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Tatties and Neeps
[This article was first published in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2008]
|Many traditional Scottish dishes include seafood from the country’s extensive coastline – a natural larder.|
There were variations in the Scottish diet according to class status and economic circumstances and, from your family fare, you should be able to hazard a guess as to whether your ancestors lived at subsistence level or at a level of luxury. For many Scots in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, meat was too expensive to eat regularly. Game, dairy produce, fish, fruit and vegetables were all more common on the Scottish table than animal flesh and main meals tended to centre on soup. There were many variations including Scotch broth, Partan bree (made from crab and chicken stock and a favourite in North-Eastern Scotland) , Cullen Skink, Cock-a-Leekie, and Hairst Bree (sometimes known as Hotchpotch). These soups were generally prepared using a potage of vegetables, herbs and roots with perhaps a little meat stock.
In a frugal economy, it was customary to make sure that no part of an animal went to waste. For those in the middle of the social scale there was Howtowdie (roast chicken stuffed with oats), Potted hough (a kind of paste made using the gelatine from animal bones) and mince. Also popular were black, red and white puddings (made from animal blood). Offal, or low-quality meat could easily be carried in a pig’s stomach – hence the genesis of the dish that has become a national symbol - haggis. Your wealthier Scottish relatives, on the other hand, may have feasted on grouse, haunch of venison or roast Aberdeen Angus beef with side dishes of curly kail, neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes) and colcannon or rumbledethumps (mashed potato).
More popular than meat on many a Scottish table in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was seafood particularly shellfish including lobster, crab and many varieties of fish much of which was preserved by smoking. The presence of some dishes in your family tradition may tell a sorry story. A dish called ‘Crappit heid,’ for example, was eaten by poor fishermen in North Eastern Scotland. Having sold the body of the cod they caught, they would keep the head and stuff it with oats, onions, beef fat and white pepper. Other typical Scottish fish dishes are Arbroath Smokies, Cabbie Claw (or Cabelew), Ceann Cropaig, Eyemouth Pales, Finnan Haddie and kippers.
The Language of Scottish Food
Your family today may use words to describe certain foodstuffs which betray your Scottish heritage. A ‘cloutie’ or ‘clootie dumpling,’for example, was named after the cloth or cloutie in which it was wrapped. Some culinary terms have been inherited from the Scotland’s cultural exchange with France (especially during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots). These include ‘collop’ from ‘escalope,’ gigot for a leg of mutton and ‘howtowdie’ derived from ‘Hetoudeau’ for a boiling fowl.
Food and Health
You may have noticed some odd causes of death on your family certificates. These can attest to a lack of food or food of poor quality in your family household in the past. ‘Marasmus’ – a wasting of the flesh - was commonly cited in the deaths of young children who were deprived of calories and protein. ‘Teething’ – an odd but commonly given cause of death – may suggest a contamination of milk or other foodstuffs, and the dreaded ‘cholera’ was spread by infected water and food.
Keywords: Food, European Ancestors
Dickson-Wright, Clarissa and Crichton-Stuart, Henry, Hieland Foodie: A Scottish Culinary Voyage with Clarissa, NMSE 1999
Fenton, Alexander, The Food of the Scots: A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology Vol 5, John Donald, 2007.
Lawrence, Sue A Cook’s Tour of Scotland: From Barra to Brora in 120 recipes, Headline, 2008.
Mabey, David. Traditional Eating and Drinking in Britain, A Feast of Regional Foods. Macdonald and James, 1978.
www.foodmuseum.com Food history, news, features and temporary exhibits.
www.greatbritishkitchen.co.uk Sections on regional cooking and eating history.
http://www.visitscotland.com/guide/inspirational/features/very-scottish/trad-food Information on food from the official site of Scotland’s official tourism organisation
http://www.recipes4us.co.uk/Cooking%20by%20Country/Scotland%20Recipes%20Culinary%20History%20and%20Information.htm Scottish food and cuisine
http://scotland.org/homecoming2009/food-and-drink/ Site celebrating homecoming year.