Home > Around The World > Great Britain > Scotland

Scotland

Category Image

Scotland is a small country, but it has an abundance of water in the form of lochs (lakes), rivers, streams and, of course, the sea which surrounds the Scottish mainland and it's numerous islands. It also has fertile soil, tons of natural resources and a fairly temperate climate.

Hunting, fishing and raising sheep and cattle provided the meat for meals, and the soil was perfect for growing oats and barley, plus many root vegetables and soft fruits. This made traditional Scottish foods a very healthy diet.

The arrival of the Vikings in Scotland (the first raid of Scotland’s northern isles is believed to have taken place towards the end of the 8th century), added new dimensions to the way Scottish food was preserved and cooked.

The Vikings brought the Scandinavian methods of 'salting' and 'smoking' to Scotland, and they soon became popular. It's also believed that the famous 'Aberdeen Angus' cattle originated from Viking stock brought with the raiders.

The main 'ingredients' of traditional Scottish meals....

Meat

Beef (including that famous Aberdeen Angus), lamb, mutton and venison. The Scots don't traditionally eat much pork, (perhaps the occasional wild boar in bygone days), but pigs aren't nearly as popular as cows and sheep.

Game

Both the Scottish highlands and lowlands are full of wild game (although today there's less 'wild' game and some of it is 'farmed') including pheasant, grouse, partridge, pigeon, hare, rabbit and more.

Fish and Seafood

The lochs and ocean provide a ready-made supply of food. Salmon, Haddock, Trout, Mackerel and Herring are probably the favourites, with plenty of fresh seafood/shellfish such as lobster, crab, prawns, scallops, mussels thrown in.

Crops/Grain

Oats and barley are the grains that you see most often in traditional Scottish food, probably because the soil and weather make great growing conditions. Wheat doesn't grow as well, but of course is now readily available.

Vegetable

Root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips and carrots show up in many savoury dishes. Cabbage, cauliflower, peas and leeks are popular too.

Fruit

Soft fruits like blackberries (called brambles... I loved going bramble-picking!), raspberries and strawberries appear in many desserts ('sweets'), while apples and rhubarb make wonderful pies and 'crumbles'.

Authentic Scottish food isn't 'fancy', but it's wholesome, filling, generally easy to prepare and surprisingly tasty when you realize that spices aren't commonly used... salt and pepper being the staples.

Centuries ago, stews, broths, soups, haggis, fish and porridge were what most Scottish people ate regularly.... basic meals that kept the ancient Scots warm and gave them the strength and energy they needed.

The 'heavy', starchy nature of many meals helped to keep stomachs full for a long time too. When encouraging me to eat porridge for breakfast, my Nana used to say "that'll stick to your ribs"... and you know what, she was right!

The Famous Haggis - If you know anything about Scottish food, you've probably heard of the Haggis... but you may not know what it is.

Haggis with 'Tatties & Neeps' and first of all, let's be clear - in spite of many cartoons and caricatures, a haggis isn't a 'creature' but a food dish! In fact it may the most well-known and famous item on the list of traditional Scottish foods. The earliest historical mention of a haggis-like dish appeared in the 15th century. But similar dishes may well have appeared as early as the 9th century or before. The haggis is made from a sort of sausage-meat made from the offal or innards - lungs, heart, liver etc. of a sheep.

These are boiled, then minced and mixed with onion, lightly toasted oatmeal, suet, stock and salt and pepper. It's all mixed together and put inside a sheep’s stomach which is sewn closed and then the whole thing is boiled for several hours, it's tasty and worth a try if you're ever in its homeland. Haggis is traditionally served at a 'Burns Supper' or on 'Burns Night, accompanied by 'tatties and neeps' (aka potatoes and turnips).

Burns Night or Burns Supper celebrates the birthday (January 25) of Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Poet. Burns was so enamoured of the haggis that he even wrote an entire poem devoted to its splendours! And of course, no Burns Supper would be complete without the traditional and world famous drink.... Scotch whisky!

Scotch whisky, often simply called Scotch, is malt whisky or grain whisky made in Scotland. Scotch whisky must be made in a manner specified by law.

All Scotch whisky was originally made from malted barley. Commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late 18th century. Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: single malt Scotch whisky, single grain Scotch whisky, blended malt Scotch whisky (formerly called "vatted malt" or "pure malt"), blended grain Scotch whisky and blended Scotch whisky.

All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Any age statement on a bottle of Scotch whisky, expressed in numerical form, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed-age whisky.

The first written mention of Scotch whisky is in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1495. A friar named John Cor was the distiller at Lindores Abbey in the Kingdom of Fife.

Many Scotch whisky drinkers will refer to a unit for drinking as a dram.

Scottish Porridge - This is another traditional Scottish food that dates back to the very early days of Scotland. Oats were used in many dishes, and porridge was probably one of the most common and versatile meals that the ancient Scots came up with. Traditional Scottish porridge is made with 'porridge oats' (medium ground oatmeal, NOT 'quick cooking' or 'rolled' varieties), water and salt. The oatmeal is added to boiling water and then boiled slowly with constant stirring to prevent lumps (lumpy porridge isn't good!). Salt is usually added about ¾ of the way through the cooking process. It's served with creamy milk and if you like, a little more salt on top!

Today many people prefer 'sweetened' porridge (or oatmeal as it's known in the US), and sugar, syrup or honey is often added to the unflavoured variety. But that isn't the way Scottish porridge is made. In more ancient times, Porridge may have been one of the worlds' first 'take-away' or fast-foods! That's because the ancient Scots would cook up a huge pot of porridge, then let it cool and 'set', before cutting it into slices which they would put in a sack (or even their pockets) to be eaten later on that day!

Scottish Food Today - Although these days we don't have to rely on food that is locally-grown, raised or hunted, traditional Scottish foods really haven't changed very much over time.

Although simple and traditional Scottish cooking still prevails, Scotland now boasts some beautifully modern city centres which have tons of 'fine dining' restaurants featuring 'upgraded' versions of traditional Scottish food plus a huge variety of other cuisines.

Even the 'fast food' side of Scotland food offers a variety of different themes and Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Italian food jostles for position alongside the traditional Scottish fish and chips, fried Haggis... and yes, even those infamous deep-fried Mars bars!

One aspect of the Scottish attitude to food that you might not be aware of, is just how much the Scots like their 'sweets' or puddings (aka 'desserts').

If you get a chance to visit Scotland, do your best to sample the traditional dishes - and remember that the small family run cafes and 'chippies' (fish and chip shops) are just as likely to have good food as the upscale 'posh' restaurants. Try them both and you won't be disappointed.