Scotland's natural larder of game, dairy, fish, fruit, and vegetables is the integral factor in traditional Scots cooking, with a high reliance on simplicity and a lack of spices from abroad, which were often very expensive. While many inveterate dishes such as Scotch broth are considered healthy, many common dishes are rich in fat, contributes to the high rates of heart disease and obesity in the country. In recent times greater importance has been placed on the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, but many Scots, particularly those of low incomes, continue to have extremely poor diets, which contributes to Scotland's relatively high mortality rate from coronary heart disease.
Despite this, Scottish cuisine is enjoying a renaissance. As of 2006, nine restaurants with Michelin stars, served traditional or fusion cuisine made with local ingredients. In most towns, Chinese and Indian take-away restaurants exist along with traditional fish and chip shops. Larger towns and cities offer cuisine ranging from Thai and Japanese to Mexican, Polish or Turkish.
In common with many mediæval European neighbours, Scotland was a feudal state for a greater part of the second millennium. This put certain restrictions on what one was allowed to hunt, therefore to eat. In the halls of the great men of the realm, one could expect venison, boar, various fowl and songbirds, expensive spices (pepper, cloves, cinnamon, etc.), as well as the meats of domesticated species. From the journeyman down to the lowest cottar, meat was an expensive commodity, and would be consumed rarely. For the lower echelons of Mediæval Scots, it was the products of their animals rather than the beasts themselves which provided nourishment. This is evident today in traditional Scots fare, with its emphasis on dairy produce. It would appear that the average meal would consist of a pottage of herbs and roots, (and when available some meat or stock for flavouring) bread and cheese when possible.
Before Sir Walter Raleigh's introduction of the potato to the British Isles, the Scots' main sources of carbohydrate was gained from bread made from oats or barley. Wheat was generally difficult to grow because of the damp climate. Food thrift was evident from the earliest times, with excavated middens displaying little evidence of anything but the toughest bones. All parts of an animal were used.
The mobile nature of Scots society in the past required food that would not spoil quickly. It was common to carry a small bag of oatmeal that could be transformed into a basic porridge or oatcakes using a girdle (griddle). It is theorised that Scotland's national dish, haggis, originated in a similar way: A small amount of offal or low-quality meat, carried in the most inexpensive bag available, a sheep or pig's stomach. It has also been suggested that this dish was introduced by Norse invaders who were attempting to preserve their food during the long journey from Scandinavia.
With the advent of the sporting estate and enclosure in the 18th century, harvesting Scotland's larder became an industry. The railways further expanded the scope of the market, with Scots' Grouse at a premium (as today), on English Metropolitan menus shortly after the 12th of August.
Recently there seems to be a resurgence in traditional restaurants, gastro-pubs are abounding, and farmers' markets increasing their scope, not to mention the influence New Scots have had on the national palate.
During the 19th and 20th centuries there was large scale immigration to Scotland from Italy, and later from the Middle East, Pakistan and India. These cultures have influenced Scots cooking dramatically. The Italians reintroduced the standard of fresh produce, and the later comers introduced spice. With the enlargement of the European Union in the early years of the 21st century, there has been an increase in the population of Eastern European descent, from Poland in particular. It is too early to assess the impact that this will have on the future of Scots cookery, but a number of speciality restaurants and delicatessens catering for the various new immigrants have opened in the larger towns and cities.
In addition to independent fast-food outlets, in the sixties American-style burger bars and other restaurants such as Wimpy were introduced, and in the eighties, McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken appeared in Scotland.
First, Singe the Head of Your Sheep. A Plea to Celebrate Scotland's Cuisine. No Matter How Daunting the Recipe
Mar 18, 2004; Byline: BILL CLAPPERTON Whan big as burns the gutters rin, Gin ye hae catcht a droukit skin, To Luckie Middlemist's loup in, And...