By Susan Low
Scotland is a small country that, culinarily speaking, punches above its weight. Top produce, from beef to langoustines to game, and traditional artisanal skills – smoking, brewing, curing – have been the twin engines of good Scottish cooking, past and present – and that’s before we even get started on the baking. Take a tour of Scotland’s cooking through our cookbook collection…
We have six books in our Scottish collection (and more on the way), written by some of the finest food writers and culinary historians in the English language, showcase the depth, breadth, and thorough deliciousness of the country’s food heritage, from the past to the modern day.
It’s fitting to begin the grand tour of ckbk’s Scottish collection with The Scots Kitchen: Its Traditions and Recipes, originally published in 1929 by F. Marian McNeill. Born in Orkney in 1885, McNeill was a suffragist and a journalist, and was a leading figure of the mid-20th century Scottish Renaissance in literature and art.
Leading Scottish food writer Sue Lawrence is an enthusiastic fan. She says: “I have an ancient dog-eared copy of The Scots Kitchen that was given to me by Clarissa Dickson Wright when she ran a bookshop selling old and new cookbooks in Edinburgh. Mine is a version reprinted in 1953 and cost 8 shillings and 6 pence!
It is even more thumbed and well-used now, as to me it is the bible of Scottish traditional food, a book that includes history, local variations, and the background (in literature and folklore) to the recipes. It is the authority on such wonderful dishes such as Crappit Heid, Powsowdie, Rumbledethumps... and so many more. Everyone should own a copy.”
The 2015 edition of The Scots Kitchen was edited and introduced by Catherine Brown, an erudite and eloquent student of Scottish history and gastronomy. Brown’s Broths to Bannocks: Cooking in Scotland 1690 to the Present Day was written in 1990, but takes the reader back through the centuries, as she addresses the question, “How has the course of history affected Scottish cooking?”
Brown’s chapter on ‘National and historical dishes,’ covering 1710 to the 1970s, includes curiosities such as how to cook a cormorant (beginning with the instruction, “To catch your bird, take one rowing boat, oars and shotgun…”); how to catch (using sheep’s wool as bait) and cook fish called cuddies; and how to put together a sweetly spiced toastie called a Coburg Sandwich. Brown’s confident writing style ensures that this slice of history comes well seasoned.
In A Year in a Scots Kitchen, published in 1996, Catherine Brown is firmly rooted in contemporary Scotland, chronicling a gastronomic year of festivals, harvests, fasts, and feasts. January is all about immortalizing Robert Burns with a haggis dinner and making marmalade, while August is about cooking with venison and making traditional farmhouse cheese. If there’s anyone alive who needs to be convinced that Scotland’s larder has wealth and variety worth celebrating frequently, this is the book to do it.
Sue Lawrence’s enthusiasm for (and deep knowledge of) Scotland’s food history is almost palpable, and in Scottish Baking she gives in to her love of Scottish baking traditions, be they in the form of bannocks, bridies, scones, or girdle cakes.
Lawrence takes the reader on an edible journey around the country through recipes such as Ecclefechan Tart from the Scottish Borders to Sour Skons, a contemporary take on a traditional scone recipe from Orkney that’s delicately flavored with caraway seeds.
In her book A Taste of Scotland’s Islands, Sue takes a tour of 20 islands, including tiny Great Bernera, Luing, and the Out Skerries, visiting distillers, foragers, and fishers, and paints a picture of the islands’ food culture as, “alive and vibrant, magnificent and haunting.” Recipes such as Lewis Oatcakes and Traditional Hebridean Black Pudding showcase the deep-rooted food traditions of the islands.
Scotland’s larder is not just about great food, of course, and to fail to mention whisky would be remiss. Fortunately, Highlands-based food writer Ghillie Basan pays full tribute to Scotland’s spirit in her 2019 book Spirit & Spice. It’s a masterclass in matching spices of the world with whiskies of varying styles.
Basan gives readers a thorough grounding in spices and whisky tasting (and how to pair the two) before delivering spice-packed recipes such as Whisky and Brown Sugar Gravlax and Heather Honey and Cinnamon Tart.
Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick are co-authors of The Seafood Shack: Food & Tales from Ullapool, which won the Jane Grigson Trust Award 2020 for a UK debut book. The authors, co-owners of the seasonal quayside restaurant of the same name, are ardent supporters of local sustainable fishing from the port of Ullapool in northwest Scotland.
Recipes for Pan-fried Langoustines with Garlic and Thyme Butter and Smoked Haddock, Pea and Chorizo Macaroni Cheese are unpretentious and satisfying.
Our collection at ckbk is growing all the time, and there are more Scottish titles arriving soon. Look out for more titles from Scottish publisher Birlinn including:
The Claire MacDonald Cookbook by Claire Macdonald
A Taste of Scotland’s Highlands by Ghillie Basan (to be published October 2021).