Scotland (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
In Scotland food and food traditions have, as elsewhere, changed over time while regional influences have had a major effect. In addition, both Europe and Scandinavia have introduced changes in the food of the country. Geography has played a central role in determining the basic foodstuffs and their place in the diet. The country is divided into two areas, the Highlands in the north and west, and the Lowlands in the south and east. Each has its own distinct language and culture. The Highlands are generally a mountainous region, with an emphasis on pastoral activities, livestock husbandry, crofting (small acreage farming), general agriculture, and maritime activities. The Lowlands are the chief agricultural area.Beginning with the Agricultural Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the area developed specialized agricultural districts. The east is predominantly an area of arable and crop production; the climate of the west makes it suitable for the raising of
A number of foods and foodstuffs have been important in the Scottish diet. Cereals have played a central role, especially in rural areas. Bere, a barley, was the traditional grain. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was being rapidly supplanted by oats. Beginning in the eighteenth century oats came to be recognized as a mark of Scottish nationality. As its consumption grew, bere fell down the social scale, though it continued to be eaten in Caithness and Orkney in the early twentieth century. Bere and oats were eaten in a number of ways. Oatmeal was milled into a number of "cuts" or grades, used for specific dishes. It was the basis of brose (mixed with water to make an instant food), porridge (cooked with water or milk), and such foods as sowens and skirley (mixed with fat and onion). Oatmeal was an ingredient in dishes such as haggis (mixed with liver and suet, traditionally cooked in a sheep's stomach). It was baked into bannocks and oatcakes, often toasted over an open fire.
Wheat was a grain grown in only the most favored areas and sold as a cash crop. Wheat bread was at first a prestigious food, eaten by the higher classes; for the lower classes it was eaten on special occasions such as harvesting. In the late eighteenth century, it spread from
These grains, especially oats and wheat, were used in the tradition of baking, for which Scotland has become renowned. From oats, bannocks, scones, and oatcakes were baked. These did not use raising agents. From wheat, cakes, pastry, and shortbread were oven-baked. This was a later development, owing to the late introduction of the oven and the initial high cost of sugar.
The potato was introduced as a novelty in the late seventeenth century. In the 1740s there was resistance against eating it. By the 1790s when the "Statistical Account of Scotland" was compiled, it had become an important element of the diet, especially in Highland areas and among the poorer classes of the Lowlands. It was a principal food in the diet and was a cheap and healthy food and a substitute for bread. The potato continued to be an important element and only declined in status in the 1990s in the face of increased use of pasta and rice. Traditionally potatoes were boiled, with or without their skins. In the urban diet of the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century and beyond, they were sliced and deep-fat fried as chips. They were eaten as a meal, as a side dish in a main meal, or as an ingredient in a wide range of dishes such as soups and stews; they were also used in baking, as in potato scones.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables had a relatively small role in the diet. The traditional staple vegetable was kale, a member of the Brassica varieties. Vegetable gardening around the houses of noblemen and lairds, and the rise of market gardening in the vicinity of the large towns, especially from the eighteenth century onwards, meant the development of a wide range of vegetables. Like other foodstuffs, they were at first eaten by the wealthy classes, then spread to the social classes below. Traditionally they were consumed as broth. Fruit was not extensively grown, and a limited number of varieties were raised. Orchard fruit was little cultivated, though soft fruit, especially strawberries and raspberries, has been commercially grown from the late eighteenth century; fruit was supplied from kitchen gardens. Especially where domestic production was limited or not undertaken, fruit growing wild in nature provided an important source. It could be a fruit substitute, as were rosehips during World War II. Fruit was eaten raw, or made into dishes, puddings, sauces, and drinks, including alcoholic ones. When sugar became available, it was made into conserves, jams, and jellies, or was bottled.
Milk and dairy products have had a number of roles. Much of the supply has been from cows; that from ewes and goats has been minor. Milk has always been an important element in the rural diet. In urban areas and near towns, the supply was traditionally inadequate, though small town dairies filled a gap. Supplies had a seasonal fluctuation. Milk could be processed into dishes such as Corstorphine cream, made from frothed whey. Cheese-making enabled surplus quantities of milk to be utilized, especially in districts located away from centers of population. A large number of regional recipes and varieties exist, some developed during the expansion of the dairy industry in the nineteenth century. The Highlands are associated with soft cheeses for rapid consumption such as crowdie; the Lowlands have longer-keeping hard cheeses. Butter was the only source of fat in the rural diet, though beef or mutton fat could be obtained.
Meat, Fowl, and Fish
Meat was a foodstuff associated with social status. Among the rural population in the 1790s, it was rarely eaten. Even by the 1840s, it was still not an everyday foodstuff, especially among the poor. Before the Agricultural Revolution, livestock were slaughtered at Martinmas (November 11) as not all animals could be overwintered. Meat from domesticated livestock was supplemented by wild game and animals such as rabbits and hares. Sea fowl was caught in coastal areas. The nobility consumed large quantities of meat, especially on days when rents were paid: payment was made in-kind, of which livestock formed a major element.
There were regional variations in the types of meat consumed. The keeping of pigs became prevalent with the spread of potato growing in the eighteenth century. At that time, mutton became a meat of social distinction, being confined to the higher classes in the Lowlands, and the lower classes in the Highlands and Islands.
All parts of animals were utilized, as food, or as non-food items, such as tallow for lighting or hides and leather goods. Mealy puddings were made from entrails; blood was mixed with oatmeal to form blood puddings (black pudding); heads and trotters from sheep were made into pie and soup stock (powsoddie). Meat was rarely eaten fresh. It was salted, dried, or pickled in brine.
Fish was primarily eaten in coastal regions. With the improvement of transport networks in the nineteenth century, consumption spread to inland regions. Fish was a central element of the diet: it was a subsistence food, it filled the hungry gap before harvest when food was in short supply, and it was a delicacy. The Western Isles and Islands had large quantities of herring, haddock, whiting, and mackerel. Other fish included salmon, cod, ling, and shellfish such as cockles and oysters; around the Orkney Islands, whale was plentiful. Coalfish was widely eaten among the working classes. Inland fish such as trout were caught. Fish were eaten fresh, dried, or smoked. A number of fish dishes, many local in nature, are food identity markers: kippers, salted and smoke-cured fish, usually herring, first developed in Newcastle in the 1840s; salt-pickled herring or Finnan haddock, a lightly salted and smoked haddock; Arbroath smokies, salt-dried and smoked haddock.
Birds and poultry include domestic poultry, especially hens and geese. Their eggs were eaten, as were those of wild fowl. In some districts such as Ness, in the Outer Hebrides, wild bird flesh was eaten from gannets.
Some foods have become associated with geographical areas (see Table 1).
The traditional drink crop was bere or barley. Ale was drunk, especially in Lowland areas; in the Highlands, whiskey was distilled, both legally and illicitly. Hot drinks spread from the upper classes. Tea drinking started to become increasingly widespread by the 1790s, though for some time afterwards it remained a drink for special occasions among lower social classes. Cocoa was drunk, as were coffee substitutes such as chicory. Coffee was not a drink of the working class, and even among industrial workers in Edinburgh in the 1950s it was consumed rarely, if at all. In recent decades coffee has increasingly taken the place of tea, among all social classes.
Special Foods for Special Occasions
Special foods were eaten during festivals. They were specially prepared; they often had ingredients with a certain
|Area||Foods and dishes|
|Edinburgh and the Lothians||Midlothian oatcakes|
|Edinburgh rock (sugary confection)|
|Angus and Fife, Forfar||Bridies (pastry filled with steak), Dundee marmalade, Dundee cake, Arbroath smokies, Pitcaithly bannock|
|Glasgow and Clydeside||Glasgow broth|
|Ayrshire||Cheese and Ayrshire shortbread|
|Borders||Selkirk bannock (rich yeasted bannock with sultanas and raisins); Eyemouth fish pie|
|Dumfries and Galloway||Galloway beef|
|North-East||Butteries, Finnan haddock, Aberdeen Angus steak, skirlie|
|Highlands and Inner Hebrides||Fried herring, game soup, tatties and crowdie (potatoes and soft cheese), Highland oatcakes, Atholl brose (whisky mixed with oatmeal).|
|The Outer Hebrides||Whelk soup, barley bannocks, kale soup|
|Orkney and Shetland||Oatmeal soup, fried herring and onions, potatoes with milk, beremeal bannocks|
significance (such as flour from the last sheaf) or were made with ingredients that were expensive, difficult to obtain, or not eaten at other times of the year. Some dishes were served only at a festive occasion, or during part of it, others were not.
Festivals took place around the Celtic Calendar. They were held at the quarters that marked the passing of one season to another (Beltane, Lammas, Whitsun, and Martinmas). Foods included bannocks and oatcakes. Others were associated with the Gregorian Calendar. Hogmany, New Year's Eve, on December 31, was and probably still is the most widely celebrated of all the calendar festivals. Many of its foods were sweet in nature. Shortbread was a rich textured biscuit of flour, sugar, and butter. This could be decorated with a sugar iced or embossed pattern. Pitcaithly bannock was decorated with crystallized lemon and orange peel, caraway comfits, and almonds. Black bun is a rich and spiced dried fruit cake enclosed within a thin casing of bread dough or pastry. During harvest, harvesters were given wheat bread and ale; harvest meals also celebrated the end of harvest.
Rites of passage had foods associated with them. These included many common foods, with special attributes, such as bread, cheese, bannocks, and whiskey.
Meal Times and Menus
Meals had distinct patterns. Eating times were shaped by class, occupation, work hours, and days of the week. In rural areas meals were arranged around the feeding of livestock.
Three main meals were eaten: breakfast in the morning, dinner in the middle of the day, and tea or supper at
The eating of dishes, especially the main meal, had a weekly cycle. Sunday, the Sabbath, was reserved for churchgoing for Protestants and Catholics. (Other faiths had their Sabbaths on different days.) On this day meat was eaten. It was roasted, served with dumplings, and accompanied by potatoes and cooked vegetables. The byproducts and leftovers of the Sunday dinner were eaten throughout the working week.
Menus of daily meals are recorded in household accounts, personal and travel diaries, letters, and cookery books. According to Alexander Fenton, house-servants in the 1790s had "breakfast of oatmeal porridge or sowens with milk; dinner of broth and boiled meat warm twice a week, or of re-heated broth, or milk, with cold meat, or of eggs, cheese, butter, and bread of mixed barley and pease-meal; supper was for breakfast, or in winter there might be boiled potatoes mashed with a little butter and milk" (Scottish Country Life, p. 170). Ian Carter notes that in North-East Scotland during the 1840s, "the usual food of the farm servants [farm workers] is porridge and milk for breakfast: for dinner, potatoes, bread and milk with perhaps oatmeal brose made with greens, for supper. They do not have beer, except when there is a deficiency of milk. In harvest time an allowance of beer is given then" (Farm Life in Northeast Scotland, 1979, pp. 13233).
Food and the diet have been influenced by a number of factors. Agriculture and changes within it led to changes in agricultural practices and the introduction and spread of new crops and markets. These affected the crops and livestock raised, their quantities, and seasonal availability. Trade and contact with other countries introduced foods, dishes, food habits, names of dishes, and methods of cooking. These were especially noted from the Netherlands during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Political and cultural links have been important, like those from the Auld Alliance with France, which started in the eleventh century and had its greatest impact in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It introduced dishes cooked "in the French way," such as "beef alamonde," dishes such as "omlit of eggs," terminology such as "gigot," a leg of mutton or lamb, and cooking utensils such as the "ashet," a dish for serving meat.
Union with England
Scotland was politically influenced by its larger neighbor, England. The two countries were joined in 1603 by a union of Crowns, then a Union of Parliaments in 1707. These brought the countries closer and shifted the power structure. The English Court influenced the food and eating habits of the nobility. Cultural influences came from the English diet and the introduction of such dishes as roast beef, mutton, and lamb.
Immigrants influenced the native food culture. From those of the sixth to the twelfth centuries, the Scandinavians influenced the use of resources from the sea and introduced dishes such as fish and mustard. Large-scale immigration took place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from Ireland, Italy, and India. Italians were noted for fish and chips and ice cream, with all their traditions of these foods. Italian specialty shops such as Valvona and Corolla are a noted feature of some cities such as Edinburgh, where there is a large Italian population.
Social changes created a demand for new foods. Food substitutes, such as margarine, developed around 1870, allowed for greater variation in the diet. So too did new methods of food preservation, such as canning, from the 1860s; refrigeration was first applied to meat imported from the United States in the 1880s; pasteurization was first used in the dairy industry around 1890. These also reduced the influence of season and locality.
See also Barley; Cereal Grains and Pseudo-Cereals; Fish: Overview; Tea (Meal); Wheat; Whiskey (Whisky).
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