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First published in 1929, this book is part of the same revival of interest in traditional food that saw the publication of Good Things in England. It is much more than a recipe book; almost half the text is given over to a fascinating study of the food and cooking of Scotland in historical times, together with insights into domestic life in Highlands, Islands and Lowlands. There are copious footnotes, at times occupying half the page.
A lot of space is given to references to, and descriptions of, food in literature, especially the works of Scott and the food of his fictional but legendary culinary heroine Megs Dods. The long links with France are delved into, and an appendix lists French-derived culinary terms and their original Gallic forms. The Gaelic is not neglected either, and the frugal traditions of the crofts, still much more alive in 1929 than we would expect, are treated at length. I was fascinated to discover that grinding grain with a rotary hand-quern was still common in remote areas in late Victorian times, also that the tradition of "smooring" the peat fire (carefully 'smothering' it with ash so it would smoulder till morning, ready to be breathed into life again for breakfast) was, as in Gaelic Ireland, accompanied by a protective chant half psalm, half magic spell, which mingled together the pagan and the folk-catholic.
The recipes themselves vary from the spartan to the lush, all using the wealth of local meat and game, the few vegetables and fruit then grown north of the border, and spices and exotic ingredients (almonds, orange-water, orange peel) which have formed part of the cookery of the British Isles since medieval times. Instructions are given in anecdotal rather than prescriptive style, with ingredients given at the head of the text but quantities in the main description. Sources for recipes are given, and again there are often footnotes too.
This is an unbeatable resource of traditional cuisine, with all the current themes of sustainability, local sourcing, nose-to-tail eat and seasonability. Adventurous cooks will find plenty to excite them. There is, I confess, a great deal of dialect terms and more than a little Gaelic; however all dialect words are translated in the footnotes. Admittedly, if you aren't a native Scot you can get bogged down - in some descriptions I understood only two words in three without recourse to the footnotes - and the historical section is inclined to be "bitty" and not hang together as well as it might. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise irreplaceable book.Read more ›