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Scottish Cuisine A Foreigner’s Impressions
Plain meat, tatties and two veg. That was my first impression of Scottish food. Almost twenty years later my first impressions haven’t changed much, although they have embraced a few culinary delicacies that only the Scottish can produce with such talent.
When talking about Scottish cuisine, the first idea that comes to the mind of most foreigners is that horrid mixture of animals’ insides cooked in a sheep’s stomach… iagh! I must admit that before arriving to Scotland I had never heard of Haggis, a meal which now I adore when it is properly cooked and accompanied with fluffy neeps and tatties and washed down with the best malt whisky only found in Scotland.
I grew up in South America fed with spicy pulses, chicken, fish and rice. Yes, in Peru we had rice with every single meal. It is strange that the country where the potato originates does not have potatoes in its main meal. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about the whole of Peru, but rather Lima, where us snobby Limeños do not consume potatoes very often, in fact, we leave the potatoes for the natives and the poor who can not afford other foods.
My first year in Scotland, 1994
If I mentioned the situation of the humble potato in Lima it is only to try to make you understand my surprise when I arrived in Scotland and everyone had tatties with every meal. There was no rice or freshly baked bread to be seen at any meal! My first impression –I was very young then- was that the Scottish people were very poor because they could not afford other foods like rice, freshly baked bread and fancy sauces and spices. To my idea of how poor the Scottish were, was to be added their custom of drinking tea with a drop of milk. In Peru only the very poor, those who cannot afford a glass of milk, drink a little drop of milk in their tea; it is the only way to make a ½ pint of milk last for a big family. For the rest of us who could afford a better diet, we would always drink a big cup of milk with a drop of tea or coffee for flavour.
I was very puzzled at how such a developed country could be so poorly fed in comparison to the third world country where I grew up. It took me a long time to understand the Scottish ways, a long time to learn to like their food. The first things I liked were their puddings and cakes. In comparison, my Peruvian cakes and desserts were dry and very simple. Another good surprise was the Whisky, a drink that before I could never have because it was always too rough on the throat. In Scotland, the whisky was divine, so smooth, full of body and taste that I never tired myself of trying new makes.
Scottish Traditional Recipes: A Celebration of the Food and Cooking of Scotland
Things I missed from South America.
Apart from my daily ration of rice the things I missed the most when I moved to Scotland were the freshly baked bread every morning, the juicy exotic fruits during the summer -mangoes, papayas, pineapples, passion fruits, aguajes- the hot peppers and the variety of foods and cooking styles available.
The Foods That I Learnt To Like In Scotland
Among the many foods that I learnt to like in Scotland and now I often crave are: The haggis, the Scottish steak pie, fish and chips, oats, smoked salmon, fresh salmon and trout. And of course who couldn’t embrace the delicious shortbread, millionaire’s shortbread, éclairs from Mathieson’s, and vanilla slices. I shouldn’t forget to mention my favourite desserts, a cranachan and the atholl brose.
Fish And Chips
Scottish foods that I will never like
Some of these foods are British and not only Scottish but as they are largely eaten in Scotland I will mention them here. Among my food phobias are the stinky Marmite and Bovril, the aberration called “brown sauce” made with everything found under the sun including the maker’s soaked dirty socks for added colour. Those cheap tins of mushy peas and baked beans. Christmas pudding and trifle. And I’ll better stop here or my list is in danger of never finishing and offending those Scottish people who I love and respect so much for their brave history and their friendly manners.
Marmite.. NO thanks!
The Atholl Brose
This is a very different recipe from the one I am used to preparing with whole cream, but as it was made by the Atholl family I am including it here. The recipe below was published by the Atholl family and drunk by Queen Victoria when she visited Blair Atholl in 1844.
To make a quart, take four dessert spoonfuls of runny honey and four sherry glassfuls of prepared oatmeal; stir these well together and put in a quarter bottle, fill up with whisky; shake well before serving.
To prepare the oatmeal, put in into a basin and mix it with cold water to the consistency of a thick paste. Leave for about half an hour, pass though a fine strainer, pressing with the back of a wooden spoon so as to leave the oatmeal as dry as possible.
Discard the meal and use the creamy liquor for the brose.
Some of the wonderful baked goods to eat on visit to the Small Talk Tea Room on Perth, Perthshire.
Why Scottish Food Is The Way It Is?
- Calvinistic Morality, and
- The Weather
According to my mother in law, during war times under severe rationing which lasted for more than 13 years, The Scots learnt to eat simple. They had to eat whatever they could harvest from their gardens or get from their war bonuses. Even tea at those times was a luxury, and it was then that they learnt to do without many things. Food was fodder, not fun. Many years later, although the wars are over, the Scots have remained with a siege-mentality more in tune with war times than with the relaxed appreciation of the pleasures of the table.
Another excuse to the lack of gastronomic richness and appreciation found in Scotland and most of the UK is a strict Calvinistic morality in the late half of the 20th century. In England it was Cromwell and the Puritans who put an end to feasting while in Scotland it was the Protestant church and John Knox who regarded good drinking and eating as sinful.
Personally, after living in Scotland and other European countries for a few years, I am of the opinion, that no religion or war could stop a good gastronomic feast. I prefer to think that it is the weather that heavily influences the Scottish gastronomy.
Whether in other countries where eating and drinking are highly regarded -I am thinking Italy, Spain and France- the lack of general gastronomic interest in Scotland could be linked to their weather. Warmer Mediterranean countries have gentler weather which allows them to grow a wider variety of crops. The Northern situation of Scotland has never made it a great agricultural country where traditionally the main crops have been oats and barley. Also warmer weathers are more inviting to the epicurean pleasures of drinking and eating. Scotland, on the other hand, has developed a traditional cooking style more appropriate to long cold winters with dishes based on warming broths, sustaining stews and hot filling puddings.
The Future Of Scottish Cuisine Losing Their Gastronomic Tradition...
In the past few years, there has been an opening for new cuisines, for new flavours. However, a hectic lifestyle and the use of processed and ready made foods contributes to the fact that people are not gastronomically educated and consequently they will lose whatever little gastronomic tradition the Scottish had. I think that is a great loss because Scotland has delicious fresh produces like their beef, berries, fish and many other products that are best when eaten fresh. It is true that there are great Scottish cooks and that you can find exquisite Scottish restaurants with Scottish menus, but the prices are extremely high and not affordable for the ordinary Scot who have to rely on tins and processed foods for their daily meals.
Scottish Food in Edinburgh with Chef Neil Forbes cooking Roasted Lamb served with roots
© 2010 Wendy Iturrizaga