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Old World Scotland
Chapter VII. In Praise of the Horn Spoon


THE great change in the Scots kitchen dates from the beginning of the seventeenth century. It was a consequence partly of the severance of intercourse with France, partly of the Puritanism of the Reformers, and partly of the increasing insufficiency of the supplies of meat. In all probability it was during the next hundred and fifty years that oaten meal, always an important article of diet, became almost exclusively the food of many districts. When Fynes Moryson visited Scotland in 1598 the servants at the knight's table dined on porridge, but each plate had in it a piece of sodden meat. As times grew harder porridge was still the staple, but (here the italics are absolute) the piece of sodden meat had vanished.

Thus, too, the important ingredient in the ancient hale soup was less the hale "broo" than the beef-juice; but in later and harder years there was but hale and water. Frequently the make-believe of water-hale, or "muslin-kale," as Burns has it, was supped instead of the original broth even in Henrysons time, the latter half of the fifteenth century—

"Thus how he stands in labour and bondage,
That scantlie may he purches by his maul
To love upon dry-breid and water-caiIl."

In the austerer years of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the French influence was discernible chiefly in the ingenuity displayed by the housewife in making the most of nothing. The "Blythesome Bridal " is comparatively well-known, but some lines of it may here be quoted as a complete exposition of the kitchen of lower-class Scotland in the seventeenth century:

And there'll be lang kale and pottage,
And bannocks o' barley meal,
And there'll be guid saut herrin'
To relish a cogue ;wooden jug] o' guid yill.

* * * *

Wi' siybows and rifarts and carline
That are baith sodden and raw.

* * * *

There'll be tartan, dragen and brochan,
And fouth o' guid gabbocks o' skate,
Powsoudie, and drammock, and crowdie,
And caller nowt-feet on a plate.
And there'll he partans and buckies,
And speldins and haddocks enew,
And singit sheep-heads and a haggis,
And scadlips to sup tell ye're fou.

* * * *

There'll be lapper-milk keppocks,
And sowens, and farles and baps,
Wi' swats and wed-scraped paunches,
And brandy in stoups and in caups;
And there'll be meal-kail and custocks
Wi' skink to sup till ye rive,
And roasts to roast on a brander
Of flouks that were taken alive.

Scrapt haddocks, wilks, dulse and tangle,
And a mill o' guid sneeshin to prie
When weary wi' eatin' and drinkin'
We'll rise up and dance till we dee."

Apart from the abundance of fish, the special feature of the "Brydal" banquet is the metamorphoses of meal. "Bannocks o' barley meal" (the finest bread of the lower classes) figure prominently enough. But of oatmeal we have tartan—tartan purry it was sometimes called, and probably therefore was a partially French invention—a pudding made chiefly of chopped kale and oatmeal ; brochan—oatmeal mixed with boiled water, flavoured with onions or pounded cheese; drammock—raw meal and water; crowdie—a thicker variety of the same with the addition of butter, or possibly milk porridge, sometimes called crowdie-mowdy; meal-kail—the "Kail-brose o' auld Scotland"; with "sowens," "farles," "baps," and, to crown all, the haggis. The white and red puddings are absent, "weel-scraped paunches"(or tripe) being favoured in their stead; and wisely, for they could but have been at a discount in the radiant presence of the "great chieftain o' the Puddin-race." Certain benighted and Godforsaken theorists have ventured to surmise (from the similarity of the name to the French "hachis") that the haggis is one of the nobler legacies of France to Scotland; and of course it is possible that some earlier Vatel, some prehistoric Soyer, crowned the preparation with its un-Scottish name. But the oatmeal is peculiarly Scottish; and the method of cooking is not very far removed from the early barbarism of using the paunch of the animal as its own seething pot. Moreover, to the French themselves the haggis is le pain benit d'Ecosse. (It was frequently eaten cold; and doubtless owed its designation, "le pain benit," to the fact that it was customary to send it from the old country to the "Scot abroad.") That the haggis was suggested rather by thrifty poverty than by epicurean daintiness seems also antecedently probable. Even in 1)unbar's day its satisfying bounteousness had become proverbial—

"The gallowes gapes efter thy graceless gruntle,
As thou would for a haggeis, hungry gled."

In the peasant's home it was set in the centre of the table, all gathering round it with their horn spoons; and it was "deil tak' the hindmost," or (as the proverb has it) the haggis was "gaen gear."

Other specially Scots dishes mentioned in the "Brydal" menu are caller nowt-feet, or ox's feet; powsowdie (sheep's-head broth), singed sheep's-heads-----all no doubt formerly despised by the rich noble, and therefore regarded as very much the perquisite of the poor. Thus—

"A haggis fat,
WeeI tottled in a seething pat,"

a sheep's-head with four black trotters, "guid fat brose," and-

"White and bloody puddins routh
To gar the doctor skirl o' drouth,"

constitute the bill of fare which Fergusson (who did not love the scorner of Scotland) would have provided for the banquet to Dr. Johnson given in the University of St. Andrew's in 1773. The soups at the "Brydal " feast were powsowdie, already mentioned, scadlips—hot water judiciously tempered with barley—and skink (no doubt made from the before-mentioned "caller nowt-feet"). Scotch broth, or kale (of which originally the principal ingredients were "knockit," or broken barley and kale, peas, onions, &c., being later additions and debasements"), is absent, only meal-kail being mentioned. Beef has no place at the banquet, and mutton appears only in the form of the "singit sheep's-heads" afore alluded to. In some counties—Fife, for instance—preparations of oatmeal and of kale—without beef—were for many years the main diet of the peasantry -

"When cog o' brose an' cutty spoon
Is a' our cottar childis boon,
Wha thro' the week till Sunday's speal
Toil for pease cods and gude lang kail."

But in more inland counties, such as Perth and Stirling, meat continued in more or less general use up to the present time, broth and beef being the ordinary dinner even of the farm servants.

Ancient Scottish cookery was specially distinguished by the excellence and variety of its soups. Of these it may suffice to mention three: to wit, hotch-potch, cockleleekie, and specially fish-soup, compared to which last the greasy turtle-broth of London City is a gross and barbarous abomination. The roasting of beef or mutton was not common till times comparatively recent, boiling and stewing being the favourite methods, except (as France had dictated) in the case of fowls. Dr. Somerville states that in his early days there was no roasting-jack, but the spit was turned by one of the servants or by a dog that had been trained to manage a big wooden wheel. The essential difference between Scottish and English modes of dining is well exemplified in the story of all "baillie." This worthy. returning from a brief sojourn in London, was congratulated on his appearance. Resenting the impeachment with a certain bitterness he expressed surprise that it should be so, "for, quoth he, "deil a speen was i' ma mon a' the time I was awa'.'' Even in Fergusson's day, however, Scottish modes of dining had begun to be affected by English influences, and roast beef was fast winning to its present pride of place. With rather unpatriotic forgetfulness of the "warm-reekin'"' richness of the ''haggis fat, weel tottled in a seething pat," this poet, forsaking his native Done, salutes the conqueror in the following mock-heroic strains :-

"Hail, Roast Beef! monarch of the festive throng,
To hunger's bane the strongest antidote;
Come, and with all thy rage-appeasing sweets
Our appetite allay; for, or attended
By root Hibernian or plum-puddmg rare,
Still thou art welcome to the social board."

Burns, on the other hand, would

"Gie dreeping roasts to countra lairds
Till icicles hang frae their beards";

but as he adds in the same breath—

"An' yill an' whisky gie to cairds
Until they scunner"

the seriousness of his scorn is open to question.


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