I do not know if there is such a thing as Scottish Cuisine. It seems to me that there is a cuisine which covers the British Isles, yet, which has regional variations dependent on climate and soil. The codification of the Scottish variations is the subject of this post. I am going to pick three cookery books which I think best demonstrate what Scottish cooking is all about: ingredients rather than technique.
The first is The Glasgow Cookery Book. This is the cookery text book used to teach Home Ec teachers how to teach cookery and from which they have taught generations of girls (and latterly some boys) how to cook. It’s place is the kitchen counter, not the coffee table. There are no glossy pictures. There are precious few illustrations. The unstated presumption behind the instructions listed under ‘method’ is that one was shown how to do this at school and should know. Despite these technical difficulties, this book has all the recipes one needs to feed a family and to entertain in a respectable Scottish Presbyterian way: for the Glasgow of this cookbook is the Glasgow of stone terraces and high teas. Indeed, the college which produced the book not only produced teachers, but cooks for domestic service. The Glasgow Cookery Book is foundational in its description of what Scottish people should be eating.
The second is Maw Broon’s Cookbook. This book takes a bit of explaining. Maw Broon is the matriarch of a fictional family from a long running comic strip. The concept behind the cookbook is that it is a wedding gift from her mother-in-law, passing on the Broon family recipes. To these recipes are added ones from her own family, cuttings from magazines, and others exchanged with friends. The feel of the ‘handwritten’ recipes is enhanced by imitation food splashes and comments from family members. You have to be familiar with The Broons to enter into the spirit of the book; but, even if you have no knowledge of The Sunday Post, the recipes stand well on their own (and, in many ways, you can count yourself fortunate).
This book is un-embarrassably nostalgic. If we descend into the surreal world of giving cartoon strip characters a history, then the origins of this book must be in the reign of Edward the Seventh. The Broons are the salt of the Kailyard earth. The cuisine is working class in times when there was plenty of work. Or, in other words, this is food which my Grandmother might have served more often had there not been two World Wars and the Depression. It is, nevertheless, a repository of recipes on the verge of extinction: traditional fare which nobody nowadays eats. It is also indisputably Scottish and adds a colloquial, vernacular, historical, dimension to the foundation laid by The Glasgow Cookery Book.
The third book adds a couple of storeys to the foundation. It is The Claire Macdonald Cookbook. This book doesn’t say, ‘This is Scottish Cuisine.’ Rather, it says, ‘Look what you can do with the ingredients which the land, sea, and climate of Scotland can give.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Look what I made.’ Instead, it says, ‘Taste this.’ It doesn’t provoke the question, ‘What’s in your marinade?’ The question is, ‘Who’s your butcher?’
The Claire Macdonald Cookbook is full of the kind of food which I like to cook. The recipes use the ingredients which I like to use: good beef, game, leeks, mushrooms, and root vegetables. It is not overly elaborate, but it takes some effort. When I cook this food, my Wife will happily clean up after me.
The recipes in this book are those which Lady Macdonald used at Kinloch Lodge before she ‘retired’ from that part of her culinary career. She tells us in the foreword that food there now is more up to date. I thank her for the warning. For what I have seen on television of the new fine dining with its big plates, wee portions, and precarious presentation doesn’t draw me the way that her food does. At least, in their house on the Black Isle, if Lord Macdonald looks on the table and asks, ‘Claire, is that your new hat for the Garden Party at Holyrood?’, he will not hear, “No, Godfrey, it’s your dinner.’