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Scottish Cuisine and Recipes

Scottish Recipes, Food and Cooking

Cooking by Country - November 2006


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Situated in northern Europe, Scotland is one of the four countries which make up Great Britain along with the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man and the Scilly Isles, also collectively known as the United Kingdom. It has a border to the south with England but is three quarters surrounded by sea with a coastline of approximately 3,700 km along the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. Scottish territory also includes around 180 islands, including the Hebrides or Western Isles, the Orkney Islands, and the Shetland Islands.

Geographically, the country can be divided into three sections: the rugged and mountainous Highlands punctuated with lakes, sea lochs and fast flowing streams, the Central Lowlands consisting of a belt of fertile valleys lying between several hill chains plus several large rivers and the Southern Uplands which is chiefly made up of moor land and undulating valleys. The climate is relatively temperate in the central and southern parts although the Highlands and islands to the north can experience harsh winters.



Ancient Times, History and Influences on Scottish Cooking

Unfortunately for historians, the acid soils of much of Scotland are not conducive to the long term preservation of bones, however some evidence has been found to suggest that hunter-gatherers first entered into Scotland from from mainland Europe arrived around 7000 BC. These people fished the many lakes, rivers and sea as well as hunting deer, beaver, wild boar, otter and hare. By 4000 BC permanent settlements had formed. Flint and stone tools and pottery were being used and there is evidence that cattle, sheep and pigs were kept and staple crops such as oats and barley  were grown. Fish and shellfish also formed part of their diets and food was often cooked using the pot-boiler method - stones are heated in the fire then dropped into pots of water in which the food was cooked. Around 2500 BC more immigrants from northern and central Europe  known as The Beaker People, began to settle in Scotland. They introduced bronze tools and cooking pots.

The people we now call Celts began settling in Scotland around 700 BC  from Ireland where land shortages forced them to travel across the sea. They hey introduced the iron plough and farmed the land growing vegetables such as kale, cabbage and beans as well as cereals such as oats and barley. They too kept sheep, cattle, goats and pigs, all of which they relied upon heavily for everyday sustenance. They roasted and stewed meat, fish and game and used salt to preserve meat and fish for the winter months.


Other outside influences included Scandinavian and French. From the 9th Century Viking raiders started to settle, mainly in the northern parts of the country . They brought with them smoking techniques for the preservation of food, in particular fish and pork, which remain strong in today's cuisine. Also, many believe that today's Aberdeen Angus cattle were originally from Viking stock.  French influences started infiltrating food culture at the time of the Auld Alliance in the 12th Century. This was a political treaty signed between the two countries part of which granted dual citizenship to peoples of both countries, making for easier travel and exchange between the two. The French influence was further reinforced in 1538 when Marie de Guise Lorraine married the king of Scotland, James V. Having been brought up in France,  she naturally brought French chefs and culinary customs to her new home at the Scottish Court.


As with the earlier days, oats and barley remained staples for the peasant classes. Due to the climate and poor soils, wheat was much more difficult to grow. The poor main method of cooking was in a cauldron over an open fire where meat and vegetables would be boiled. Porridge was also a popular and cheap food. This is oatmeal which is soaked and mixed with milk or water then cooked until thickened. Not only would it be eaten warm but it was also left to get cold when it would solidify and then be sliced and griddled. The more wealthy on the other hand, used a variety of cooking methods including spit roasting and oven baking and the finer wheat flour was imported and used in the making of breads and pastries.


Current Day Scottish Cuisine

Today Scottish cuisine, much like English cuisine, has embraced other culinary cultures. You will find Chinese, Indian and  Italian restaurants in many cities along side old favourites like fish and chip shops. Every day family cooking still relies on traditional hearty food made with locally grown ingredients. Scottish Angus beef, venison (deer) and game birds such as pheasant and grouse are amongst the best and most sought after in the world as is Scottish salmon.  Oats for porridge and bannocks are still widely eaten as is salted or smoked meat, fish and game. The Scots are famous world wide for their smoked salmon and  Arbroath Smokies - haddock  which is hot-smoked using a traditional method which dates back to the 1800s and, of course for their national dish, Haggis,  which you can read all about here. Vegetables such as  kale, cabbage and many root vegetables are widely used and shellfish is also popular.


A full Scottish breakfast is made up of egg, black pudding, lorne slice which a kind of flat sausage, Ayrshire bacon  and sometimes potato scones although in these hectic times a more simple breakfast is often preferred such as porridge which is still very popular.  The main meal of the day can be either at lunchtime (any time between 12.30 and 2pm) or in the evening and traditionally consists of 'meat and two veg'  followed by a dessert. Rich warming soups have also always played a vital role in Scottish cuisine. The Scots are also well known for their teatime recipes such as  shortbread and  Dundee Cake.


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