The Scots Kitchen – F Marian McNeill

The Scots Kitchen is a classic book on the history & traditions of Scottish cooking. I couldn’t resist buying this lovely new edition a little while ago & I’ve enjoyed reading it & browsing through the recipes.

First published in 1929, this new edition has been edited by Catherine Brown who also writes a biographical introduction on McNeill & has also helpfully edited the recipes to make them easier for modern cooks to follow. McNeill was an authority on Scotland’s history & customs (she also wrote The Silver Bough, a book on Scottish folklore which I have on the tbr shelves). The book is not solely recipes. There’s an extensive history of food in Scotland which I found fascinating. The footnotes were even more interesting & McNeill’s partiality for Scotland is always in evidence. In the chapter on 17th century cooking, she laments the Union with England,

From a purely cultural point of view, Scotland lost more than she gained by the Union of the Crowns. She lost the old close contact with the most highly civilized nation in the world (France), and established a new close contact with a nation for whom efficiency, not culture; comfort, not elegance; manufacture, not art, were paramount things. She lost her reigning family – and the Stuarts, whatever their shortcomings as rulers, were genuinely aristocratic in temperament (in contradistinction to the Houses of Tudor and Hanover) and devoted to the arts…

There is no doubt as to where McNeill stands on the relative merits of Scotland & England! McNeill traces the history of Scotland through its food & is especially good on the influence of  French culture & cuisine which began in the 16th century with the Auld Alliance between the two countries. However, she’s just as interested in the regional dishes of the Highlands & islands & discusses the different ways of curing fish & the importance of oats as a staple part of the diet. She quotes from a wide range of texts from Dr Johnson to the novels of Sir Walter Scott & the early cookbooks published in the 19th century.

The recipes are arranged by ingredients from soups to cakes & shortbread. I was amazed at the many recipes for sheep’s heads, seaweed & offal (calf’s foot jelly with whipped cream, anyone?) but I admit that I’m really only tempted to try some of the cakes & puddings. I plan to try Broonie (Orkney Oatmeal Gingerbread), which was the first recipe McNeill ever collected,

One of my small companions at the island school I first attended gave me a slice of the ‘broonie’ whichj she sometimes brought as her midday ‘piece’. I begged to know what was ‘intill’t’ and the little lass replied, ‘A peerie (little) grain o’flour, a peerie grain o’mayle (oatmeal), a peerie grain o’butter, a peerie grain o’shuggar, a peerie grain o’trekkle, and so forth. Years later, I managed to work out the proportions.

And here’s the recipe,

Mix in a basin six ounces of oatmeal and six of flour. Rub in two ounces of butter. Add four ounces of sugar, a teaspoonful of ground ginger and barely three-quarters of a teaspoonful of baking soda, free from lumps. Melt two tablespoonfuls of treacle, and add, with a beaten egg and enough buttermilk to make the mixture sufficiently soft to drop from the spoon. Mix thoroughly. turn into a buttered tin and bake for from one to one and a half hours in a moderate oven till well risen and firm in the centre.

10 thoughts on “The Scots Kitchen – F Marian McNeill

  1. I enjoyed this piece Lyn. I have this book, an older paperback edition, and have browsed through it several times, it's so interesting, but haven't read it straight through. I've also thought that the Silver Bough might be interesting too. Perhaps you'll write about that one too when you get to it!

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  2. One of those little gems, I think! Thanks so for including the recipe. This book will fit in nicely with a reading challenge I am sponsoring next year, Read Scotland 2014! I will definitely be directing folks over here to read about this book!

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  3. Thanks, I'm going to buy this one as I haven't read it and it sounds interesting. I did have a friend whose mother boiled up a sheep's head regularly, but they were Highlanders and they also ate raw meat!

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  4. Yes, I saw your challenge & was tempted as I have lots of Scots books on the tbr shelves. I try not to get involved in challenges though but just read where I fancy. I'm sure I will be reading about Scotland next year as I love the literature & the history.

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  5. Yes, I think a lot of Northern England/Scots recipes for this kind of sticky, luscious but not too sweet cake are very similar no matter what they're called. I may have to wait until autumn to try this one now because the weather has finally turned summery & it's too hot today to think about gingerbread.

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