Scots get tired of their food being summarized as haggis, whiskey, deep-fried Mars bars, and shortbread in tartan tins.
Yet there is something to it. Haggis is oatmeal and offal, both of which the Scots both eat a lot. Scots are very proud of their whisky (which they spell without an “e.) And as for shortbread, Scots really do have a sweet tooth.
In general, Scottish food is seen as being very heavy. There are many jokes of it all being “artery clogging.” Not even a vegetable such as cabbage is a major player in the Scottish diet.
Some chefs are championing a Nouveau Scottish “fusion” food — dishes using Scottish ingredients, but prepared using cooking techniques from other cultures such as French, Italian, and Asian. These fusion restaurants started to appear in the 1990s. Some people thought, though, that it was a case of TTH (“trying too hard”), and that the food came off as too pretentious for the locals to eat — the chef Gordon Ramsay now attributes the failure of his Glasgow restaurant, “Amaryllis”, to that.
Alcohol is sold in supermarkets; the aisles or the sections where the alcohol is will be cordoned off during hours during which alcohol sales are not permitted (e.g. Sundays and late at night.)
The government has championed a “Scottish Food & Drink” strategy since 1999, which aims to promote Scottish ingredients as quality, natural products.
Food safety is surveyed by the Food Standards Agency Scotland (established 3 April 2000.)
Comfort foods in Scotland are soups, casseroles and steamed puddings. In November 2003, the “Food Trust of Scotland” surveyed 6,000 Scots to determine what their top ten Scottish foods were. The results were as follows, in order from the most popular down:
- Aberdeen Angus beef
- Smoked salmon
- Scotch broth
- Venison casserole
- Haggis with neeps and tatties
- Farmhouse cheese and oatcakes
- Roast lamb
- Clootie dumplings
- Baked salmon
Popular Scottish cookbooks include The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian McNeill (first published in 1929, but still available in reprint as of 2006), and the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes’ Cookery Book.
Dairy in Scotland
The main cheese made and consumed is cheddar.
Most small cheese makers were driven out of business by milk rationing in the Second World War. The Scottish cheese industry is just now reviving; there were 24 different cheese-makers in Scotland (as of 2006.)
Sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers has been banned since 1983.
Eggs in Scotland
European egg legislation kicked in 1 January 2004. All eggs sold retail have to be stamped with a producer code that identifies the country and production method, as well as the farm or origin (eggs sold from the farm or door to door don’t have to be stamped, as the assumption is that the origin is already known.)
Scottish eggs are stamped with a producer code as per EU regulations, including the country code of UK, but their code includes an additional suffix of SCO to identify them as Scottish.
Summary of Scottish egg codes:
- 1st digit of code = circumstances under which the egg was laid. Options are:
- 0 = organic
1 = free range
2 = free range indoors
3 = battery or cage
- Letters following this show the country, e.g. UK, with SCO appended on.
- Last 5 digits: are a number representing the farm.
- There will also be a date stamp
Deep-Frying in Scotland
“If it moves, or even it doesn’t, deep-fry it in batter..” is the joke often told to summarize Scottish cooking today. And it’s not completely untrue — the Scottish are far more honest about their love for deep-fried food than the rest of us are. In fact, probably more haggis is consumed in the modern “Haggis Supper” way than in any traditional way. A “Haggis Supper” is like a “fish supper” (aka fish and chips), except that it’s a piece of haggis that is deep-fried instead of fish. A piece of deep-fried haggis is also cheaper than a piece of deep-fried fish. “Haggis Supper” is served not only in Scotland, but also down into northern Northumberland in England, too.
There is a tremendous rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh over who does better chips (aka French Fries to North Americans.) People in Glasgow put salt and vinegar on their chips; in Edinburgh it’s salt and chippie sauce.
Holidays in Scotland
There are nine public holidays in Scotland:
- New Year’s Day
- January 2
- Good Friday
- Easter Monday
- May Day
- Public holiday at the end of May
- Public holiday at the beginning of August
- Boxing Day
Quarter Days in Scotland (since 1990 with the Term & Quarter Days (Scotland) Act 1990 c.22)
- Candlemas: 28 February (previously was 2 February, Feast of the Purification)
- Whitsunday: 28 May (previously was 15 May, when Pentecost was observed in Scotland)
- Lammas: 28 August (previously was 1 August)
- Martinmas: 28 November (previously was 11 November, Feast of St Martin.)
Scotland adopted the Gregorian calendar reforms in 1600, 152 years ahead of England and the American colonies
Meals in Scotland
Breakfast at home is cereal, toast, and tea or coffee. Porridge is now far less popular for breakfast than it was, being replaced by commercial breakfast cereals. In Scotland, though, a bowl of breakfast oatmeal porridge is not sweetened with sugar, but instead flavoured with a bit of salt.
For breakfast on the run, coffee shops will offer a roll with fried bacon or a fried egg in it. A weekend or restaurant breakfast may be bacon, Lorne sausage, egg, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, potato scones, marmalade, toast and / or oatcakes, occasionally with grilled kippers.
Lunch is served around 1 p.m.; it is often just a sandwich or a pie from the chip shop on the run.
Tea remains very popular and is ubiquitous. Tea is drunk at any hour of the day, though the traditional 4 pm tea break is disappearing.
Supper, though, is served with tea.
Fast food in Scotland includes curries, kebabs, pizzas, and fish and chips. The fish and chip shops will also sell deep-fried haggis and meat pies (both baked and deep-fried.)
Meat & Fish in Scotland
Scotland is a large exporter of mussels, scallops, lobsters, crabs, shrimp and langoustines. The Scots prefer haddock and herring to cod; they consider cod an inferior fish. Fish is “floured” with oatmeal before pan frying.
Pork hasn’t traditionally been a big meat in Scotland (in the 1600s and 1700s, the Scots called the English “Porkeaters”.) Instead, Scotland has been reknowned for its game: pheasant, grouse, partridge, venison, widgeon, hare. Now, game is being farmed.
Scottish food has both Celtic and Norse influences in it.
In the 1500 and 1600s in Scotland, rice was a luxury food. It was imported from southern Europe.
In the 1700s in Scotland, the general diet largely consisted of game, some domesticated meat, oatcakes (made from oats and barley), seafood and seaweed. Vegetables were often limited to kale and seaweed. Beverages were ale, whiskey and wine. Salmon and oysters were the food of the Scottish poor; the upper classes wouldn’t touch them. The Scottish aristocrats ate French food.
Glenlivet was the first licenced distillery in Scotland (1823). Whisky (Scottish spelling) was made before then; just not licenced.
Candy-making events used to be held as socials for young men and women.
Staples of Highland Food were porridge from oatmeal, oat or barley cakes, beef, venison, cheese, and dairy such as milk, butter and eggs. The highland land clearances drove people away from the land and their traditional diet, into the cities. Those remaining on the lands were hit by the same potato famine as the Irish were, in 1846.
Food in Lowland Scotland
In the Lowland Scotland diet, meat, dairy and fish were more prominent than cereal up until the mid-1500s. Cereals such as oats and bere (a form of barley) became more important after the 1550s, as the population grew. By the late 1700s, oats started to become the main cereal. Wheat remained an expensive grain for the privileged; rye was largely seen as livestock feed. Flours from grains were often combined with flours from ground legumes to stretch the grain flour.
Literature & Lore
“Stands Scotland where it did?” — William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616. Macbeth. Act IV, Scene 3.)
“If an epicure could remove by a wish in quest of sensual gratification, he would breakfast in Scotland.” — Dr Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 – 13 December 1784) in ‘Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland’ (1775).
“The motto I proposed for the [Edinburgh] Review was: Teniu musam meditamur avena — ‘We cultivate literature upon a little oatmeal’.” — Revd. Sydney Smith (1771 – 1845. Works. 1859. Vol 1, Preface.)
An 1823 Christmas food advertisement in an Edinburgh newspaper shows the wealth of food that the burgeoning Scottish economy was starting to draw in (at least for some). Even a foodie today might look at the list and slobber:
LISEZ! ESSAYEZ!! ET JUGEZ!!!
THE ITALIAN WAREHOUSE is at present stored with a matchless Collection of LUXURIES of all kinds, imported frorn France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Holland, warranted to please the most fastidious BON VIVANT and GOURMAND. Many of the Articles are far fetched, dear bought, and ill to be had.
- Muscatel Raisins in Bunches, for desserts, in small boxes of only 6 lb. and upwards.
- Jordan Almonds in small boxes.
- Almonds a la Princesse, or Soft-shelled Almonds.
- Spanish Green Grapes, in bunches and jars.
- Pistatio [sic] Nuts and Pomegranates.
- Oranges, and other Green Fruits.
- FRENCH DRIED APPLES, with a printed direction for preparing them, when they make a choice and most beautiful preserve. Also DRIED FRENCH PEARS in Syrup, which do to correspond with the Apples, and form a good addition to the dessert.
- French Plums, in the highest state of perfection, and of the most exquisite flavour.
- Imperial Plums, in beautiful small square baskets.
- Prunes de Pistole, in ditto ditto.
- Prunes de Tours, in ditto ditto.
- Prunes de Roi, in ditto ditto.
- Prunes de Rein, in ditto ditto.
- A variety of French and Italian Liqueurs.
- West India, French, and Italian Preserves.
- Dried Cherries, Apricots, Peaches, Pears, and Cherries in Brandy.
- Green Truffles, Conserve of Tomatoes, prepared by the celebrated Monsieur Appert.
- Mirabelle Plums, Apricots, Green-Gages, Cherries, and other Fruits for Tarts in bottles.
- A great variety of Dried Vegetables, from Monsieur Malliez ( Verdurier du Roi.)
- Beautiful young preserved West India Ginger, in bottles and jars of all sizes.
- The finest West India Tamarinds.
- West India Green Sweetmeats.
- West India Green Limes.
- Guava Jelly.
- Lintelle, pour entremets.
- Haricots,Rouge et Blanc.
- Artichoke Bottoms, Eschalottes, Basolie, Champignons,and other articles invariably used in all made dishes in France.
- A great variety of the different compound French Vinaigres et Moutards, from M. Bordin (Vinaigrier du Roi.)
- Bon Bons — Beautiful specimens of French Confectionary — Sugar Figures and Mottoes of all kinds, from Paris.
- Chocolate de Santé, and other kinds: et Baton Royal, from Monsieur Dumont.
- A large supply of the finest Provence Salad Oil, from Aix, a beautiful article, in white bottles.
- Macaroni, Vermicelli, and Cagliari Paste, of various shapes, put up in small boxes for family use.
- Parmasan Cheese, from Leghorn, J.B. has just imported a large quantity of these celebrated Cheeses, which have been selected with special
- care from the principal dealers in the Duchy of Parma. They will be found greatly superior to any that have hitherto reached this country, they being of the Weeping Honeycomb kind, and so full of oil, that when cut, it flows from every pore, yielding a favour exquisitely mellow, rich, and delicious.
- Gruyer Cheeses from Switzerland. Neufchatel Cheeses from France. With a large supply of Stilton Cheeses, Selected from the finest Dairies in England, which will be found to posses in the highest degree that mellow and delicious flavour which distinguishes Stilton Cheeses.
- Just imported from Rotterdam, a large quantity of excellent DUTCH BUTTER of a fine straw colour, the produce of the most esteemed Dairies in Holland, and of so exquisite a flavour as cannot fail to gratify the most delicate taste. The butter being put up in small packages (from 12 lb. to 28 lb. and upwards) renders it very convenient for the use of small families. By the same ship, a quantity of DUTCH RUSKS, sold in casks, and by the pound.
— The Edinburgh Advertiser. Edinburgh, Scotland. Friday, 26 December 1823. Page 1.
Gaelic started to be displaced in the lowlands around the 1400s by “Scottish” or “Lowland Scots”, a language form which evolved from Middle English.
Savoury pies are “pies”; dessert pies are “pudding pies”.
“Whisky” was the original spelling of that alcoholic beverage. In the late 1800s, American and Irish distillers started to add an “e” to distinguish themselves from Scottish whisky, owing to its poor quality reputation at the time.
Kolstad, Polly. Scotland defined by whiskey, cookies and plaid. Great Falls, Montana: The Great Falls Tribune. 24 November 2004.
Lawrence, Sue. You’ll have had your tea. London: Daily Telegraph. 11 January 2002.
Watson, Jeremy. Haggis slips in Scottish food’s top of the pops. Edinburgh, Scotland: Scotland on Sunday. Sunday, 30 November 2003.