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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)


Traditional Scottish food is based on what has been readily available over the millennia and consists of a variety of meat, dairy, fish, vegetables and fruit provided by the temperate climate. The abundance of seafood and game supplied much of the food in the early days. Oats became a staple after the introduction of agriculture.

In Medieval times, the rich ate venison, boar, fowl and other birds, often with pepper, cloves or cinnamon. Meat and spices were too expensive for most of the population, who ate dairy products rather than the animals themselves. A typical meal probably consisted of a thick soup with roots and herbs, and maybe some bread and cheese. Scots today consume a lot of dairy.

Bread made of oats or barley was the main carbohydrate source until Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato to Britain from North America in the late 16th century. Around the same time, Mary, Queen of Scots returned from France with a team of chefs who brought their own ingredients and cooking styles, creating a lasting connection between Scottish and French foods.

Oatmeal was also popular as it did not spoil quickly and was often carried in bags made of sheep or pig’s stomach by soldiers and others in a transient society. The oatmeal was made into porridge or oatcakes. Offal or cheap meat was similarly transported, and made into haggis.

Today, haggis is regarded as Scotland’s national dish. It is made of sheep’s offal combined with suet, oatmeal and onion, with salt and spices, and cooked in stock. Traditionally, it was let to simmer in the sheep’s stomach for several hours. More recently, it is like a sausage, or a savoury pudding, cooked in a sheep’s intestine, and eaten with potato and turnips, and a whisky based sauce. The first known recipe for haggis is found in the ‘Liber Cure Cocorum’ cookbook from about 1430 in northern England. The dish was immortalised in Scottish poet Robert Burns’ 1787 poem ‘Address to a Haggis’.

Another favourite main meal often regarded as a traditional Scottish dish is kedgeree. It is made of smoked haddock fish, eggs, butter and boiled rice. The recipe can be traced back to books by the Malcolms as early as 1790. It is said to have been taken by Scottish troops to
India in the British Raj period. The dish was then brought back to the United Kingdom
by British soldiers where it became a popular breakfast in Victorian times. Other sources claim it is an Indian dish.

Often eaten as a main meal as it is quite filling, Scotch broth would warm the insides on a cold day. This is a soup with various ingredients, usually lamb or mutton, barley, and vegetables such as carrots and turnips. Eighteenth century English author Samuel Johnson would eat several platefuls of it, according to Scottish lawyer and author James Boswell. Scotch broth was a traditional meal on New Year’s Day, although it is now eaten all year round.

The traditional breakfast food in Scotland is porridge. The basis of this meal is boiled oats, with milk or water added, and is consumed out of a bowl. It was customary to add salt, although sugar is more popular nowadays. Oats have been grown in Scotland for thousands of years and porridge probably goes back that far. In Europe, it has been found in bodies 5,000 years old. The annual World Porridge Making Championships are held at Carrbridge, near Inverness.

Scottish oatmeal cakes also use oats as the basic ingredient. These are made by baking oatmeal on an oven tray. Scottish soldiers as early as the 14th century would carry a sack of oatmeal and a metal plate. The plate was heated over a fire, and oatmeal and water were added to make a thin, brittle oatcake. Over the centuries, oatcakes became popular away from the battlefield and at home, with butter, syrup and other ingredients added.

Scones are another popular traditional Scottish food. The original scone was round and flat, like a pancake. It was made of unleavened oats and then baked, before being cut into triangular portions for serving. Varieties include soda scones or farls, which are a flat bread or cake, and potato scones or tattie scones, which are like a savoury pancake. A ‘full Scottish breakfast’ might include tattie scones, along with haggis, black pudding and fried tomato.

One of the many traditional dairy foods in Scotland is crowdie. This is a creamy cheese made from skimmed milk and is thought to have been introduced into Scotland by eighth century Vikings. It is crumbly and slightly sour, and is often served with oatmeal. Caboc is very similar and was first produced in the Scottish Highlands in the 15th century by the MacDonalds.

Traditional Scottish dishes were plain and simple meals using available ingredients. However, much of the food is high in fat, leading to obesity and heart disease. Scots are now encouraged to include more fresh vegetables and fruit in their diets, but many low income people continue to eat poorly. This has not been helped by the trend of frying traditional foods such as haggis and fish, and potato in the form of fried chips.

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