Traditional Scottish Food – a menu from the olden days

Just look at this traditional Scottish food list as described in old menus. Inspirational or just weird? Worth a look as could make a good starting point for your own celebratory Scottish meal. Not that you’ll want to cook ptarmigan, powsowdie, crimped skate and other forgotten dishes. Sheep’s head anyone?!

Today, many of the dishes appear quaint and old-fashioned (and with some ingredients possibly unattainable!) now.

But it should give you some ideas if you are looking to create some elements of this type of Scottish menu – say, for a St Andrews Night Dinner.

A record of traditional Scottish food was compiled by the wife of an Edinburgh publisher and appeared originally in 1826.

Amongst many other recipes and food tales, ‘The Cook and Housewife’s Manual’ also gives a complete bill of fare for a St Andrew’s Night or Burns Night celebration or any other Scottish national dinner.

I have reproduced it here with brief explanatory notes – as well as a general air of puzzlement and incredulity.

The Scottish menu below follows a format that has a ‘remove’. According to my old Chambers’ Dictionary this is defined as ‘a dish to be changed while the rest remain’.

The menu below is well worth a look for its flavours but follow this link for recipes for traditional Scottish dishes.

Traditional Scottish Food – brace yourself

Here goes…it’s the 18th century in a well-to-do country house in Scotland. You’ll have had a dram or two…

First Course – Friar’s Chicken Or Old Scots Brown Soup – (Remove – Braised Turkey)

The chicken part involves making a broth with veal and adding eggs just before serving. Sir Walter Scott, in ‘The Fortunes of Nigel’ – and I ain’t planning on reading it any time soon – says this dish was a favourite of King James VI.

Meanwhile, the soup is a meat-based long-simmered concoction with slivers of rump-steak added towards the end.

The ‘starters’ also include

  • Brown Fricassee of Duck
  • Potted Game , Minced Collops

What’s with this ‘brown’ word again? Potted game is probably self-explanatory while minced collops are an early version of today’s Scottish ‘mince’ – still an everyday element in traditional Scottish food.

Except that it has an optional addition of oatmeal or barley among other flavourings.

Haggis in variety - traditional Scottish food.
Haggis in variety in a Scottish butcher shop. (Sometimes still called a flesher in Scots.)To me, it looks like several lesser haggises paying court to the King Haggis at the back. But maybe I’m reading too much into this. By the way, I don’t know anyone who makes their haggis at home…but see next picture.
Try haggis
Here’s a shop in Fort Augustus making it easy for you to say ‘Well, I tried haggis once…’ The deer antlers are not for eating, obviously, but for hanging your hat on or otherwise accentuating that Scottish traditional vibe.

The inevitable Haggis

– well, you’d have to have that somewhere, wouldn’t you? An icon of traditional Scottish food.

Salt Cod, With Egg Sauce ~
(Remove – Chicken Pie)
~ Crimped Skate

– the salt cod is a once common way of preserving the fish, in Scotland and further afield, while the crimped skate was a fairly widespread recipe beyond Scotland too.

In my home town, an east-coast fishing port, skate had a reputation as an aphrodisiac.

My dad told me that. At least I think that was what he was saying….wait a minute, he’d never have said that.

Must be thinking of someone else. Probably an old fisherman.

Smoked Tongue ~ Tripe
In White Fricassee

I don’t know about you but this sounds ghastly. Wouldn’t blame you if you skipped this course.

Salt Caithness Goose,
Or Solan Goose

– solan goose was the name my father (again) used for the gannet – the northern gannet, Morus bassanus.

Nobody eats gannets now in Scotland, except for the men of Ness, at the tip of the Outer Hebrides in the west, who have special permission to take a certain number of fat chicks every season from the little rocky island of Sula Sgeir.

The practice is vigorously defended by the local Gaels, as they say they’ve been doing it since the Iron Age. However, the flavour of these ‘gugas’ is variously recorded but many descriptions seem to include the word ‘vile’.

OK, an acquired taste (perhaps as in ‘eat up – it’s your heritage’). This is traditional Scottish food for extremists!

Sheep’s Head Broth

– also called powsowdie. Best way to dissuade you from even thinking about this traditional Scottish food is to quote part of the recipe. Here goes…

‘Choose a large, fat, young head. When carefully singed by the blacksmith, soak it and the singed trotters for a night….Take out the glassy part of the eyes….then split the head with a cleaver.‘

All right, that’s enough.

(1 Remove – Two Tups Heads And Trotters) ~
(2 Remove – Haunch Of Venison Or Mutton, With Wine Sauce And Currant Jelly)

– tups are sheep, so, no escape from the heads, then. Venison is widely available and popular – the roasting needs care as it is such a lean meat.

Second Course

Second course? Is this as far as we’ve got? We’ve been stuffing ourselves for ages…Well, that’s what it says in the original. More like ‘final crushing assault’. Anyway, this section moves seamlessly into puddings after a savoury start comprising:

Roast Fowls, With Drappit Egg,
Or Lamb’s Head Dressed

– ‘drappit’ here is ‘dropped’, hence poached. Sorry about the head again, but at least it’s a small one this time.

Buttered Partans ~ Small Pastry ~ Stewed Onions

Partan (edible crab) - traditional Scottish food
Partan (edible crab).

Partans are edible crabs, one of the few words that came from Gaelic into Scots (I mean into the northern form of ‘English’ that we speak).

We’d certainly use the word at home.

Seafood is a growing component in modern Scots cuisine and widely available – for example, scallops, plus what we would have pronounced ‘pra’ans (prawns) sometimes referred to as Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) or (if posh) langoustines.

And lots more. I’m getting really hungry writing this. (So long as I don’t think about the sheep’s heid.)

Calves-Foot Jelly ~ Rich Eating Posset In A China Punch Bowl ~ Blancmange

Aha! The puddings have arrived. This must be third course. The not exclusively Scottish posset is basically a curdled-milk pudding, using some acidic liquor to curdle.

Apple-Puddings In Skins ~
Small Pastry ~ Plum-Damas Pie

For once, almost self-explanatory – but plum-damas is prune. You have been warned.

A Black Cock, Or Three Ptarmigan

– just in case one of your guests leans back and says ‘that was lovely, but what I’d really like to finish off with is a ptarmigan‘.

Odd to modern tastes, these game birds at the end.

Blackcock or black grouse are not that common in Scotland these days – try upper Glen Lyon, that’s where I saw them last.

Ptarmigan are our high-altitude grouse, much disturbed by hill-walkers and skiers, though tame by nature and thus easily hunted in the bad old days. More on Scottish birds here.

And that’s it. Gosh, I’m very full now…I should never had that last ptarmigan.

If you want to see a ptarmigan without stravaiging about the high tops all day long, then take a look at this Applecross page.

Also see these pages on Scottish food for special occasions like Burns Night and St Andrew’s Day.  Or find out about Scottish high tea. It isn’t easy to track down.

Sue Lawrence cookery books are usually worth a look. We use them.