The Secrets of Scottish Cuisine

The weather is getting colder, it’s almost Christmas and our homes smell fantastic! I don’t know about you, my lovely lads and lassies, but I am already thinking of all the delicious dishes I will be eating during these joyous days. 

That is why I decided to do some research and learn as much as I can about the cuisine of Scotland, which I am sure it is something you all have thought about.

Scotland’s Most Famous Dishes

Scotland today has a very particular selection of dishes! 

I think we all know the most famous one and it’s none other than haggis. It is rather delicious if you try it but, if you ask me, it’s better not to know what it’s made of since its basic ingredients are a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs. But trust me when I say there is nothing better than eating homemade haggis on a cold and rainy day!


Another favorite dish of mine is the less known Cullen skink. The skink is a thick, creamy soup that includes potatoes, onions, and smoked fish! It’s heaven on a bowl, my friends. 

Other well-known dishes of this beautiful country are porridge, bannocks, shortbread, scotch broth, and skirlie. Be sure to check out some of these recipes and, trust me, you will not be disappointed. 

However, the Scottish cuisine was not always like that. So let’s take a small trip in time and see what the heroes of our books used to eat!

Medieval Times

Scotland in the Middle Ages was not an isolated country, and that is why its cuisine was greatly influenced by that of Italy, France, Spain, and England, of course! 

But don’t make the mistake and think that what they mighty Scotsmen ate back then was at all similar to what we eat today. For them, the most common meats included rabbits, pigeons, ducks and swans, peacocks and....even seals! 

I don’t think any of us would eat these animals today. But don’t be alarmed, my lovely ones.

Back then, people had many different eating habits. Hunting was their number one source of food and eating meat was never something they would pass on.

A medieval banquet, complete with peacock, mid 15th century. Image source


A medieval banquet, complete with peacock, mid 15th century. Image source

Peasants’ diet was different of course compared to Lairds and Ladies. Their diet was mostly based on grains, fruits, and vegetables. The meat was rare. 

A typical peasant family would grow vegetables, such as onions, potatoes, and leeks in their gardens and they might also have had a cow, which after a while they would sell. 

It was a very different world than the one we are living in today.

But besides meat, the Scottish people also had a soft spot for fish. But not just any fish. They preferred to eat pike, eel, and lamprey. Fish was a popular choice among them for many reasons but the most important one was religion.

So, economic standing was not the only factor that affected people’s diets back then. A rather important component was the Church and its religious calendar of feasting and fasting. 

But the biggest secret of how the Scottish dishes were so delicious is none other than seasoning. All the foods were mixed with herbs and spices, the most popular of which were garlic, rosemary, cinnamon, peppercorns, mint, root ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

I am sure you have noticed a basic ingredient missing from these spices. One which we use all the time! Well come on, think a little...

Well, it’s the salt of course. If you must know, salt was considered a major luxury and only Lairds and royal families were privy to it.

A Historic Cookbook

Fortunately, there is a rare cookbook written around 1390, that we can read it today, named “A Forme of Cury”. It basically offers a small glimpse of the many Scottish recipes based on swans, geese, rabbits and suckling pigs.

Forme of Cury. Picture: Wikimedia. Image source.


Among the many recipes found in this book, there is one called “The Cockatrice”. I am not sure if it’s something you want—or even can!—make, since the cockatrice is a legendary creature that was half serpent and half rooster. This recipe dictated that half a chicken should be sewn onto half of a roast suckling pig.

If you ask me, I prefer other recipes but it’s surely interesting to know what these amazing people were up to back then!

Drinking

Well, drinking couldn’t be missing from an article about Scottish cuisine. Scotland is well-known for its amazing alcoholic drinks, the most famous of which is whiskey. However, in medieval times, ale was the most popular drink.

It was brewed most often by women in order to increase the family’s income. But besides its good taste, there was also another reason why ale was so popular. It was because it was more sanitary than water since the latter was very often unsafe to drink! 

Ale was brewed from barley and the final product was thick and, sometimes, chewy. 

I don’t know about you but I can already imagine a proper Scottish feast. A large table filled with mouth-watering food, delicious desserts and ale and Scottish music echoing in the hall. 

Now I can’t wait to start cooking and I might even try some new recipes…

If you try one, please let me know! 

Written by Maddie MacKenna

  • Sandra Brans says:

    This was very informative – enjoyed reading about the Scotts. Some of my 1500 and early 1600 came from there befor going to Germary then to America. My State is Bourbon, Whiskey, Moonshine and Wine. Nice to fine out more about the ale. Hope you and your family had a very healthy, happy and Merry Christmas. Remember our Savor Jesus Christ.

  • This is a lovely story to read on Christmas morning, Ms. MacKenna!

    Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I saved a copy of your story on my PC to read again later today. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Day, and a successful and prosperous New Year in 2020.

    Heaven’s blessings upon ye, Maddie!

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment, my dear Bonnie. I also thought that this would be an appropriate and heart-warming article for Christmas. ❤️

  • Cheri says:

    I have a shortbread recipe from my Scottish great grandfather passed down to my Dad then me. I make it for my Dad every year.

  • Leslie/Kim says:

    Ooooh, yer making me long for such. Sounds heavenly. Not so sure about some of those recipes but I’ve been looking at the ducks in the freezer at the grocers and ave been thinking of cockaleekie soup/stew. Uh, looked up black pudding and think I might skip that unless served to me by someone…I dinna think I care to make it!
    Let ys know what you tried and now…for some music!

  • Mary says:

    I never wanted to try haggis since I learned what it was made of first! You forgot to mention that it was cooked up in sheep’s stomach.
    I attempted Cullen skink once and only once, not a big success. My kitchen smelled like it for a week-at least to me!
    Guess I ‘m Scots descent but with an American tummy!

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Haha, I agree with you. But trust me, it’s different when you try it in Scotland. The first time I had Cullen skink was at the Highlands and I couldn’t stop eating. ❤️

  • Mary says:

    Add on to my previous post, did you run across mashed neeps? Mashed turnips.

  • Laura Wiltsie says:

    Ms Mackenna,
    I am what my daughter and her friends call a Kitchen Witch. That is to say, there isn’t much I can’t find in the kitchen that I can’t make a meal from. I absolutely love to cook and I found this lovely little 15th century cookbook chock full of recipes from England, Scotland and Ireland. You can view it online if you Google 15th Century recipes. I found a recipe found a pork loin roasted in a red wine and saffron sauce. I have yet to try it but it sounds delicious. Unfortunately, they adapted the recipe because the original calls for a wild boar. I know there are places where they can still be hunted but St. Louis, MO isn’t one of them so I had to make a substitution. I don’t know if I’d want to go out hunting one anyway because it isn’t the safest thing to do. They are very volatile and unpredictable creatures. But my significant other is going to be my test subject because I do alot of culinary experimentation and I’ve really never had any epic failures. BTW, when I experiment, I fondly refer to it as practicing witchcraft. Believe it or not there is a type of witch called a kitchen witch and she draws her power from hearth and home. You might look it up sometime.
    Merry Christmas

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      That was very interesting to read, my sweet Laura. ❤️ Thank you for this information. Inspiration can come from everywhere…

  • Linda S Smith says:

    Growing up in rural country in Colorado, I have eaten many foods that others roll their at. Every type of meat (domestic and wild) and vegetables. It did take a long time for me to eat Rocky Mountain Oysters and I did enjoy them. Haggis is still on the untried list but your article has swayed me to search out a member of the Scottish community here in Anchorage to obtain a recipe. Thank you for sharing.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Thank you for this sweet message, my sweet Linda. I am thrilled that my article inspired you to search for Scottish recipes. I am sure that you will love them. ❤️

  • Irene Gray says:

    Well, thank you for that but I think I shall not participate in any of the dishes you have described except for the porridge, bannocks & shortbread. This last is really quite delicious especially with a cup of hot coffee or tea & in the colder weather is perfect as a pick me up. thank you for the research.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Haha I understand, my sweet Irene! ❤️ Most of the Scottish dishes are very particular. But you are right, shortbread is one of my favorites too!

  • Joan says:

    What recipes? I didn’t find any recipes.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      It was just an expression indicating the “Cockatrice” dish. I am sorry if that was confusing for you. I hope you enjoyed the article either way.❤️

  • Wilma May says:

    I loved this article although so mm e of the meals and drinks are described in the book wrote by romantic Scottish authors it is still nice to hear of other recipes. I remember one my Fran always made it was called tablet which was mainly condensed milk and sugar so it was very sweet but very addictive.

  • SANDRA TRIMBEY says:

    I love when you share these interesting articles about Scotland. I am not a very good cook but my mother was very creative with seven mouths to feed and we did have the occasion to have pidgeon and duck which I really thought was a little greasy at times . I was lucky to travel to the Highlands of Scotland last year and stay for 16 days. We had some of the best food I have ever had. we did eat a lot of fish that I never heard of and my favorite was their oatmeal with brandy!!!! for breakfast! It was so much fun to see some of the scenery that I have been reading about and I found the Scottish people wonderful! Thank you soo much for your wonderful articles.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      I also love the fact that you find my articles to be so interesting. After you have experienced the Highland life, I am sure that everything must read more familiar now.❤️ Oatmeal with brandy is the best!

  • Sandra Culbertson says:

    Hi Maddie,
    Thank you for another interesting article. I grew up eating game meat because my father was a hunter. My mother was Italian, so we use a lot of herbs and spices when cooking. My son is on a salt free diet. Do you think there could be a Highlander hiding in our heritage?
    Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy new year.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Hello, my sweet Sandra! Your family sounds lovely. I think that it’s worth looking into! ❤️
      Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones.

  • Gwen says:

    I enjoyed reading this article and I have not tried any Scottish dishes to my knowledge but growing up we are a variety of meats and turnips Enjoy your holidays

  • Jean says:

    Very interesting and informative as always. Love reading your articles.

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