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Scottish spices. May 27, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,

Silence Dogood here. Over the years, people have come onto our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, every now and again searching for “Scottish spices.” I’m not sure how they ended up on our blog with this search phrase, but it happened again this morning and intrigued me. Having seen some marvelous Scottish cookbooks, I know that modern Scots* cuisine uses a wide range of spices. But what about traditional Scottish cuisine?

Heading to my good friend Google, I typed in “spices used in traditional Scottish cuisine” and came up with quite a number of articles on Scottish cooking, but a disappointing dearth of information on spices. (“Haggis is made of blah, blah, blah and spices.” Gee, thanks for letting us know.)

From what I could discover, it appears that black pepper, both whole and ground, and salt, unsurprisingly often sea salt, were the primary spices used in traditional Scottish cuisine. Ginger, nutmeg, caraway, bay leaves, and mustard were also occasionally mentioned. Other flavorings came from parsley, celery, onions, leeks, gherkins (little sour pickles), lemons, wine, and vinegar.

This paucity of spices is explained by Wikipedia: “Scotland’s natural larder of game, dairy, fish, fruit, and vegetables [Oops, they forgot grains. What about oatmeal and barley?—Silence] 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.” But it goes on to say: “…Scotland was a feudal state for the greater part of the second millennium… In the halls of the great men of the realm, one could expect… expensive spices (pepper, cloves, cinnamon, etc.)…” Wikipedia also notes that 20th-century immigration to Scotland from the Middle East, Pakistan and India introduced more spicing to contemporary Scottish and Scottish fusion cusine.

So that’s what I learned about Scottish spices. If anyone knows more, please check in and tell us all!

Meanwhile, in the course of my researches, I found a website just packed with Scottish recipes. It’s called Traditional Scottish Recipes. Check it out at www.rampantscotland.com/recipes/. I can’t resist sharing one with you. No, it’s not haggis, cullen skink or colcannon! It’s rhubarb season around here, and my eye was caught by a recipe for “Drunken Rhubarb Crumble.” As they note, “whisky adds zest!” Note that in addition to the whisky, spicing is provided in this recipe with coriander, allspice, and grated lemon and orange peel.

                   Drunken Rhubarb Crumble


1 1/2 pounds raw rhubarb

3 fluid ounces (6 tablespoons) Scotch whisky

grated lemon and orange rind to taste

4 ounces demerara sugar (or 1 cup light brown sugar)

1 teaspoon allspice


6 ounces (2 cups) plain flour

3 ounces (1/2 stick) butter [er, that’s 4 ounces in the U.S.—Silence]

3 ounces caster sugar (scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar)

grated rind of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon allspice

Clean and chop the rhubarb into pieces and put in a 2-pint pie dish. [Hmmm. Not sure of the U.S. equivalent, but I’d try a square 8-inch brownie pan, since it’s a crumble.—Silence]  Add the other ingredients for the filling and stir well. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and rub in the butter—the mixture will eventually look like small breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, grated lemon rind, coriander, and allspice and mix well. Spread the topping over the rhubarb. Bake in a preheated 200-degree C./400-degree F./Gas Mark 6 oven for 30 minutes, by which time it should be golden brown. Serve hot with custard or ice cream. Serves 4. [Four?!!—Silence]

Yum! Sounds like a winner to me. Let me know what you think if you try it! And once rhubarb season is over, the recipe notes that you can subsitute sliced apples instead.

               ‘Til next time,


*Note to American readers: In the U.S., “Scotch” correctly refers to whisky made in Scotland and to 3M tape. It is also used lower-cased in a number of colloquialisms (“we had to scotch that plan”). But the people of Scotland and all other references to things Scottish are correctly referred to as either Scottish or Scots.


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