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Old World Scotland
Chapter V. Scots Vivers


IN the Lowlands it was, in early times, the custom of the nobles to entertain the bulk of their dependants at a common table.

"Great families," says Lesley, "they feed, and that perpetually, partly to defend thorn- selves from their neighbours, with whom they have daily feud, partly to defend the realm"; for the power and influence of the noble depended largely on the number and lustihood of his followers. Hospitality to strangers, too, was regarded as a sacred duty; so much so that when taverns began to be substituted, special enactments were passed compelling travellers to lodge at least their servants in them. Hunting being a chief pastime in years of peuce, there was never a lack of venison and wild game. Herds of wild cattle ranged the Caledonian forest, but such was "the gluttony of man" (the flesh of the animal, though "all grissillie," being of "a trim taste ") that by the sixteenth century their numbers had been greatly diminished. Another kind of "ky nocht tame," with flesh of a "marvellous sweetness, of a wonderful tenderness, and excellent delicateness of taste" (the breed was doubtless the long-horned Highland) ranged the hill-country of Argyll and Ross almost at will. Besides other winged game, layerocks were a common article of diet, being in some districts so plentiful that in the sixteenth century twelve were sold for a French son. Rabbits, or "cunyes"  were such a favourite dish that in the thirteenth century a warren and its warrener were attached to every burgh. Mutton was in more common use than beef, but cows were kept in great numbers for dairy purposes, and the monks were great poultry masters and encouragers of husbandry. In some parts there were swine that the forests glutted with mast and acorns, but otherwise they seem to have led a somewhat unhappy and persecuted life. Sir Walter states that "pork or swine flesh in any shape was till of late years much abominated by the Scots, nor is it yet a favourite dish amongst them." No doubt the latter clause of this pronouncement was true when Sir Walter wrote, but the former requires modification. The antipathy of the ancient Highland Scot to pork was as marked as the Jews, but among Lowlanders the distaste was neither so general nor so decided. From time immemorial pigs have been kept in the Lowlands. they seem to have been at least occasionally kept by the monks; a charter of David I. to the Abbey of Holyrood contains the following provision: "And the swine, the property of the aforesaid church, I grant in all my woods to be quit of pannage." This however, before luxury had affected the ancient monastic habit. For many generations pork was iii all probability the food chiefly of the serfs and the poorer classes generally. This may even be inferred from the severity of the enactments against their depredations. Thus, while other animals might only be impounded in such eases, swine found eating the corn or rooting in the tilth might be slain out of hand. But although at intervals from 1450 the town council of Edinburgh continued to order all swine found in the open streets, closes, or vennels of the city to be slaughtered or escheated, these industrious wayfarers went on contributing their quota to the picturesqueness and vivacity of street life in the capital till as late as the close of the eighteenth century. The swine—magisterially described as "ane unseemlie kind of beast"—does not seem to have invaded the city of Aberdeen until the middle of the seventeenth century. But it also exhibited there the same inveterate love of city life. i)i'. Somerville states that in his time, "though pork was sometimes presented at table, few ate of it when fresh, and even when cured it was not generally acceptable." Nevertheless it had begun to be exported in 1703, and an Act of 1705 for encouraging exportation contains directions for curing and packing. No doubt the introduction of the potato has greatly aided the extension of pig-keeping ; and the change in the fashion of breakfasting introduced by the use of tea and coffee has given pork a permanent and prominent place at Scots as well as English tables.

Fish, both freshwater and salt, were largely used as food in Scotland from the thirteenth century onwards. The monks especially were devoted to the fostering and development of fisheries; and it was chiefly owing to their guidance and encouragement that the industry was soon a source of national wealth. By the thirteenth century Aberdeen was famous for her speldrins and other dried fish. As for Loch Fyne herrings, "In no place," says Lesley, "were herrings so fat and of so pleasant a taste as in that loch"; and long before the bishop's time their peculiar excellence had secured them a ready sale in foreign parts. rube salmon fishery, how- ever, was probably the most important of all. The abundance of salmon in Scottish rivers is proverbial, the reason being no doubt that clearness of the water which comes of sandy or stony courses. This abundance caused salmon to be at one time despised by the wealthier classes in Scotland; and even in the eighteenth century so plentiful was the fish in some districts of Perthshire that the hinds made stipulations reducing the frequency of its appearance on the bill of fare.

The virtues of the oyster were early recognised. He figured along with buckies, limpets, partans, crabs, and other shell-fish at the royal banquet at Stirling in 1594, on the occasion of the baptism of Prince Henry; but not till long afterwards did he become a fashionable luxury. Thus "glaikit fools ower rife o' cash" were pampering their wames wi' fulsome trash," while Fergusson, with the poet's discernment, was inditing odes to him—

"The halesomest and nicest gear
O' fish or flesh,"

and was prescribing him as one of the chief of medicines for mind or body

"Come prie, frail man, for gin thou'rt sick,
The oyster is a rare cathartic
As ever doctor patient gart lick
To cure his ails;
Whether you hae the head or heart ache
It aye prevails."

It were hard to tell for how many ages the cry of "Caller oo" has been skirled through Edinburgh, but it is safe to say that the most ancient houses in High Street are younger than those which echoed back the first "agreeable wild notes" of the "great mother'' of the noble Newhaven succession. In the eighteenth century supping in oyster cellars was a fashionable diversion of Edinburgh; and Major Top- ham, in his "Letters from Edinburgh" (1776), remarks that the oyster cellar, named by its votaries the "Temple," seemed "to give more real pleasure to the company who visit it than either Ranelagh or the Pantheon." At such entertainments the presence of ladies was not merely allowable, but almost essential. Oyster suppers would not appear to have yet become an institution in English towns, and the Major naïvely confesses that after partaking of the fare he sat "waiting in expectation of a repast that was never to make its appearance" till all else was forgotten in the excellence of the brandy punch and the charming conversation of the ladies, "who," he remarks, "to do them justice, are much more entertaining than their neighbours in England," and discovered a great deal of vivacity and fondness of repartee."

Mussels) the oyster's poor relation, were probably consumed as early as the Roman period in the form of mussel-brose. At any rate the burgh of that name is supposed to have been a Roman station; nor is there any doubt that its fame and fortune, like those of Newhaven, are based upon shellfish.

At Musselbiough, an' eke Newhaven
The fisher-wives will get top livin'
When lads gang out on Sunday's even
To treat their joes,
An' tak' o' fat pandores a prieven
Or mussel-brose."

Thus the veracious Fergusson; and how long the custom he describes existed before it found its appropriate muse eludes research.


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