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Scottish spices. May 27, 2010

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


My favorite rhubarb pie. May 25, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, recipes, Uncategorized.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s rhubarb season here in scenic PA, and our friend Ben and I have been making the most of it by visiting the local Amish and Mennonite farm stands in search of rhubarb pie. Coming from the South, rhubarb was an acquired taste for us, but once we worked up the nerve to try it, we came to love its distinctive tangy-tart flavor.

Rhubarb is very popular in our area, and you can even find pies and baked goods made from the old-time green-stemmed varieties, which are reputed to be far more flavorful than the red-stemmed rhubarb which is so popular now. You can find strawberry-rhubarb pies at practically any farm stand and farmers’ market here, some with elaborately latticed top crusts, others with an oatmeal crumb topping. (Both are good.) Rarely, I’ll find a plain rhubarb pie—no strawberries—which I like better. But my favorite rhubarb pie is rhubarb custard pie. The tangy rhubarb and the sweet custard make a delightful combination.

Looking through my collection of area cookbooks for a rhubarb custard pie recipe to share with you, I decided that the one in The Palm Schwenkfelder Church Cookbook had too much flour and too little milk. The Kutztown Area Historical Society Commemorative Cookbook also failed me—the rhubarb pie recipe it featured included red Jell-O (eeewwww)!

Fortunately, the recipe in Boyertown Area Cookery looks more promising. It still uses flour, which I’d avoid, simply cooking the pie a bit longer to get the right thickness without the floury undertaste, and it doesn’t add vanilla to the custard, which I would. But it looks tasty and easy to prepare, so here’s the recipe, just as it was submitted by Cora Hasson. Try it, I hope you’ll like it!

                      Rhubarb Custard Pie

Stew rhubarb, using as little water as possible, until soft and mushy. (Do not add sugar.)

1 1/4 cups stewed rhubarb

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

Beat eggs and sugar together then add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Pour into a pastry-lined 8-inch pie plate. Bake at 450 degrees F for 10-15 minutes, then at 350 degrees until done. A little nutmeg or cinnamon can be added. If you want to use leftover stewed rhubarb that has been sweetened, use less sugar.

It’s only appropriate that the beloved “pie plant” is so popular in Pennsylvania, since rhubarb was introduced to America by none other than the great Benjamin Franklin, our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, in 1772. (He’d apparently taken a fancy to it in England.) So thank the good Doctor Franklin and treat yourself to a slice of rhubarb pie!

                     ‘Til next time,