6.1 Traditional foods
Kail, haggis, neeps an tatties
In recent years, kail, a form of brassica, has become a fashionable vegetable. Here is a picture of some ‘posh nosh’: sweet potato, kail and quinoa fritters with crème fraiche for dunking.
Read this information and take notes on the climatic factors favouring the growing of kail.
Please note: The usual spelling in Scotland is kail, but “kale” is also often used.
Cold-hardy and resilient, kale is an easy member of the cabbage family to grow. You can set out plants quite early in spring as long as you protect the young plants from severe cold winds with a cover. They will grow steadily for months until the weather gets too warm. You’ll get a second chance to plant kale in the fall, when cool weather brings out a wonderfully sweet, nutty flavour that is unique to these cold-natured plants.
Fall is the best time for growing kale in areas where winter doesn’t dip below the teens, or in a cold frame farther north, because the leaves are sweeter when they mature in cooler weather. In the kitchen, kale can be steamed, stir-fried, or substituted for spinach in omelets, casseroles, or even quesadillas. It’s a wonderful addition to smoothies, too.
Kail or kale is a vegetable that thrives in cooler conditions. However, when it gets too cold and windy, or too hot, the plants won’t grow or even survive. Autumn is the best time for growing sweet-tasting kail, but in areas where temperatures infrequently dip below 10˚C kail can grow throughout the winter.
This is an ideal nutritious vegetable for Scotland’s temperate climate with an average temperature ranging from 17˚C in the summer and 5˚C in the winter.
Neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) are most famously served champit (mashed) as an accompaniment to haggis at Burns Suppers. Haggis was essentially the food of the poor cottar farmers who had to sell most of their animals in the autumn as they could not grow enough to feed themselves as well as provide fodder to winter their beasts.
Hence, the perishable offal (heart, liver, lungs) was minced and mixed with oatmeal, spices, suet and seasoning, then stuffed in the animal’s stomach. If you would like to make a haggis from scratch, consult Meg Dod’s cookery book!
No one knows where haggis originated, but it has – largely thanks to Burns’ poem – become Scotland’s national ‘delicacy’. Great respect is shown to it at Burns’ Suppers, as befits a dish which has all the life-enhancing qualities the poem describes! During the address to a haggis as part of the Burns Supper ceremony, the reciter plunges the knife in the haggis then pours a dram of whisky into ‘the entrails’.
Now read the entire poem and its translation and compare both with your notes from Part 1 of this activity.
|Address to a Haggis||Address to a Haggis Translation|
|Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin'-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye worthy o' a grace As lang's my arm.||Good luck to you and your honest, plump face, Great chieftain of the sausage race! Above them all you take your place, Stomach, tripe, or intestines: Well are you worthy of a grace As long as my arm.|
|The groaning trencher there ye fill, Your hurdies like a distant hill, Your pin wad help to mend a mill In time o need, While thro your pores the dews distil Like amber bead.||The groaning trencher there you fill, Your buttocks like a distant hill, Your pin would help to mend a mill In time of need, While through your pores the dews distill Like amber bead.|
|His knife see rustic Labour dight, An cut you up wi ready slight, Trenching your gushing entrails bright, Like onie ditch; And then, O what a glorious sight, Warm-reekin, rich!||His knife see rustic Labour wipe, And cut you up with ready slight, Trenching your gushing entrails bright, Like any ditch; And then, O what a glorious sight, Warm steaming, rich!|
|Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive: Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive, Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve Are bent like drums; The auld Guidman, maist like to rive, 'Bethankit' hums.||Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive: Devil take the hindmost, on they drive, Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by Are bent like drums; Then old head of the table, most like to burst, 'The grace!' hums.|
|Is there that owre his French ragout, Or olio that wad staw a sow, Or fricassee wad mak her spew Wi perfect scunner, Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view On sic a dinner?||Is there that over his French ragout, Or olio that would sicken a sow, Or fricassee would make her vomit With perfect disgust, Looks down with sneering, scornful view On such a dinner?|
|Poor devil! see him owre his trash, As feckless as a wither'd rash, His spindle shank a guid whip-lash, His nieve a nit; Thro bloody flood or field to dash, O how unfit!||Poor devil! see him over his trash, As feeble as a withered rush, His thin legs a good whip-lash, His fist a nut; Through bloody flood or field to dash, O how unfit.|
|But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread, Clap in his walie nieve a blade, He'll make it whissle; An legs an arms, an heads will sned, Like taps o thrissle.||But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread, Clap in his ample fist a blade, He'll make it whistle; And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off Like the heads of thistles.|
|Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware That jaups in luggies: But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer, Gie her a Haggis||You powers, who make mankind your care, And dish them out their bill of fare, Old Scotland wants no watery stuff, That splashes in small wooden dishes; But if you wish her grateful prayer, Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!|
And now you have the opportunity to practice your spoken Scots. Read out the first verse of Burns’ poem and record yourself doing so. Then compare your reading with our model as well as the spoken version from a Burns supper presented in the video on the Scottish poetry website . Repeat this activity step until you are satisfied with your pronunciation of Burns’ poem.
In this final step we want to draw your attention to the fact that what many consider the Scottish national dish is not always approved of in other cultures. As an example, read this article on the BBC Scotland news page to find out why haggis was banned in the United States despite repeated efforts by the Scottish Government to overturn the ban.
Beef and lamb
In June 2016, Scotland had 6.8 million sheep and 5.3 million people. Sheep thrive on the short rough grass of the hills, while the longer juicier grass which grows in the wetter west supports large numbers of dairy cattle, like the Ayrshire cow.
In the past, pigs were fed on the skimmed milk and buttermilk which were by-products of the dairy industry. This made the western county of Ayrshire famous for its bacon. The famous black Aberdeen-Angus and Galloway cattle are known throughout the world as a source of prime beef.
Stovies and ‘mince an tatties’ are perhaps Scotland’s best loved comfort foods and the ingredients in both dishes are basically the same: minced beef, onions, carrots, potatoes. However, the tatties are usually champit in the latter dish, whereas in stovies, which are are usually made from left-over meat or mince, gravy and tatties are added to complete this dish that is cooked with all ingredients in one bowl or pot.
We live in an age of globalisation, which in cooking and gastronomy often results in culinary fusions. Later on in this unit you will engage in some more detail with this aspect of Scotland’s culinary revolution. To prepare your engagement with this, we would like you to consider what determines what and how people eat in a particular culture. You will comment on the statement by Marian McNeill below.
‘…however plentiful and varied the imported foodstuffs, it is the natural conditions and products that determine the general character of the national cuisine.’
Considering what you have learned so far, do you agree with Marian McNeill’s statement, even at the age of globalisation? Note briefly the geographical and any other factors which have resulted in Scotland’s best known traditional food and drink and whether you think that these traditional foods might change through external influences.
This is a model answer. Your notes might be different.
Marian McNeill’s statement can hardly be disputed. The mountainous parts of Scotland support 6.8 million sheep that thrive on the short wiry grass and can survive cold weather, while the low-lying areas are used to rear cattle and grow crops. The heavy rainfall on the west encourages long grass for dairy cows and mild winters allow an extended grazing period.
The climate is too cool for wheat, but oats and barley have been grown for centuries, especially in the drier sunnier east. Fishing is also of great importance along Scotland’s 17,000 km of coastline. Haggis, perhaps Scotland’s most famous traditional dish, was originally a peasant food invented to use up the perishable parts of the sheep and cattle which had to be slaughtered before winter set in.
In my view the core of the Scottish cuisine will not change despite culinary influences from abroad, changes to the way food is produced and supplied and to how people cook and eat. The Scottish climate also has an impact on the kinds of food people want to eat.
For example, I believe that in winter people in Scotland will always want the foods we label ‘comfort food’ – the climate is relatively cold, the weather often harsh and people crave food that provides them with enough calories to keep up their body temperature.
Fantoosh Fusion…from Oat to Haute cuisine
You have come across the word Fantoosh in the unit Scots today. In the context of this unit, the word is used to describe something flashy, showy or ultra-fashionable, namely Scottish cuisine as a modern culinary trend. The Taste of Scotland website confirms that Scotland due to its rich and varied food resources can develop a worldwide reputation:
‘If Scotland’s chefs can continue to serve up the finest and freshest seasonal Scottish ingredients, showcasing Scotland’s larder of artisan and native foods, enhanced with a gourmet spin, flair and passion then Scotland will be able to take its place as a world class food destination’.
Traditional foods like kale or haggis have been given a new look by modern chefs. In recent years, international chefs have recognised the quality of Scottish fare and ‘A Taste of Scotland’ has encouraged those at home to experiment using Scottish ingredients.
You can find out more about current trends in Scottish fusion cuisine on the Taste of Scotland website. Here you can discover some of the esoteric dishes that are the product of the culinary fusions tried out by modern chefs which feature Scottish ingredients.
In 2007, the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership was formed. Within a decade of this, the Food and Drink industry’s turnover increased by 44%. In March 2017, Ambition 2030 was launched to build up Scotland’s reputation as a ‘Land of Food and Drink’ and to promote Scottish food locally and globally.