Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Highland Cattle : Drovers, Reivers and Cowboys

The Bos primigenius migrated to north between the Ice Ages and when the ice retreated became a resident species of the North of Scotland, circa 11 500 years ago. Feral bovines formed small herds for at least a part of the year but no consensus exists concerning their habitat. When Neolithic and Bronze Age people colonised Scotland about 5000 years ago, they brought with them domesticated Celtic shorthorns or long-fronted oxen (Bos longifrons). Some sources believe there was cross breeding and the Bos Longifrons was responsible for long horns, with the 'Bos Primigenius' proving long hairy looks. Cattle from the Islands (Kyloes) were usually black, hardy and small (runts). Only later the in the 19th century, were red/brown variants exported from Glen Lyon and their gene proved to be dominant and is now the colour of most of the breed in various shades. The Kyloes ability to forage and graze for plants which many other cattle avoid enabled them to survive in steep mountain areas and their hairy coat insulated them during the cold winters.

Highland Cattle were able to produce beef from inhospitable land, and by the 5th century, domesticated highland cattle were the main source of meat and milk for "Crofters," and their hide hair was used to spin yarn. They became vital to the survival of the Highlanders who lived under their Clan Chiefs as communities and later as Tenants. It was in the interest of the chiefs to have as many Tenants as possible, as each man was a potential fighter who contributed to the strength of the Clan, and each Tenant could graze his cattle on the common land. This system encouraged over production of beasts, and in addition the long winters and infertile soils meant a shortage of stored feed to sustain cattle over the winter. With nothing else to trade the cattle were driven long distances, on foot, South and East to where the denser human populations lay and sold for food.

At first, during the earlier centuries, the livestock business was handled by Monks, but gradually as the worth of cattle as symbols of wealth became apparent the Droving Trade was taken over by warring clans. Over centuries, trade routes or drove roads from the Highlands were established through very hostile territory. The Crown realised they could raise revenue by establishing fairs or trysts for traders and drovers to sell their goods in market towns like Muir of Ord, Crieff, Alyth, Brechin, Dumbarton, and Dumfries. By the 17th century bi-annual Trysts were held at Crieff and Falkirk. Cattle had to swim across seas and lochs before being driven along the ancient and treacherous drove roads to the market towns. On average the cattle travelled between ten and fifteen miles a day over the roughest terrain. After the sale most were driven south to England, fattened then resold for as prime beef to feed the growing populations of Manchester and London. The lucrative trade was at its height from 1760 to 1820, with something like 150,000 cattle per annum taken across the highland drove roads, but by the end of the 19th century, this was at an end.

Drovers moved stock on behalf of farmers and landowners. They were local men and gathered together herds between 100 -2000 beasts. They started to visit farms in May, bargaining for cattle often only 1 or 2 at a time, since many of the highland farming tenants were very poor. Gradually, they had herd they could drive South. Ahead of them lay a long and dangerous journey. Seas, lochs and flooded rivers might have to be crossed as the droves meandered over trackless mountains, sometimes in thick mist, or driving rain. Drovers were generally rough in appearance, uncultured and behaved wildly away from the herd. The best were highly skilled men who planned with precision the routes they took and knew where to get enough grazing along the way. Drovers would often sleep rough with the herd to prevent them straying or being stolen. The Drover's day started about 8.00 am., and the herd was moved off on a broad front with several strings of cattle. It was important the lead cattle went in the direction the Drovers wanted them to go. Dogs helped control the stock, and were often sent home alone after a drove. The cattle were skilfully managed to avoid wearing them down or damaging their hooves, and on average travelled between 16-20 km a day in all weathers. Sometimes the herd might stop near a rough Inn where some shelter could be obtained. Drovers’ diet consisted of oats, whey and onions washed down by milk or whisky. Occasionally, they drew blood from a cow and mixed it with oatmeal to make "black pudding." Drovers were rough sorts and spent most of their working day shouting working their dogs, and ordering others around. There was a constant threat of pillage, often leading to skirmishes in which men were killed.

Cattle rustling (or reiving) and selling protection against theft were commonplace. Cattle-lifters or caterans (highland bandits or malefactors) could make a good living menacing the drovers. Rustling often involved clans and was a major problem for many centuries on both sides of the Scotland - England border. During the 61 years of the Wars of Scottish Independence, cattle droving continued but became more perilous. Although some Drovers carried letters of safe passage any trade with England was regarded as aiding the enemy and actively discouraged. Between 1300 and 1600, Border Reivers were hard to catch gangs of horsemen who stole livestock anywhere a day's ride from the border. They were organised according to families and clans and left their victims bereft of the means of life and livelihood. Resulting long standing feuds (or cankers) between the clans led to further escalation of hostility. The responsibility of apprehending the reivers was onerous, time-consuming and often led to friction between the two countries. Under the legalities of Border Law, the Scots could seek to redress for their losses and take revenge provided it was quick (usually within 6 days). The 'Hot Trod' custom allowed revenge attacks provided these were loud and obvious. When the thieves were overtaken, they were considered by Border Law to be caught ‘in the deede doinge’ or at the ‘rede hand’ (caught red-handed). Pursuit of the Border Reivers frequently led to fierce encounters, and death of the thieves. Rival clans observed these rules and rights allowed by the ruling classes.

March Wardens were officially there to investigate cases of rustling and determine the perpetrators of the crime before calling them to trial. The process was complicated because of the border and a March Warden had to notify his opposite number across the border with a Bill of Complaint This was a formal request to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them for trial and sentencing at the Day of Truce, at the Border Line. Prior to the Day of Truce, wardens met to discuss the number of 'Bills of Complaint' and deliberate on their relative value of the stolen stock. Arguments broke out when certain perpetrators failed to appear. More often than not, relationships between the Wardens was acrimonious and many were in 'the pockets' of the Border Reivers, consequently they turned a blind eye to the crimes.

Attitudes to Trade between Scotland and England changed slowly but when James VI of Scotland, ascended the throne of England as James I of England, he united Scotland and England in 1603. By 1607, free trade had been agreed between the 2 countries, though customs duties were retained on hides and cattle. Under the new laws, many clans responsible for rustling were banished to County Fermanagh in Ireland. By the middle of the 17th Century, the Drove Trade flourished. Authorities brought in a range of strict controls including branding methods, strictures on markets and butchering. Scotland was now regarded as the meat store of England. Cattle were grazed and fattened after their long journey before being driven further South to the London Markets. In 1794, the London Meat Market of Smithfield recorded 108,000 cattle arriving for slaughter and at least 80% of these came from Scotland.

Gradually the demand for drove cattle diminished as animal husbandry improved with agricultural development. Enclosed systems of fields replaced open common grazing and large, fatter cattle were bred and raised ready for market. The introduction of steam ships meant lowland farmers and elsewhere could ship their cattle directly to the southern markets instead of by the long arduous overland droves. By 1880, and the introduction of the railways, a faster and more reliable means of transport ensured droving was over. The Scottish Highland Cattle Society was formed in 1884, and the animals were registered. Over the years, societies have also been formed in Canada, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

Many Highland drovers immigrated and became cattlemen and helped establish the great cattle trails of the western United States and Australia. The term ‘cowboy’ was coined to describe these itinerant, illiterate roughnecks herding cattle in the back country. It gained such a derogatory reputation cattle herdsman in the East adopted the original term, Drover. The most famous cattleman was Jesse Chisholm, born circa., 1805 in Tennessee. His mother was Cherokee, and his father, a drover from Skye. After his father left the family, young Jesse was raised by his mother and became fluent in the dialects of many of the area’s Native American tribes. He soon established several trading posts in the Indian Territory to service the displaced tribes of the West. During the Civil War he served both sides as a trader and interpreter. After the war, he and James R. Mead, established a trade route from Texas through Indian Territory to Kansas. Herds started to be driven through from 1866, and by 1884, an estimated 5 million head of cattle, and a million mustangs had successfully reached the railheads in Kansas. The Chisholm Trail is the most famous cow path in world. Jesse Chisholm became a national hero and brokered many important peace negotiations between whites and Indians in Texas and Oklahoma. Throughout his long life, he was known for his bravery and fairness and refused to pick sides between the white man and the Indian.

Interesting video

(Video Courtesy: IAN DUNCAN Topic by Youtube Channel)

More Information on Highland Cattle
Bairnsley Highlands

Reviewed 18/06/20

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Traditional Scottish Fare

Apart from the best fish suppers in the world, and the great divide between Glasgow and Edinburgh (vinegar or brown sauce), what has Scotland got to offer the well-educated palate?

Fried Mars Bars, pudding sandwiches (bread, butter, brown sugar and sultanas – the new jeely piece), and deep fried pizza for sure but, the new Munchy Box, must take the biscuit. Described by none other than Steven Segal as the true sign of multiculturalism in Scotland the Munchy Box contains all you could ever imagine a doggy bag would from the food hall. Every stall that is and the Scots are lapping it up.

In the past our ancestors feasted on game, dairy products, fish, fruit, and vegetables which form the chief ingredients in traditional Scots cooking. The absence of expensive spices meant common fair was simple but nutritious. The wealth of seafood available on and off the coasts provided the earliest settlers with their healthy sustenance. When agriculture was introduced because of the climate wheat was difficult to grow so oats become the staple diet supplemented by a pottage of herbs and roots (and when available some meat or stock for flavoring), with bread and cheese whenever possible. Come feudal times the landed gentry gorged on venison, boar, and salmon all heavily seasoned with expensive spices (pepper, cloves, cinnamon, etc.), whilst poor people ate meagerly by comparison. The main source of carbohydrate was bread made from oats or barley. Oatmeal was the staple diet and was commonly carried in bags so it could be quickly made into porridge or oatcakes.

Cooking was done in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day new things were added to the pot. Any leftovers were kept in the pot as stock for the next day. Often the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme:

“Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

The influence of French Cuisine became apparent during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots and the discovery of the potato, again impacted upon our national cuisine. By the 19th and 20th centuries large-scale immigration to Scotland from Italy, the Middle East, India, Pakistan and China started to influence Scots cooking with more emphasis on fresh produce and spiced foods. The influence of newcomers continues to evolve Scottish cuisine.

Chicken tikka masala is a dish of roasted chunks (tikka) of chicken in a spicy sauce and yogurt. It is thought to have been invented by Ali Ahmed Aslam (proprietor of the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow).The sauce is usually creamy, spiced and orange-coloured. It has been baked in a tandoor oven, and served in a masala (spice mix) sauce.


Cullen skink (Scots for a shin, knuckle, or hough of beef)
Traditional fish soup from Cullen in Moray and made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. A finnan haddie is used in authentic Cullen skink. Eaten with oatcakes (breed).

Cock-a-leekie soup
Made from leeks and chicken stock, often thickened with rice, or sometimes barley. The original recipe added prunes during cooking to increase the nutritional value of the broth. Probably originated in France and was made with onions. The first recipe was printed in 1598, though the name “cock-a-leekie” did not come into use until the 18th century.

Scotch broth is a filling soup made from the principal ingredients of barley, stewing or braising cuts of lamb, mutton or beef, root vegetables such as carrots, swedes or sometimes turnips and dried pulses (most often split peas and red lentils). Cabbage and leeks are often added shortly before serving to preserve their texture, colour and flavours. The proportions and ingredients vary according to the recipe or availability.

(Video Courtesy: KeefCooks by Youtube Channel)

Fish Dishes

Arbroath Smokies are originally from Auchmithie (Angus). So the story goes a fish store caught fire one night, destroying barrels of haddock preserved in salt. The following morning they found the haddock cooked and quiet tasty. In reality smoked haddock probably originated in Scandanavia and brought over by the Vikings.

Crappit heid might be an apt description for someone who has been out for a night on the skite, but is also a traditional Scots fish course. The origins can be traced to the fishing communities of the North, Hebrides and North-Eastern Scotland in the eighteenth century. Whilst the more expensive fillets of fish, such as cod or haddock were sold in the market to the better off, fish offal was cooked up in a pot by the fisher folk. The receipt includes the head of a large cod or similar sized fish, washed, descaled and stuffed with a mixture of oats, suet, onion, white pepper and the liver of the fish in question. This was then sewn or skewered to close the aperture and boiled in seawater. The cooked dish was served with potatoes or other root vegetables in season. Later a court bouillon of fish stock and onion was used to make a soup which was often eaten before the fish head. This was a healthy and nutritious dish, rich in carbohydrates, proteins, fats and more importantly cod liver oil.

Finnan haddie (aka Finnan haddock, Finnan or Findrum speldings) is a cold- haddock which was smoked over green wood and peat. Some believe the name comes from Findon, Aberdeenshire, (also sometimes called Finnan), others insist it is a corruption of the village of Findhorn at the mouth of the river in Moray. Certainly a popular dish in Aberdeenshire since the 1640s but only was eaten South of the Border in the mid-19th century with the construction of the railway link connecting Aberdeen to London in the 1840s. The traditional preparation was to roast or grill the whole pieces of fish over high heat. Finnan haddie is also often served poached in milk for breakfast and is an important part of traditional kedgeree and the Arnold Bennett omelet.

Fish Supper. Deep-fried fish was first introduced into Britain during the 16th century by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain. Originally the dish was derived from pescado frito. Busy North Sea ports in the late 19th century combined with development of railways meant major industrial cities in the UK could be supplied quickly with fresh fish. The first fish and chip shop was opened in Oldham in 1860 and very quickly fried fish and chips became the stock meal among the working classes. The first chippy appeared in Dundee in 1870. During World War 2 when food was rationed, fish and potatoes were exempt and many believe fish and chips kept the nation going during the war. In Scotland haddock was the fish of choice where as in England it was traditionally made with cod. Best made chips came from Golden Wonder potatoes cut thicker than French Fires. Traditional beef dripping or lard was used to fry but these have been generally replaced with vegetable oils. Batter varies now but originally consisted of a simple water and flour batter, with a little sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and vinegar added to create lightness. A fish supper was usually served with salt and vinegar sprinkled over the fish and chips at the time it is served. In Edinburgh, saut a sauce in the form of "chippy sauce” is a combination of Gold Star brown sauce and water or malt vinegar and is very popular. Originally a fish supper was served in an old newspaper. Traditionally a fish supper was eaten on a Friday and this may relate to the long-standing Roman Catholic tradition of not eating meat on Fridays. Rising sea temperatures are transforming the makeup of fish stocks in coastal waters around the UK. Where cod and haddock once thrived, sea bass, hake, red mullet and anchovies are now being caught in rising numbers. Marine scientists have found that the seas round the UK have risen in temperature by a remarkable 1.6C since 1980, a jump that is almost four times the global average rise for ocean temperatures. Cold-loving fish so favoured in battered fish dishes have moved north towards Iceland and the Faroe Isles and only haddock survives in some northern UK waters.

Kedgeree (kitcherie, kitchari, kidgeree, kedgaree, or kitchiri) is a dish consisting of cooked, flaked fish (traditionally smoked haddock), boiled rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream and occasionally sultanas. Its origins lie in India and were brought to the UK by returning British colonials in Victorian times. Became part of the fashionable Anglo-Indian cuisine and was eaten by the better off for breakfast. Ordinary people picked up on the idea and in an age of pre-refrigeration by converting yesterday's leftovers into a hearty and appealing breakfast. Bubble and squeak is probably the best known refry of left over food.

Kippers are herring split from tail to head along the dorsal ridge, gutted, salted or pickled, and cold smoked over smoldering woodchips (typically oak). Scottish kippers are red in colour not achieved by dying but caused by the curing process. Mallaig was once the busiest herring port in Europe and famous for its traditionally smoked kippers, as well as Stornoway kippers and Loch Fyne kippers. The exact origin of kippers is unknown, though fish have been slit, gutted and smoked since before recorded history. Kippers are traditionally eaten for breakfast, sometimes with scrambled eggs and were very popularly with inland and urban working-class populations before World War II.

Meat Dishes

Mince and tatties where traditionally the meat came from cheaper cuts of beef, such as chuck and blade or neck and clod. Essentially the dish consists of varying amounts of onions, minced beef, carrots or other root vegetables, seasoning and stock, to which some cooks add thickening agents such as flour, oatmeal or cornflour.

The Square Sausage (lorne sausage, sliced sausage) is said to originate in Lorne, Argyll. The sausage is also the ideal size to make a sandwich using one or two slices from a plain loaf of bread or a Scots roll (well fired). Sausage meat is a mixture of pork and beef minced and then mixed with rusk and spices and set in a rectangular cuboid tin. Once set, it is sliced into pieces generally about 10cm square by about 1cm thick. The sausage is rarely a perfect square given the minced state of the meat. Unlike other forms of traditional sausage, square sausage is not encased in anything and needs to be tightly packed into a mould to hold it together. There are two theories as to how it got its name. Tommy Lorne was a popular Scottish music hall comedian of the 1920s; or more than likely it was named after the historic Scottish region of Lorne, part of modern day Argyll and Bute.

A Scotch pie (mutton pie) is a small, double-crust made from hot water crust pastry and filled with minced mutton or other meat. Individual pie maker’s recipes are closely guarded secrets for fear of imitations. It is baked in a round, straight-sided tin, about 8 cm in diameter and 4 cm high, and the top "crust" (which is soft) is placed about 1 cm lower than the rim to make a space for adding accompaniments such as mashed potatoes, baked beans, brown sauce, gravy or an egg. Typically there is a round hole of about 7.5mm in the centre of the top crust, which has given rise to the colloquial name 'chimney pie' in Scotland. Traditionally on the football terracing accompanied by a drink of Bovril, resulting in the occasional reference to football pies. Every year, the Scotch Pie Club holds the World Scotch Pie Championship.

Bridies were thought to have been invented by a Fofar baker in the 1850s. Although the etymology is unknown many believe the name came from Margaret Bridie of Glamis. She sold the popular pasties at the Buttermarket in Forfar. Unlike pasties bridies are made without potatoes and much lighter in texture. Shortcrust pastry was traditionally used but in the rest of Scotland, flaky pastry is preferred. Bridies are filled with minced steak, butter, and beef suet seasoned with salt and pepper. Sometimes minced onions are added. Prior to baking the bridie’s filling is placed on pastry dough, which is then folded into a semi-circular or triangular shape; finally, the edges are crimped. To differentiate between plain and onion bridies the baker pokes one hole in the top for plain and two for onions.


Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach. Haggis is now considered the national dish of Scotland as a result of Robert Burns' poem Address to a Haggis of 1787. Haggis is traditionally served with "neeps and tatties", boiled and mashed separately and a dram (a glass of Scotch whisky), especially as the main course of a Burns supper. There is no evidence to support haggis originated in Scotland with reference to a Lancashire dish called 'hagese' in 1430. The first Scottish reference appears in circa 1520 in William Dunbar poem, Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy. Irrespective of its true origins haggis represents the first real fast food and was a practical way to use spoiling offal near the site of a hunt. Preparation required no additional cooking vessels with the ingredients boiled in an ad hoc vessel made from animal hide . The liver and kidneys were grilled directly over a fire, but the stomach, intestines, and lungs needed to be boiled for human consumption . Available fillers such as oatmeal, salt and onions were added to the mix. Haggis provided the ideal food for Highland cattle drovers. The men were sent with dry ingredients conveniently packaged in a sheep's stomach for easy transport.

Porridge Oats is a dish made by boiling ground, crushed, or chopped oats in water, milk, or both, with optional flavourings, usually served hot in a bowl or dish. It may be sweetened with sugar or served as a savoury dish. Traditionally cooked in a large metal kettle over hot coals or heated in a cheaper earthenware container by adding hot stones until boiling hot. Porridge is one of the easiest ways to digest grains or legumes and is used traditionally in many cultures to nurse the sick back to health. Toasting the oats beforehand for a couple of minutes gives the finished dish a distinctly nutty, roasted flavour. Letting the porridge sit, lidded, for 5 to 15 minutes may develop a little more flavour. A little salt added towards the end of cooking is essential, whether or not the porridge is sweetened.

Savory Puddings

Skirlie Skirlie hails from the NE of Scotland and consists of oatmeal fried with fat (lard, beef dripping or butter), onions, and seasonings. Used as the basis of white puddings, it can also be served as a side-dish or used as a stuffing for chicken or other fowl. Ideal with mince & tatties.

White pudding (mealy pudding) is very similar to black pudding, but does not include blood. Consequently, it consists of pork meat and fat, suet, bread, spices and oatmeal formed into the shape of a large sausage. Earlier versions (pre-1990) had sheep's brain added as a binding agent. The pudding may be cooked whole, or cut into slices and fried or grilled.

Red pudding is a meat dish served mainly at chip shops in parts of East Scotland (Fife). The ingredients consist of bacon, beef, pork, pork rind, suet, rusks, wheat flour, spices, salt, beef fat and colouring. To encase it, the food is thickly coated in batter, deep fried, and served hot, ready to be taken away. The taste is similar to a saveloy, a type of pork sausage.

Black pudding is a type of blood sausage from pork blood and a relatively high proportion of oatmeal. It can be eaten cold, as it is cooked in production, but is often grilled, fried or boiled in its skin. Black pudding is a delicacy in Stornoway and other parts of the UK. The Stornoway black pudding, made on the Western Isles of Scotland, has been granted Protected Geographical Indicator of Origin status.

Bannocks and Oatcakes

Bannock (Northern English or Celtic meaning baked dough) describe a variety of flat quick bread. Bannock is also a word applied to any large, round article baked or cooked from grain. When a round bannock is cut into wedges, the wedges are called scones. In Scotland, the words bannock and scone are often used interchangeably. Bannocks can be distinguished from oat cakes because they are baked on a girdle, whereas oatcakes are toasted before the fire after having been partly baked on a girdle. Bannocks come in a large variety of types ranging from cake to shortbread and are not restricted to oatmeal as the only ingredient. Oats were one of the few grains which grow well in the north of Scotland and were, until the 20th century, the staple grain used. Oatcakes were traditionally eaten with every meal as a major source of carbohydrate in the diet. First defined in 1562 but in common use long before that time. The original bannocks were heavy, flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a girdle. Oat biscuits were known to exist in Scotland since at least the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43. Before the 19th century, bannocks were cooked on a bannock stane, a large, flat, rounded piece of sandstone, placed directly onto a fire, then used as a cooking surface. Scottish soldiers in the 14th century carried a metal plate and a sack of oatmeal. They would heat the plate over fire, moisten a bit of oatmeal and make an oatcake to ease the pangs of hunger. The Scottish were renowned then for being able to march long distances.

In the Druid tradition bannocks were baked in different forms to mark the changing seasons. When Christianity took over bannocks also became assimilated:

St Bride's bannock for spring (Imbolc 1st February )
St Bride's Bannock was baked for the first day of spring and was called "bonnach Bride" or "Bride's Bannock." These were given out to small girls who went around town with a Bride doll. One bannock was also left out that night for St Brigid as she visited farms to bless them. St Bride’s bannock became St Brigids bannock in honor of St Brigid became a popular Christmas treat. Sautie Bannocks were made for Bannock Nicht (aka Shrove Tuesday -14th February) from oatmeal, egg, and salt, with the liquid for the mixture being either beef broth or milk. Only one person made the Sautie Bannock, and she was not allowed to speak. The other girls would try to tease her into speaking. A finger ring would be worked into the dough. The cooked bannock was shared out amongst the unmarried women present; whoever got the piece with the ring would be the next to be married.

Bealtaine bannock for summer (30th April/1st May )
This bannock is made with animal fat (such as bacon grease), and it is placed in a pile of embers, on top of a stone, to cook in the fire. Once it's blackened on both sides, it can be removed, and eaten with a blend of eggs and milk. It's said that if you eat one on Beltane morning, you'll be guaranteed abundance for your crops and livestock.

Lughnasagh or Lammas bannock (August 1)

The Lughnasagh or "lunastain" and Lammas Bannock (bonnach lunastain") were always made form the first grains of the first harvest. Traditionally the lunastain, was given to a man and when given to a woman was called a luineag. As Christianity took over, the Lammas bannock (or Loafmas) became the Marymas bannock in honor of the Virgin Mary. Eventually the Marymas Bannock became a loaf of bread made on the 15th August, the Feast Day of Mary ("Feill Moire"). More recently the Mary mas loaf became critical part of the Christian Harvest Festival. At the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, once the loaf was blessed it was taken home and the father broke the bread giving a piece to each of his family in order of age. The family would then sing a song to Mary, walking clockwise around the fire. The ashes from the fire were then scattered in the fields.

Samhain bannock for winter (end of October). This was a plain bannock made at Hallowe'en. These were left outside the door along with milk for the dead, or it could be included amongst food set on a table inside for ancestors who had passed to the "Summerlands" and wanted to join others at the table. This was called a "Dumb Supper" as it would be served and eaten in silence. Later the Samhain Bannock included currants and evolved into "soul cakes." Children would beg for Samhain Bannock from house to house on All Souls Day. This collecting was called "Souling." The cakes were made in memory of those who had died. In exchange for the bannocks, the collectors were supposed to say prayers for the dead people. Samhain Bannocks could also be called "Dumb Bannocks", and were used to predict who would get married in the upcoming year. In this tradition, the cake was baked one hour before midnight on Hallowe'en. The women would then score their initials in it, and wait. A shadow figure was supposed to appear, and say who would be getting married. In a similar fashion the "Sautie Bannock" was made for Hallowe'en in some parts of the Highlands . The bannock would be made by four or five single women working together in silence. A small bit of soot was added whilst complete silence was maintained until the following morning. Each girl took a piece of the Sautie Bannock to put under their pillow that night in order to dream about who would be their husband.

There are many regional variations found in Scotland. Like the above these were often made for special ocassions:

In Orkney the Beremeal Bannock was made from beremeal, flour, salt, milk or water, plus either baking powder, or baking soda and cream of tartar (older recipes). In the Shetlands they are called "Bruinies".

On the Isle of Barra Cod Liver Bannocks are made from oatmeal and minced-cod liver, and steamed.

The Cryin' bannock (or "Cryin' Kebback" ) was baked prior to women going into labour. It was made from oatmeal, milk and sugar and eaten by the women attending the childbirth (men were bad luck at a birth in Scots tradition). It was also handed out to the first person met on the way to church to get the child baptized.

The "Faillad bannock" or “leftover bannock" could attract the unwanted attention of little people and it was a strongly held belief uneaten bannock needed to be broken and a piece of coal left on the top of it. The uneaten bannock also had a hole made in the centre, usually by pressure from the thumb of the right hand in the centre, and turned clockwise.

As the name implies the fife bannock is made in Fife but was made with finely ground wheat flour. The Brodick Bannock from the Isle of Aran was verty similar.

Hogmanay Bannock was made for Hogmanay (Scottish New Year), in the form of a small bannock made with oats and caraway seeds, with a hole in the centre and notched edges. Children were given them in the morning, and had to eat them all otherwise bad luck would follow. The hole was made by holding the bannock in your left hand, and by pressing in the centre with the thumb of your right hand, and rotating the bannock sunwise (i.e. clockwise.) Some speculate that the fluting or notching on the edges symbolized the sun's rays and is a hangover from Celtic Yule festivals. If the Hogmanay Bannock crumbled during baking, it meant bad luck such as illness or death for the particular child the bannock was made for.

Mashlum Bannocks were made with a mixture of flours, rather than entirely from one grain, such as oatmeal, barley or wheat.

Michaelmas Bannock (or "struan" ) is a special cake sometimes called a Struan Michael or St Michael's bannock. Traditionally these were baked on the eve of St Michael's day by the oldest daughter and without using metal implements. The ingredients were barley, oats and rye, ideally, in equal parts, and then mixed together with sheep's milk and baking soda to make soft, smooth dough. Available fruit could be added, as well as flavourings such as caraway seed and a sweetener, like honey. In some traditions, a silver coin would be hidden in the bannock for a child to find. A batter made from cream, eggs, and melted butter was brushed on one side of the bannock. The bannock was baked on a lambskin (called a "uinicinn"), and when the underside was brown, it was flipped to cook the batter side. Brushing and flipping continued until each side had three layers of cooked batter. It was a large bannock, around 9 inches (23 cm) wide, and about 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick. If the Michaelmas Bannock broke before being baked, it was bad luck to the daughter. If it broke after baking, it was bad luck to the whole household. Those that made Michaelmas Bannock the night before would take them to a mass at church the next morning to have them blessed. Leftover flour on the baking surface had to be gathered up, put in a legging, and taken the next day and sprinkled on the livestock as both a blessing and protection against curses. Michaelmas Bannock could be served plain, or with a topping such as butter and honey. It was traditional for everyone in the family to have a piece of the bannock. Later, the Michaelmas Bannock faded from tradition and was replaced with scones.

Pease Bannock was made in the Borders and consisted of dried field peas ground into a meal sometime with bean meal added. It would be made in an oval shape, about 2 inches (5 cm) thick, and called a "fadge."

Pitcaithly bannocks came from Pitcaithly in Perthshire, and are like shortbread in consistency. It is made as a large, round circle, from a mixture of wheat and rice flours, sugar, and butter, along with chopped almonds, and candied citrus peel. A dough is formed by mixing the flours and sugar with butter added and a then mix of nuts and peel. Cut into a thick circle, then pricked with a fork before cooking. Often the Pitcaithly Bannock is decorated with refined sugar right after removing it from the oven.

Salt Bannock ("Bonnach Salainn" ) was a bannock made from whatever meal was available with the addition of a whole lot of salt. Traditionally they were eaten in silence without a drink and just before bed. The salt bannock was thought to allow the person to dreams about their future. Young single women were advised to go to bed backwards as well. They were told that what they would see in their dreams was the man who would be her husband bringing her a drink.

Silverweed Bannock was made from the boiled roots of Silverweed Cinquefoil, the favourite food of Fairies. These were definitely not left in the house overnight as the "Fallaid Bannock."

St Columba's Bannock was a special bannock made for St Columba's Day (the day before Good Friday). The night before, the bannock would be made out of oats or rye with a silver coin in it, and cooked on a fire made from wood from oak, rowan or yew trees. Children got pieces of it on the day to see who found the lucky coin. Whoever got the St Columba's Bannock, was in charge of the baby lambs for the next year. St. Columba is the patron saint of shepherds and oatmeal, barleymeal or rye bannocks was one of the few food stuffs that Columba allowed himself in his monastery on the island of Iona.

Teethin' Bannock was a large bannock made of oatmeal and butter or cream, for young children whose teeth were coming in. Traditionally Teethin' Bannock was baked with neighbours present, but the person making it had to remain silent. Sometimes a large teething ring was baked into it, and then it was given to the child to play with. The neighbours present took a piece of the bannock home with them.

Yetholm Bannock is shortbread which contains pieces of (crystallized) ginger. The plain shortbread is made from wheat flour (with no oatmeal) with added egg yolk for added richness, plus 1 generous tablespoon of chopped candied ginger. The dough is shaped in an oblong form before baking. Yetholm Bannock is named after Yetholm, a town near Scotland's southern border with England.

Yule Bannock is made from finely-ground oatmeal, rolled into a circle and notched at the end to prevent crumbling. The tradition was to bake them early on Christmas Day with one for each person as a present. Storing them could present a problem but if they survived intact to the Christmas table it meant good luck. As a mark of Christianity, the bannock was marked on the top with a cross, dividing it into four. For serving, the bannock was broken into pieces.

Potatoe Dishes

"To stove" means "to stew" in Scots. The term seems to derive from the French adjective "étuvée" which may be translated as "steamed" or bra. Stovies is a potatoe dish with variously additions, onions, carrots, other vegetables, roast beef, corned beef, minced beef or other meat. Like Bubble and squeak, Stovies it is a dish intended to use left-over food. The potatoes are cooked by slow stewing in a closed pot with fat and stock. Lard, beef dripping or butter may be used as the fat. It is also common to stew the potatoes in water alone with onion before adding the other ingredients. Stovies may be accompanied by oatcakes.

A potato scone (tattie scone) is a savoury griddle scone made with boiled potatoes (mashed), butter (no milk) plain flour, and salt. Potato scones are traditionally made as circles about 6 inches (18 cm) across and then cut into quarters. They may also be baked in small rounds. They are generally unleavened and are thinner, 7 mm or so, than what is usually considered a scone; they resemble a soft oatcake. They are often served hot as part of the full Scottish breakfast with fried eggs, bacon and sliced sausage.


Clootie Dumpling (from cloot meaning a strip or piece of cloth) is a traditional dessert pudding made with flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit (sultanas and currants), suet, sugar and spice with some milk to bind it, and sometimes golden syrup. Ingredients are mixed well into a dough, then wrapped up in a floured cloth, placed in a large pan of boiling water and simmered for a couple of hours before being lifted out and dried before the fire or in an oven. Recipes vary from region to region e.g. in North Fife and Dundee it is not common to use breadcrumbs but the use of treacle is common.


Black Bun is a fruit cake completely covered with pastry. Up until the Scottish Reformation, 1560 it was eaten on Twelfth Night (5th January) on the eve of Epiphany, and the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It is thought to be introduced been introduced following the return of Mary, Queen of Scots. After the Reformation it was enjoyed at Hogmanay. The cake mixture typically contains raisins, currants, almonds, citrus peel, allspice, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper. The cake contents are similar to a traditional Christmas cake or Christmas pudding mixture. It was called the King Cake and there was a bean hidden in the cake. Whoever found it became the King for the evening. This may relate to a common practice at Christmas time when the roles were reversed and the Royal Family served their servants. In Scotland the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in 1560 and the use of a King cake at that time ended. It became common by the early 19th century to carry black bun with you when first footing. The gift of a black bun was meant to symbolise that the receiving family would not go hungry during the forthcoming year. It was also used a traditional cake to serve to those visiting homes as part of Hogmanay, to be consumed with whisky.

Dundee cake is a famous traditional Scottish fruit cake with a rich flavour. The cake is often made with currants, sultanas and almonds; sometimes, fruit peel may be added to it. A popular story is that Mary Queen of Scots did not like glace cherries in her cakes, so the cake was first made for her, as a fruit cake that used blanched almonds and not cherries. By the nineteenth-century Dundee Cake was mass-produced by the marmalade company called Keiller's. The top of the cake is typically decorated with concentric circles of almonds.

Scottish Rolls

A buttery (rowie, rollie, or Aberdeen roll) is a savoury Scottish bread roll. The buttery was originally made for the fishermen sailing from Aberdeen's harbour. They needed a roll that would not become stale during the two weeks or more that they were at sea. The high fat content meant the rolls also provided an immediate energy source. They are noted for flaky texture and buttery taste, similar to a flattened, round croissant, with a very salty taste. They are often toasted with jam or butter, or just with tea, although the high fat content (partly lard) makes them extremely hot when toasted. The name Aberdeen roll suggests butteries are a specialty of Aberdeen but they are common throughout the Northeast of Scotland.


Marmalade is a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits boiled with sugar and water. It can be produced from kumquats, lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins, sweet oranges, bergamots and other citrus fruits, or any combination thereof. Marmalade is generally distinguished from jam by its fruit peel. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "marmalade" appeared in the English language in 1480, borrowed from French marmelade which, in turn, came from the Galician-Portuguese marmelada. The extension of "marmalade" in the English language to refer to citrus fruits was made in the 17th century, when citrus first began to be plentiful enough in England for the usage to become common. The Scottish city of Dundee has a long association with marmalade. James Keiller and his mother Janet ran a small sweet and preserves shop in the Seagate section of Dundee. In 1797 they opened a factory to produce "Dundee Marmalade", a preserve distinguished by thick chunks of bitter Seville orange rind. The business prospered, and remains a signature marmalade producer today. Orange Marmalade in Britain happened by accident after a ship full of oranges broke down in the port of Dundee and the ingenious Scots made marmalade out of them.

The Abernethy biscuit was invented by Scottish doctor John Abernethy in the 18th century as a digestive improver and improve health. Abernethy thought most diseases were due to disorders in digestion and had a local baler make up a biscuit by adapting the plain captain’s biscuit with added sugar (for energy), and caraway seeds as an anti-flatulence agent. In the baking the effect of ammonium bicarbonate makes the Abernethy a cross between an all butter biscuit and a shortcake. Abernethy biscuits remain popular in Scotland

Although shortbread has been around for centuries, it became more refined during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. . Shortbread was expensive and reserved as a luxury for special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve), and weddings. In Shetland, it is traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the entrance of her new house. Short is an old word for crumbly and traditional shortbread is made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour (by weight). Some add a portion of salt. The crumbly texture is a result of the fat inhibiting the formation of long protein (gluten) strands. Shortbread is usually formed into one of three shapes: one large circle, which is divided into segments as soon as it is taken out of the oven (petticoat tails, which may have been named from the French petits cotés, a pointed biscuit eaten with wine, or petites gastelles, the old French for little cakes); individual round biscuits (shortbread rounds); or a thick (¾" or 2 cm) oblong slab cut into fingers. The biscuits are usually patterned with the tines of a fork before cooking or with a springerle-type biscuit mould. Shortbread is sometimes shaped in hearts and other shapes for special occasions.

Thomas Tunnock Limited (Tunnock's), is a family baker based in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, Scotland. The company was formed by Thomas Tunnock as Tunnock's in 1890. It is now the 20th oldest family firm in Scotland. One of their evergreen products is the Tunnock's Tea Cake. This is a biscuit and not a tea cake per se, and consists of a dark chocolate covered marshmallow perched on shortbread. The Snowball is similar to the Tea Cake, with the addition of grated coconut to the exterior of a soft chocolate shell but with no biscuit base. Tunnock's Caramel Wafers are also popular.


Tablet (taiblet in Scots) is a medium-hard, sugary confection. Tablet is usually made from sugar, condensed milk, and butter, boiled to a soft-ball stage and allowed to crystallize. It is flavoured with vanilla, and may have nut pieces added. Tablet differs from fudge in that it has a brittle, grainy texture which is medium hard. Fudge is much softer.

A Soor ploom is a sharp flavoured, round, green boiled sweet originally associated with Galashiels, Scotland. They are sold loose by weight in paper bags, traditionally in "quarters". They are said to have been first made in 1337 in commemoration of a skirmish near Galashiels. A raiding party from England were overwhelmed and killed by local men when discovered eating unripe plums. "Soor Plooms" is the motto of the town Galashiels.

Creamola Foam was a soft drink produced in the form of soluble crystals. It was manufactured at Kinning Park, in Glasgow and sold mainly in Scotland from the 1950s until Nestlé ended production in October 1998. The colourful crystals were dissolved in cold water to form a sweet, effervescent drink. It was packaged in a small tin with a tight metal lid. To open you pried off the top with a teaspoon. And paper seal covered the foam crystals to keep them dry. The label had a cartoon girl and boy drinking with straws. The drink originally came in raspberry, orange, and lemon flavours. Cola was added to the range at a later date. More recently due to popularity similar confectionary products have been introduced.

Irn Bru was first produced in 1901 in Falkirk under the name Iron Brew. In 1946 laws prohibited the use of brew in the title because the drink was not brewed. It was rebranded as Irn-Bru. The product was successfully branded as "Scotland's other national drink" (after whisky) and is now made in Westfield, Cumbernauld, by A.G. Barr of Glasgow, since mid-1990s. The orange coloured sweet drink remains the number one selling soft drink in Scotland and the third best selling soft drink in the UK and is bright orange colour. As of 1999, it contained 0.002% of ammonium ferric citrate, sugar, 32 flavouring agents including caffeine and quinine (but not in Australia), and two controversial colourings (Sunset Yellow FCF and Ponceau 4R). On 27 January 2010, A.G. Barr agreed to a Food Standards Agency voluntary ban on these two colourings although no date has been set for their replacement.

A common myth was it was used as a cure for hangovers. Irn Bru now sells all over the world.

(Video Courtesy: irnbru by Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 14/06/2020