The famous Scottish saying "S mairg a ni tarcuis air biadh," ("He who has contempt for food is a fool.") describes precisely the attitude to the food and cooking of Scotland. From the national dish of Haggis (sheep's intestine cooked in a sheep's stomach), to the finest whisky in the world, and what would breakfast be without the ubiquitous porridge.
The Scots have learned over the years to make best use of the offerings nature handed to them in Scotland, from the rugged mountains, lakes, sea lochs and streams, to the fertile valleys and moorlands. The climate of Scotland is relatively temperate in the southern and central parts but the highlands and islands are subject to particularly harsh winters.
Evidence shows that hunter-gatherers first came to Scotland from Europe around 7000BC. They fished in the many rivers and streams, hunted in the mountains and on the moorland. Early settlements show cattle, sheep and pigs were kept alongside basic crops of oats and barley. Around 2500 Northern and central Europe immigrants appeared and by 700BC, those we now know of as Celts settled here from their native Ireland forced by severe food shortages.
Scottish food was also heavily influenced by the arrival of the Vikings in the 9th century. With them they brought different cooking methods such as smoking, and what is now known as the ubiquitous breed of cattle the Aberdeen Angus.
In Scotland there have also been influences from the French who for many centuries had a close alliance with Scotland particularly around the 16th century when Marie de Guise Lorraine married the king of Scotland, James V. and brought French chefs and their cuisine to the Scottish Court.
Oats and barley remained the staple crop for the working mans’ food in Scotland and porridge, made with Scottish oats, became not only a cheap food but also one which was plentiful.
cooking for the poor and farm workers was a cauldron over an open fire and included porridge, stews, broths and soups. Wheat was very hard to grow in Scotland with the difficult climate and poor soil and the wealthy were easily identified, as their diet would include bread and pastry and the use of spit roasting for meat, a dish inaccessible to the poor.
The Scottish Kitchen Today
Like England, food in Scotland today is an eclectic mix of many cultures - English, Italian, Indian and Chinese. In Scotland, the Scots hold on tightly to their culinary heritage still using local, seasonal food. Oats are still widely eaten, as is fish, game, and of course beef. Scottish soft fruits – raspberries, strawberries, are renowned throughout the UK. Scottish cheeses, fruits and vegetables likewise.
In Scotland, the Scottish kitchen is an abundance of soups and broths including Cock-a-Leekie - Chicken and leek soup, Scotch Broth – barley enrichened soup, Cullen Skink - a stew/soup from Cullen on the shores of the Moray Firth usually made with Finnan Haddock and Brose – A simple soup usually Kale, with a handful of oatmeal.
Fish is a staple of Scotland coming from the lochs, streams, river and magnificent coastline. Fish and seafood are plentiful and Scottish salmon (smoked and fresh) is world-renowned as are Arbroath Smokies (smoked haddock).
The Scottish table will have meats a-plenty. Beef, game – particularly venison game birds, the national dish of Haggis - a sheep’s stomach stuffed with sheep’s intestine and oatmeal – which was famous enough for famous Scots poet Robbie Burns to pen and ode. And not forgetting Forfar Bridies, a pasty not dissimilar to a Cornish Pasty.
Scotland is celebrated for its baking and puddings. A Clootie Dumpling, again not unlike an English suet pudding with a suet pastry case filled with dried fruits. Scottish shortbread is legendary as are oatcakes and pancakes. No list would be complete without Crannachan which incorporates some of Scotland’s most famous ingredients - raspberries, oats and whisky – or Tablet the delicious fudge-like confection made from sugar, cream, condensed milk, and butter.
Scottish distillers have made a great contribution to the fame of Scotland with their manufacture of whisky. Scotch whisky is regarded as ‘the’ whisky. It is prized among connoisseurs with its variety of aromas and flavors.
The Scots and the Irish still argue today about who invented whisk(e)y. The Scottish spelling does not recognize the ‘e’. The argument sways to Ireland with evidence from circa 432 and St Patrick.
Read more about whisky.