A Traditional Scottish Breakfast
I read a wonderful description of a traditional Scottish breakfast recently. It comes from Sir Walter Scott’s novel Waverley. Despite the fact that Scott was famous for over-romanticising Scotland and its customs, it must be one of the most beautiful descriptions of any breakfast in the whole of the English language:
“He found Miss Bradwardine presiding over the tea and coffee, the table loaded with warm bread, both of flour, oatmeal, and barleymeal, in the shape of loaves, cakes, biscuits, and other varieties, together with eggs, reindeer ham, mutton and beef ditto, smoked salmon, marmalade, and all the other delicacies which induced even Johnson himself to extol the luxury of a Scotch breakfast above that of all other countries. A mess of oatmeal porridge, flanked by a silver jug, which held an equal mixture of cream and butter-milk, was placed for the Baron’s share of this repast;”
What a sumptuous feast, a table groaning with all the good things we have in Scotland. Good, wholesome food. It is interesting that Scott mentions Samuel Johnson, who is famous for his scathing definition of oatmeal in his dictionary, “’a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”. It only took a trip round Scotland, almost twenty years later, for Johnson’s views to be completely reversed, “In the breakfast, the Scots, whether of the lowlands or mountain must be confessed to excel us. The tea and coffee are accompanied not only with butter, but with honey, conserves, and marmalades. If an epicure could remove by a wish in quest of sensual gratification, wherever he had supped, he would breakfast in Scotland.”
Well there’s a change of attitude if I ever saw one. Today when we think of a Scottish breakfast it would most likely be the fried affair. All those greasy meats piled on to a cold plate. Its the sort of food that presents a sort of eating challenge, one you could only succeed in by being hungover and still slightly drunk; only to experience despair and anticlimax.
Not that you would want to eat all those rich meats that make up Scott’s breakfast at one sitting. The elements that make up a fried breakfast are all good things – but why do they need to be on a plate all at once – that is just greedy, and unhealthy to boot. It is funny how we have a romantic notion for French breakfasts – a baguette, fruit and jam, maybe a little cheese and ham. We come back from holiday and wish we ate like that all the time, when this French breakfast is more like this description of a traditional scottish breakfast, written two hundred years ago.
The beautiful descriptions above remind us of how splendid you can make a breakfast table in Scotland – with brambles in the autumn, jams, marmalade and honey, and all the wonderful smoked fish too. An Abroath smokie served hot with fresh butter must be one the most delicious things we have. I jug mine, like you would kippers. Put the smokies in a jug large enough that only the tail sticks out of the top. Fill up with boiling water and leave for 5 – 10 minutes. Smokies are hot smoked so they can be eaten cold and are excellent with brown bread and butter. Jugging them softens them and makes it easier to remove the skin. Take it out and drain it well, open it up and dot it with butter. Serve with good bread or toast.