrong, the potato was to become well established in town and country alike. However, it was in the country that the problems were slower in being solved. Haldane discussed the rural community and its conservation in the eighteenth century: “… and changes had almost to be forced …” In focusing upon the potatoes she remarks:
“In the latter part of the eighteenth century this hitherto despised vegetable became an article of common diet in lowland Scotland and ever since it has been a standby.”114
On a more optimistic note, Cheape and Sprott remark that “Potatoes were becoming a common field crop in the late eighteenth century115. As we saw more clearly when discussion moved to the turnip, the development of the human use of some vegetables was very much a function of the use to which it was put in terms of animal feeding. “They were used both for animal feed, often boiled with a little caffor chaff, and around the towns particularly they were used for human consumption.” There is something very Malthusian in Tannahill’s assertion that the potato was to bear much of the responsibility for the population explosion that took place in the Highlands around 1800.116
                              “Wha’ll buy my caller herrin’?
                              They’re bonnie fish and halesome farin’;
                              Wha’ll buy my caller herrin’,
                              New drawn frae the Forth.”
                                                        Lady Nairn 1766-1845
The caller (fresh) herring has been the mainstay of the Scottish diet, when meat was unavailable, due to its high nutritional value, but in terms of the amount consumed it falls below the other more important white fish, cod, haddock, and plaice, and even the lesser used lemon sole, turbot, whiting and halibut.117
In the Middle Ages, the availability of the fish mentioned here was such that large quantities were exported to France thereby strengthening the “Auld Alliance” which was being established. Grant notes that in 1484 Scotch Salmon was being exported “to Flanders and other places”118 It is also stated that “In 1420 a burgess of Glasgow was exporting cured and pickled salmon to France.” 119
As was claimed en passant in the discussion on grain, fish was only very rarely consumed prior to about 1750120 but this does not accord with the general view that fish was in plentiful supply until the introduction of the much larger trawlers in the late nineteenth century escalated to the seagoing processing vessels. Trade with Holland during this time was founded upon the supply of fish to Amsterdam which led to the old saying that “Amsterdam was built upon Scottish herring bones.”121
Fish has contributed to the themes of local events and celebrations throughout Scottish history but few are in use today. Significant amongst the few, however, is the Eyemouth Herring Queen Festival which Bruford122 terms a “sole … relic” of Fishermen’s Walks. There is the Lerwick Up-Helly-Aa (devil rousing) and the Burghead Burning of the Clavie. Warrack’s (Chambers) Scots Dictionary gives “a tar barrel, within which is fixed a fir prop, surmounted by the staves of a herring cask, burned at Burghead on New Year’s Eve to secure a good year’s catch”.
“Ceremonies were performed at Buckie and Fraserborough in the 1850s to bring better luck to the herring fishing”123 and there survives in a similar format to one at South Queensferry where a fisherman goes through the town during the Ferry Fair in August “covered in flannel on which a thick layer of large spiky burrs is stuck … to represent fish caught in the net.” This event was carried out in earlier times and the fisherman was literally ‘tarred and burred’.
Salmon features from time to time in Scottish history as a food which ordinary people were sick of due to its abundance. Zealand124 comments that this fish “was really plentiful and was caught, boiled and salted in Montrose” in the later eighteenth century. Cheape and Sprott125 noted the extraordinary abundance of salmon and trout not only afforded good sport but a cheap food for the people. “In some parts … the farm hands struck if they were fed upon it every day”.
“Scots farm servants had refused to eat it more than twice a week in any form so common it was.”126 Trevelyan127 gives similar detail.
Elsewhere the view was that “Every Spring we look forward with a new-found impatience to the first Scotch salmon of the season, and every summer we are surprised anew to find how soon our palates grow indifferent, if not hostile to it.”128
The undisputed reputation of Scotch salmon outside Scotland, however, was built up at the early stages of the introduction of factory methods and improved transport. Stemming from the tradition of the ice house as part of the richer homes and the introduction of railways, “The fish were packed into long boxes with pounded ice and dispatched to the London Market.”129 … as early as 1820.130
The Scottish aversion to pork, has a very long history. Tannahill discussed “… the late neolithic peoples who began to arrive in Scotland some time before 2,000 BC.” After congratulating their “food technology that had been developing for 6000 years” she points out:
“In the pig they were not interested. Not being a ruminant, it competed directly for human food. It could not be milked, and milk was by far the most important food product of the domesticated animal. And it had little stamina, a unsociable disposition, and a constitutional objection to being driven. To people on the move – to neolithic immigrants as, long centuries later, to Highland caterans and Border reivers – half a dozen pigs were more trouble than half a hundred cattle. Even today, the Scots remain markedly apathetic about the pig and most of its products.”131
MacKenzie devotes considerable space to the issue and remarks that “The taboo must have been established before the introduction of Christianity, and unless it had been connected with a body of pagan religious beliefs, it would not have survived, as it did, the influence exercised by intruding pork-eating peoples and especially the Christian clergy.”132 But Allen seemed sure about religious influences: “Even today almost all pig products here sell poorly. The only explanation … is sheer conservation rooted in a one-time religious aversion”.133 He later went as far as putting it down to “a fundamentalist over-literal reading of the scriptures” although he attenuated this by saying that this interpretation “receives no support from authorities of Scottish History.”134 MacKenzie would give no support at all as, “If we are to assume that Scottish prejudice was of biblical origin, we have … to explain … why it did not obtain among the early Christans of England, Wales or Ireland”.
Moving on to look at other issues, aspersions were sometimes cast upon the lower orders of society: “Pork is the habitual food of poor people, those who are really poor.”135 In a mid-thirteenth century poem of anonymous origin “From Colkelbie Sow”136 a vagrant finds some money, buys a pig, but a harlot steals it to provide a feast for numerous friends:
                   “The penny lost in the lak               A penny lost in the lake
                   Wes fundin and uptak,           Was found and taken up
                   And he that fand it did by               And he that found it bought
                   With the Samyn penny         
                   A littil pig for his prow [profit]
                   Off Kolkelbeis sow.
                   A harlot synnit [lives] neir by
                   And sho wald mak a mangery [feast]
                   And had no substance at all
                   Bot this pur pig stall [stole]
                   To furnis a gret feist
                   Withouttin stufe, bot this beist …”
Some fifty friends (including a hangman, “a lunatik” and a “double toungit counsaloar”) helped consume that “littil pig”.
But the poor, at times, were unable to afford to keep pigs. Millers, having spare husks and bruised corn to feed to animals, apparently have to be thanked for saving the pig from extinction in Scotland. John Graham Dalyell, Scottish advocate and folklorist held the view that “Early in the seventeenth century the aversion to them by the lower ranks, especially in the north, was so great, and elsewhere, and the flesh was so much undervalued, that, except for those reared at mills, the breed would have been extirpated.”137
But it was not only the lower ranks which had abhorence to swine flesh. MacKenzie138 relates that it was shared by “The King’s most sacred Majesty”139 while Burt140 suggests social imitation at work when he says that in Scotland “it is here a general notion that where the chief declares against pork, his followers affect to show the same dislike.”
Zealand in her capacity as museum curator141 reviewed records relating to Montrose 1707-1820, and observes that: “Pigs, pork and ham etc., are notable by their total absence as a commodity.” But not all opinion supports the idea that the prejudice against pork was total. Gauldie142 mentions that farm cottages were provided with a “bottom of the garden pig sty which later bacame so common” in the early nineteenth century. In “Annals of the Parish” the inhabitants of the sty are affectionately known as “grumphies”. Writing about the 1830s Sievwright goes into some detail:
“The great proportion of the working classes in Brechin had a bit of garden ground which yielded considerable produce, and many also kept and fed a pig until of considerable size; and when ready for slaughtering a considerable proportion was often sold to assist in paying the half-yearly rent; numbers, however, were able to cure and hang up one or two good pork hams, which were a great service to assist a dinner now and again, or for an occasional “tastie bitie” on Sunday morning or afternoon, or on any other extra occasion.”143
In their work relating to 1843, Levitt and Smout analysed parish records where “Those reporting pigmeat (generally as pork, sometimes as bacon or ham) outnumbered those reporting beef and those reporting mutton by nine to one.”144
There are mysterious elements to the history of pork aversion in Scotland and it is mystery which extends to comments passed by other writers. Salaman, and Hughes are not sure of very much in what they have written. Salaman145 discusses the “final disappearance of the Highland prejudice against pig-rearing” in the eighteenth century but seem to be confused with the Scottish prejudice against the potato146 although on the last mentioned page he states that “Pigs were not kept by the Highlanders, who at this time [1773] seem to have entertained an age-old prejudice against swine-flesh”147. Hughes148 is even more mysterious as she refers to a “most definite and irrefutable aversion to pigmeat in any form”149 and “the great aversion to pork”150, but on page 122 states that “[pork] chops are preferred in Scotland.”
Established writers have elaborated upon the superstitions relating to the pig. Dean Ramsay151discussed Fifers’ “… old aversion to the ‘unclean animal’. “If that animal crossed their path when about to set out on a sea voyage, they considered it so unlucky an omen that they would not venture off”. Haldane152 also refers to “John Jack, writing in 1844 … tells of … pigs being held in antipathy as boding ill.”
But for all the superstition in that county it is interesting to note that Janie Ellice who “was the second daughter of Scottish landowners in Fife”, included in her household book, two recipies for pork dishes. Wentworth153 edited “Janie Ellice’s Recipes 1846-1859” and “Leg of Pork à la Lady Elizabeth Villiers” and “à la Barrington” are given.
One method of assessing the situation is to look at the home production of pork. In 1917 in the whole of Scotland there were:
                              Sheep                6,873,234
                                          Cattle                 1,209,859
                                             Pigs                   132,945
where the pigs were 1.6% of the total animal population given. MacKinnon154 also shows a decline in the number of pigs (188,307 in 1867 and 153,237 in 1877). The figure above shows a decline in 1917 of 29%. With regards to the assertion that the aversion to pork is more prevalent in the Highlands and to give a more up-to-date source, Martech1 produces data for 1963:
                              Sheep                1,951,000
                                          Cattle                 2,157,800
                                          Pigs                        18,800
where pigs were less than half of 1% of the total. Recognising that counting methods would differ through time (note the precision in the earlier information) consider that the proportion for the Highlands is much less than for the whole of Scotland, even though the times have changed.
Any investigation will find numerous references to pork dishes in modern cookery books and food consumption data does not distinguish between pork and pork products eaten by Scots, residents from elsewhere and substantial numbers of tourists. The present work can do more than point out the topic as a research activity. Perhaps it will settle the issue of whether the Scots like pork now.                        
The Haggis
                              “… the word, like the dish,
                                   is definitely English.”
While a prime dimension of ‘tartan food’ and taken to be a distinctively Scottish dish since the 1750s it was extolled by Gervaise Markham in The English Housewife written in 1615
Edwards quotes an unidentified English writer who in 1615155 detailed both content and name: “’Small oatmeal’ he says ‘mixed with Blood and the Liver of either Sheep, Calfe or Swine, maketh that pudding which is called the Haggas or Haggus, of whose goodness it is vain to boast …’”156 She goes on to remark that “Haggises nowadays have all emigrated to Scotland; at one time however ‘hagas’ or habbys’ was equally common in the ‘south’ and as ‘hash pudding’ was well known in Cumberland.” Whatever its origin and distressing though it may be to patriotic Scots, the word, like the dish, is definitely English”.
It was stated earlier that the word tartan is of French origin probably to extensive Scottish chagrin which may want to cover any French connection with its own haggis. Far better to ascribe it to the ancient Greeks. According to Allen, however, the haggis may have its derivation in France. “… the haggis is of French inspiration, derived from hachis meaning minced meat”157. Referring to the lists of French words which have contributed to the gastronomic language of Scotland it will be seen later that Ramsay in 1880 had similar thoughts.
McNeil158 passes several interesting comments and Allen would have been well suited to refer to them. According to McNeill, “The theory that the haggis is one of the nobler legacies of France may in any case be dismissed” and she points out that the “ancient Greeks had a haggis of their own”, and the ancient Romans even left us a recipe for theirs “… The manner of stuffing, cooking and pickling is identical with our own.” Tannahill provides an earlier history still and asserts that “Paleolithic hunters are believed to have cooked the more perishable parts of their kill … in the animal’s own paunch, hanging it in front of the campfire … it would be a natural development, when crop-farming began, to spin the meat out with meal …”159
Although the haggis is an important part of Scotland’s international identity and an almost major national institution, it can stand as a pejorative symbol within the country. Warrack160 indicates that the term a ‘haggis-bag’ means “a wind bag”; a contemptuous term for anything … a lumpish, soft headed person: a ‘pudding head.’” If one is called ‘haggis-headed’ one is soft-headed, stupid and if called a “haggis-heart” one has “a soft cowardly heart.” This, then is at one extreme and at the other rests its “sonsie face” of Burns description. It would be tempting to garnish this study with a whole range of ancient poems and quotations on the haggis but space does not permit it. Let us conclude this discussion with a much more recent viewpoint. Driver’s statement regarding the indigenous view of offal is that “The Scots … will have little to do with offal, unless it is safely enclosed in a haggis and offset by earnest jocularity”.161 This being so, haggis is featured not only on high street restaurant menus but also in those available in schools, hospitals and other institutions and remains an everyday dish in Scotland.
                ‘Bless the sheep for David’s sake, he herdit sheep himsel’
                                                        (Old Galloway Grace)
The story of sheep in the course of Scottish history is a significant one. We have already seen in Chapter Four that the Highland Clearances caused a great social and demographic upheaval and it is somewhat surprising that any Scottish prejudice directed towards a specific animal omitted the sheep. To omit it from our social history would be to ignore the contribution that mutton had made to the protein intake, not to mention clothing, over many centuries.
It is an easily controlled beast once fences have been put up and capable of winter storage being smaller than the cow and pig. It was a long time before the potential of the sheep was realised and Haldane162 has pointed out that “Sheep were originally supposed to be so delicate that they could not face the Scottish blasts and they were therefore cooped up in winter and only released in spring. It was by accident that the discovery was made that sheep are hardy animals …”. The majority of larger animals were slaughtered at the onset of winter and what could not be preserved by smoking, drying, curing, salting etc., was consumed in the Martinmass feasts.
Before it was discovered that they were hardy, sheep often died even in the coup. Rather than place the bodies in the pit, mutton hams were made and such fare was known as braxy mutton Warrack163gives braxy as meaning “an internal inflammation in sheep; … the flesh of such sheep …” Even Boswell and Johnson may have eaten braxy mutton. At one stage on the Isle of Coll they are entertained by a family which spends some time discussing whether to have tea or dinner on their arrival. Tea won. Boswell records: “He said to me afterwards, ‘you must consider, sir, a dinner here is a matter of great consequence. It is a thing to be first planned and then executed. I suppose the mutton was brought some miles off, from some place they knew there was a sheep killed.’ His minute observation strikes me with wonder.”164
The main ingestion of braxy mutton occurred in spring and summer:
“In Scotland there is a disease called braxy, which attacks the sheep and lambs in spring and early summer … the disease kills the animals very quickly, by causing stagnation of blood in the most important vital organs; and as the carcass is the perquisite of the herdsman, he almost invarable eats it – taking the precaution to remove the offal, and cut away the darker portions of the flesh where the blood has stagnated. He also salts it before using it; and if questioned on the subject he will tell ye that the meat is not unwholesome.”165
Whether the herdsman sees the meat as rotten when cooking or eating it, may be debatable but he is bound to accept it as such even if, due to improper processing in the raw or cooked state, “the most serious consequencies result from it …” But this practice was described by “many medical practitioners who are acquainted with the habits of the Scotch shepherds … declare that braxy mutton is a highly dangerous meat for man.”166 Tannahill167 sees it as “a bacteriological infection to which beasts that gorge themselves when newly weaned or when given sudden access to rich pasture were particularly susceptible.”
But the scientific considerations require to be left out of such a study as this with its focus upon early Scottish gastronomy. In the smaller towns, for example, we learn from Guthrie that the “Burgh of Lanark was in former days so poor, that the single flesher, of the town, who also exercised the calling of a weaver, in order to employ his spare time, would never dream of killing a sheep until he had orders for the entire animal beforehand. Ere commencing the work of slaughter he would call on the minister, the Provost, and the town council, and prevail upon them to take shares. But if no purchaser occurred for the fourth quarter, the sheep received a respite until such could be found. The bellman, orshallyman, as he is called there, used to parade the streets of Lanark shouting aloud the following advertisement: -
                Bell – ell – ell
                There’s a fat sheep to kill!
                A leg for the Provost
                And one for the priest.
                The Baillies and Deacons
                They’ll take the neist;
                And if the fourth leg we cannot sell
                The sheep it maun leeve and gae back
                Tae the hill.”168
No one was contracted to take the head but we can presume that if not sold it was fully utilised in the shallyman’s household. In later years when the availability of meat had improved slightly,
“One of the laddies was sent to the butcher with threepence for a sheep’s heid and a penny to the blacksmith to singe the head at the forge.”
The item would have been brought back to a prepared pot with due ceremony which might have inspired ‘Lord of the Flies’. “When the bairns gathered round the cooking pot, grannie might sing:
                Dance, dance Davie lad,
                An whustle Willie Young,
                There’s sheep’s heid in oor pot
                An ye’ll get the tongue.”169
And when the good family had the dish before them “grannie” may have said the appropriate words,
                “O Lord, when hunger pinches sore
                Do Thou stand us in stead
                And send us, from they bounteous store
                A tup or wither head”170
McNeill171 includes material on the extent of “Tup’s Head Dinners” held around Michaelmas Day up to the end of the nineteenth century while Glasgow, as late as the 1930s went “through the curious rite of eating mutton – heads and trotters” every Wednesday in much the same way as a Friday was a fish day in many parts of the British Isles until the 1950s.
Some Aspects of Influences and Usage
This part of the discussion of ‘food on the table’ looks at a representative sample of feasts and festivals and then French influences in more detail. Shrove Tuesday, or Faster’s Ee’n comes first, followed by May Day or Beltane. Hallowee’n is not discussed but there are overlaps in Hogmanay’s guisers and the foods dispersed. Burns’ Nights and St. Andrew’s Suppers are not discussed as a separate topic. Sufficient attention has been paid to aspects of tartan food as an ongoing appraisal and ‘haggis and bashed neeps’ have been separately discussed. The general practical use of this type of food is quite evident in looking at Hogmanay and more attention can be paid to the less well-known ‘events’ and detail surrounding Hogmanay as a well known calendar item.
The three chosen reflect many of the characteristics of a long list of calendar items and all of them could not possibly receive attention. The everyday influences of the Auld Alliance, however, are deserving of a full identification. 
A Selection of Feasts and Festivals
Shrove Tuesday
The using of certain foodstuffs before the onset of Lent was a widely practised religious requirement and is now little more than an excuse to prepare pancakes. In former times it was taken very seriously and Edwards172 claims that “It is a good Scots tradition that the man who obtained [for them] from the Pope the knowledge that Shrove Tuesday was the first Tuesday of the first moon of Spring was the thirteenth century scholar and wizard, Michael Scott.” He rode to Rome on the back of a devil and through illicit relationships with the Pope’s daughter found the secret formula for calculating the right date. This was the way in which “the independent Scots often kept a Shrove Tuesday of their own.”
It was commonly known in former times in Scotland as Fasterns E’en or Fester E’en. A later wordShreftis preceeds Shrove to be tagged with Tuesday. The day before was called Collop Monday due to the practice of forming the main meal of collops or slices of meat which had to be used. The more well known practice of using other culinary odds and ends to make pancakes (‘sauty bannocks’ in Orkney and indicative of their salty taste} extended to the preparation of bannocks for Bannock Night and various broths for Brose Day in different parts of the North-East of Scotland.173 Cock fighting was one of the pastimes and the Fastyn, Feasty or Fitless Cock started as an unleavened bread put into the cooling kiln, became an oatmeal dumpling shaped as a fowl and boiled in a cloth. Cockerels were also put into nettle broth in the Hebrides and elsewhere, if they were unavailable, leeks were substituted to give cock-a-leekie174.
Up to about 1600 there was in parts of Scotland a Shrovetide custom which existed “in connection with seminaries of education … in accordance with the ancient custom … by cockfighting in schools, and in the streets … tilting at cocks with fagot-sticks. In the evening, the learned Virtuosi of the Pallat recreate themselves with lusty caudles [batters] powerful cock-broth and natural crammed pullets …” That England was contemporaneously occupied then in the less violent pursuits and more starchy edibles is illustrated as the quotation continues: “… divertissement not much inferior to our neighbour nation’s fritters and pancakes.”175
In the Highlands in 1772, the herdsmen held their Bel-tein (May Day) and made a fire in a square trench on which were cooked a mixture of eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk. When cooked it was spilled on the ground and people took a piece each to dedicate to the future health of their flock, herd or whatever by throwing it over a shoulder with appropriate incantations. “Crops and cattle were defended by a variety and number of formulas of propitiation …”176 Whisky was used along with cooked beef as part of the sustenance allowed to those who participated.
Variations prevailed and in Calendar, custard and a cake of oatmeal was used in bits allocated by blindfold. He who got the only blackened piece in very early times was actually sacrificed, but in the sixteenth century was permitted to end the ceremony by leaping through the flames three times. In Perthshire in 1885 the village cowherd collected eggs and meal for similar ceremonies with a seven times through the fire conclusion. In Aberdeenshire they acted as hares to steal the milk from cows while the subsequent cake was rolled through the ashes. On Mull, the cake was made with a hole in it through which the cows were milked.
A special sheep’s milk cheese was often prepared for Beltane and was eaten with the oatmeal bannock. Such nutritious fare was nonetheless needed for the flittings to the sheiling or mountain pasture. Two pages are given by MacNeill177 to the special hymns used in the animal and human procession.
May Day ceremony also required special dances by Morris dancers. Robin Hood games began also at this time of year in the sixteenth century at the end of which the Greenwood fare of deer and meal was consumed.
It would be considered necessary in a gastronomic history of this type to look at Hogmanay and some of the associations connected with it. Accepting that until recent times, Christmas was not celebrated to the extent it is in England (elderly people can remember working on December 25 at the time of writing this book – 2009) the giving of gifts to friends and relatives, and sustenance to ad hoc visitors and guisers was more associated with the New Year. (Dates, though, have varied – the early Celts in Scotland celebrated the New Year on November 1 and Christmas up to 1600 on March 25. Having been brought into the Twelve Days of Yule, Twelfth Night celebrations were transferred to New Year’s Eve).
According to McNeill,178 “Hogmanay originally meant the gift received on New Year’s Eve”179 – it was asked for, although she gives a brief etymology relating to the French au gui mener – to lead to the mistletoe180. Harrowven, however, gives a version of the origins of Hogmanay involving Druids picking mistletoe and beggars interrupting their services.
“The phrase ‘Au gui meners’ – ‘to the mistletoe go’, was chanted by French beggars in Scotland in the sixteenth century as they burst in on church services on the last day of the year … their cry was as follows, ‘Au gui meners, Rollet, Follet, tin, lin, mainte du blanc et point du bis’. The Scots translated it as follows – Hogmanay, Trololay, Give us your white bread and none of your grey.’ ”181
The main reason given for Hogmanay and Trololay stems from the French ‘Homme est ne – Trois Rois la’ – A Man is born – Three Kings are here. This was a popular start to the guisers’ song as we will see later. Edwards in her “Hogmanay and Tiffanay”182gives even more detail of the origins of Hogmanay and the following summarises the most interesting possibilities
                “… its source is very ancient, Celtic or perhaps Scandinavian …”
          Saxon halig-monath – Holy month
Scandinavian – hoegtid “a term applied to Christmas and various other festivals of the Church   
Anglo-Saxon – “hogen-byre, one’s own domestic servant” (unlikely)
Teutonic – ‘met heughe ende meugh eten’ to eat with pleasure and appetite …? Pretty remote …?
Gothic – hogg minne!
          Irish – Ogmos or Ogma inventor of secret alphabet
Gaelic – “… Og, young, maighdean, a maid or virgin; mnai, women: whence og-mnai(ogmenai), the festival of young women … highly irrelevant (!)
Hebrew “… the Devil be in the house!” (hagmene) (the interpretation of a Scottish preacher)
French – concerning “the time when our Saviour was born” re “Hogmanay Trololay” 
                        Homme est ne
        Trois rois allois
“No modern etymologist has any support for this theory.”
          Anglo Saxon –
                  “Hogmen aye
                  Trolle on lay”
(refers to pig keepers wandering (trolle) on fields (lea or lay) and a certain “magic moment” on New Year’s Eve)
          French –
                  “Au gui meneg, Rollet Follet
                  Ay gui meneg, tiri liri”
          Druids – as for the last French example with various suggestions as to origin.
Auld Alliance – “it must be hurtful to Scottish pride to discover that haggis is English and Hogmanay French, most probably borrowed round about 1560 and owing its introduction to the Auld Alliance.” (And even more hurtful if the Anglo-Saxon origin of Hogmanay was found to be valid – she does not pursue that item)
          Conclusion – “In all this there is little to support the average Englishman’s idea of Hogmanay – kilted Scotsmen dancing and drinking and singing Auld Lang Syne. But we are dealing with centuries; this now indispensable song did not become so till about 1800.” 
The lengthy discussion given by Edwards ranges over numerous other possibilities as to the origins of Hogmanay and it is fair to end this analysis of her thorough investigation with the conclusion that French influences have been by far the greatest despite her comment about modern etymologists. Bruford183, after a short deliberation comes to the same conclusion. No one, however, has made the point that reveillon, the French New Year celebration which is far more important to them than Christmas is a further possibility and may be another relic of the Auld Alliance.
As with Halloween, guisers go round the community dressed in a variety of costumes singing and dancing to a variety of tunes and songs. The most common of these seems to have been:
                        “Rise up, guidwife, and shak yir feathers:
 Dinna think that we are beggars:
                         We’re only bairnies come to play:
                         Rise up and gie’s oor Hogmanay.”
McNeill also gives another chant beginning with “Hogmanay, Trollolay”. The fare dispensed by the kindly housewife centres upon bannocks, shortbread, buns, biscuits, fruit and plum cake. Black Bun, a species of apparently compressed and greatly spiced Christmas cake cooked in a pastry wrapping, was originally saved until the Twelfth Day of Christmas, but later was eaten on varying dates in different parts of Scotland and is a popular addition to the plate offered to guisers. The cold nights would have been well warmed with hot drinks.
Bruford gives further historical detail: “In face a guiser is someone in disguise and the original adult guisers (mostly young men) covered their faces, wore strange and sometimes transvestite clothes and disguised their voices usually with a Punch-like squeak, to ensure complete anonymity, almost certainly because in some sense the guises actually represented the spirits of the community’s dead who were about at Halloween”186. The children who are their successors in this activity entertain and receive sweets, apples and nuts etc., rather than money and householders deemed it a point of honour not to see through the disguise of the little boys next door.
The Scottish equivalent of mulled wine was “Het Pint” in the eighteenth century which was “a sort of wassail bowl composed of hot mild ale spiced with nutmeg and laced with whisky”187. It had a predecessor using wine in the days of the Scottish court. In the Highlands the popular beverage is Athole Brose (honey, whisky, water and sometimes cream). At Hogmanay in the Highlands the toast is sometimes sung:
                                “Here’s a health to them that’s away
                                Here’s a health to them that’s away
                                Here’s a health to them that were here shortsyne
                                An’ canna be here the day”188
The Auld Alliance
It has already been suggested in Chapter One that the benefits accruing to Scotland from a long association with France have not benefited the Scottish diet. We will discuss here some aspects of the links between France and Scotland and the ways in which the French have left their influence upon the food culture of the Scots. This is shown to be more linguistically determined than gastronomic. We will trace back to the links established in the twelfth century and see that these influences have enriched that culture. However, there is little to suggest that they were at haute-cuisine level, which is perhaps surprising. While Scottish gastronomy has been influenced in part, we can briefly state that the overall effect has not been enriched in terms of economic benefit and disparagingly so.
“In trade, as well as in other ways, Scotland had to pay heavily for her rather one-sided friendship with France. A Scots document of 1524 … gives a contemporary account of what Scots merchants had to suffer … ’Since war with the English began, our merchants are debarred from trade communication with England, Flanders, Spain and other realms … owing to our friendship, alliance and punctilious good faith with the French, we are suffering heavily’ ” 189.
Those deciding questions of economic principle during the lulls in the wars began to change in origin: “Under the rule of Mary of Guise, Frenchmen immediately began to assume high office in the Scottish government, much to the displeasure of native Scots. It soon became evident that Scotland had traded a potential dependence upon England for an actual dependence upon France.”190
The French influence upon Scottish gastronomy as a claim is something that is not entirely evident from the subsequent statements. “Foreign influence has played a large and beneficial part in the development of the Scottish Culinary repertoire, but it has never been able to destroy its essential nature.”191 Allen192 comments: “Cooking in general was much influenced by the French … and one relic of this today … is the relatively large number of Scots wives who insist on using butter for cooking …” As Dichter points out, “Most good cooks know that the real quality of French cooking is plentiful use of butter.”193 The “essential nature” of the Scottish diet has been shown historically to centre upon ‘tartan food’ within a poverty diet and it is unwise to assume that a beneficial French influence is ‘proved’ by the use of butter. That was probable anyway, within an ‘agri-culture’ as portrayed in Chapter Four. 
Warren’s assertion seems to hold good when looking at a list of some 400 Scottish Regional Recipes194. Although proceeding from Aberdeen Angus Beef and Ale Crowdie, through Klossed Heads (small fish in cloths) and Rumbledethumps (a cheese ‘bubble and squeak’) to Yetholm Bannock (a rich festive shortbread) there is not even a hint of pate maison. This would have come over the Border as a result of the impact which haute cuisine had upon English culture. Ashets of cold meat may have arrived by the same route from the pejorative assiette anglaise. The fact that there is no oeuf ecossaisneed not detract from the idea that it is a simple dish but might lend support to the notion that the French could have left many more interesting dishes as a result of the Auld Alliance.
The present writer is by no means the first to research the historical aspects of Scottish food, and while Hughes’ work covered the whole of the British Isles and is not expected to be too precise, she was wide of the mark in considering the ‘Auld Alliance’. “Scottish ties with France began in the nineteenth century and a succession of French royalty has left its mark on both the content and terminology of Scottish cuisine.”195 We will need to bring this date forward by at least three hundred years and we can look at what has been said by Warren.
“James V of Scotland married a French noblewoman, Mary of Guise-Lorraine, and she brought with her to the court at Holyrood in Edinburgh a large retinue of her own servants and courtiers. Entertaining in the French manner became all the rage, and fashionable people vied with one another to follow her lead and set the most lavish table. The fashions set by Mary of Guise-Lorraine were strengthened by her daughter Mary, the beloved Queen of the Scots, who had been brought up at the French court. Everybody connected with court circles now wanted French chefs, and their tables overflowed with a wasteful abundance of rich food.”196
The marriage took place in 1538 but we can sense from Daiches197, “the Franco-Scottish culture atmosphere that first flourished when James V brought home his French wife Princess Madeline …” when he discussed the poetry, music and dance of the time. She, of course, had little effect on Scottish culture compared to his second wife, Mary. “The Auld Alliance with France, whether dating from 1295 or the twelfth century was most effective between 1415 and the 1480s when numbers of Scots nobles … won lands and titles in France.”198 MacKenzie, however, under the margin heading 1165 discusses William the Lyon:
“He was the first Scottish King who entered into an alliance with France against England. This was the beginning of a connection with France which was more or less constantly maintained for many centuries. The honour which it brought us is questionable, the evil which came by it is undoubted.”199
While Hughes was wrong in her statement concerning the origin of Scottish ties with France she is right in purporting that it has “left its mark” at the Scottish table200. The example is dessert but this was not unique to Scotland. Murison identified marks of wider effect and three stages of French influence on the Scottish language: “Norman French till about 1200; and Central and Parisian French thereafter, both of which came to Scotland via England and account for the large French vocabulary they have in common. Some words, lost to English have survived in Scots, as … ashet (plate) … jigot (leg of mutton … tassie (cup) … bouls (bowls), succar (sugar). The third source, the Franco-Scottish Alliance (1296-1560) by-passed England and added further words, as … disjune (breakfast) … vivers (rations) … hogmanay (New Year’s Eve).”201 Other writers, however, have looked more closely at this specialised area of interest and it would be relevant to explore their views at this stage.
Marian McNeill gives a useful appendix of Franco-Scottish terms, and the following extract is a very small proportion of the words which show the link between Scotland and France at the table. The selection made illustrates both the contributions made from the French visitors and the way in which the Scots have adapted them perhaps to retain their own national identity. There is, however, nothing approaching tournedo (a special fillet steak) or examples of high culture at the table. 

deoch-an-doruis, or stirrup-cup: a drink to speed the parting guest. ‘I will drink it for you, that good customs be not broken. Here’s your bonnaly, my lad.’ – Scott:The Pirate
Bon Aller
Brule, brulyie
To broil
Gigot, jiggot
A leg of mutton
Gout (pr. Goo)
Taste: ‘They do not know how to cook yonder. They have no gout.’ - Galt
A pullet
Petticoat tails
Thin shortbread cakes
Petites Gatelles
A kind of porridge, Aberd
Sugar. ‘Neeps like sucker!’ An old Edinburgh street cry
Tartan Purry
A dish of chopped kail and oatmeal
Tasse, Tassie
A cup. ‘Gae bring to me a pint o’wine / And fetch it in a silver tassie, / That I may drink, before I go, / A service to my bonnie lassie.’ – Burns
A tray for removing fragments after a meal. (Lit. a voider or emptier)

Ramsay much earlier than MacNeill203 had supplied a similar list but this is not to say that she copied the first writer’s approach:

A parting glass with a friend going on a journey
Bon aller
Hashed meat
Taste, smell
Gigot (of mutton)
Case for holding wine
Sugar –Edinburgh Street Cry:- Neeps like sucker. Whae’ll buy neeps?(turnips)
Petticoat- tails
Cakes of triangular shapes
Petits gatelles (Gateaux)
Meat dish

Similar illustrations are given by Whyte205:
Compo              (?) a mixture (cf compote)
Pampurdy Payn purdeuz (toast fried in egg and strewn in sugar)
Pom Citron Citron
McNeil’s information, as well as Ramsay’s helps build up the case for a strong influence upon Scottish gastronomy but source material is of greater validity. The following information is from Lady Grisell Baillie’s Household Book of 1715206. The effect of contact with France is perhaps most seen through such everyday dishes as are first mentioned on the page noted:

friassy               fricascy                 fricasey                fricassy
281                          282                            283                          299
ragow         rague            ragu
283               286               289
above all   (a “pigion”)
brunt cream
burnt cream
crème brule
a rest (idiomatic)

The irony of ‘the Auld Alliance’ for Scotland is that even its ‘most Scottish word’ which has been promoted to embellish its heritage has its origins across the Channel. “The word tartan is derived from the French ‘tiretan’ and in its original form it meant a particular type of cloth quite irrespective of colour.”207 Dunbar goes on to quote Martin, Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, 1703 on “The Plad” which although the correct word is perhaps less stimulating than ‘tartan’, certainly, ‘plaid food’ equates with plain food but the term ‘tartan food’ as identified earlier has more of a pejorative ring to it. The disappointment in terms of the actual versus the potential gastronomic heritage afforded by long historical contact with France is that the words are more significant than the items on the table realise. The faded etymologies may have left jaded palates and an appetite horizoned by a poverty diet.

A collection of proverbs and sayings connected with food and drink is given at the end of the next chapter.