By Raymond JG Wells
Scotland has an interesting culinary history and proffers some unique and distinctive foods. The Romans are generally credited with having brought many foods to the British Isles including the likes of cherries, grapes and snails and they are also said to be responsible for the national dish of the Scots-the Haggis. The Caledonian wurst, much beloved by Scots the world over, is made from liver, minced heart and lungs-lights of sheep-chopped parsley and onion, seasoned with nutmeg, pepper, cayenne pepper and salt, cooked with oatmeal and some suet. It is then filled into a bag made from a paunch – a sheep’s stomach – and boiled for between 3 to 4 hours in salted water, after which it is left to soak and get cold in the water.
It doesn’t sound all that appetizing does it? Still-as former President Reagan was very fond of saying-“you ain’t heard nothing yet.” There is another variant – the pig haggis. In this dish, the pig’s stomach is turned inside out, scrubbed and soaked overnight in strongly salted water. The tripe is then stuffed with potato and sage and onion and sewn-up; once this all done the end product is roasted in the oven and basted frequently with bacon fat.
Some Sassenachs may pour scorn on this Celtic culinary offering but millions of Scots all over the world regard it as delectable. It has moved great poets to pen lines in its honor and none more famous than Robert Burn’s Ode to Haggis. On festive occasions such as Burns’ Night, St. Andrew’s and Hogmanay, thousands of this epicurean delight will be served and devoured to the accompaniment of music from kilted Highland pipers. The chances are if you should attend such gatherings, that your haggis might just have a sauce with it… a wee drop of single malt whisky.
Haggis is sometimes served surrounded by mashed potatoes and turnips (chappit tatties and chappit neeps in the local vernacular.) Haggis pudding along with white (oatmeal) and red (minced meat) is widely available in the take-aways known locally as “chippas”..
The old Gaelic proverb says…”..S mairg a ni tarcuis biadh”, which translates as, Foolish is he that despises food. The Scots, like their
Celtic cousins the Welsh, have certainly never done that and over the centuries have produced a veritable host of unusual but tasty goodies.
Try a true Scottish breakfast and you will come across the kipper – a split herring, which is mildly salted and then smoked. Connoisseur’s do say the very best are a pale coppery color and they come from Lochfyneside, where they are ever so gently smoked over oak chips. The Scots normally grill their kippers and serve them together with baps or oat cakes. The Scots are particular adept with oatmeal. Kippers could also be soaked in fresh lemon juice overnight, drained, sliced and eaten just like coarse smoked salmon on bread and butter.
Whilst on the subject of fish, Scotch salmon is renowned for its excellence. If you are in Scotland do try Tweed Kettle, a salmon hash that originated in 19th century Edinburgh. Besides the salmon the dish includes the likes of chopped onions or shallots, salt and pepper, a pinch of ground mace, chopped parsley and some white wine.
One of the great soups in Scotland is Cock-a-Leekie and on a cold winter day it takes some beating. It is really more like a hearty stew than a soup. Sir Walter Scott in St. Ronan’s Well sung its praises and observed “… Such were the cock-a-leekie and the savory minced scallops, which rivaled in their way even the veal cutlets of our old friend Mrs Hall at Perrybridge.”
The Scots enjoy cakes and one that gained the approval of no less a personage than Queen Victoria, when she paid a visit to Sir Walter Scott’s granddaughter at Abbotsford, was the Selkirk Bannock. This is a yeasted fruit loaf with origins going back to the mid 19th century. Then there are Petticoat Tails-tiny biscuit like cakes-and a tasty fruit cake commonly prepared for Hogmanay called Black Bun. Another speciality which is not very unusual is Dundee Cake.
There you have it a short compendium of some interesting but unusual foodstuffs from Bonnie Scotland.
The groaning trencher there ye fill!
Your hurdles like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time of need
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead
Robert Burns ” Ode to Haggis”
Raymond JG Wells is a British-born economist and writer currently living and working in Malaysia, He has published in various print magazines such as Day & Night, Frequent Traveller, The Rotarian, International Living and Far East Traveler and in electronic publications including the Literary Review, MadsDogs Breakfast, BootsNall.com, Zinos.com, Human Beams and the-vu.