Scottish Food Glossary

By Mike Lewis

Scotland is noted for its distinctive and unusual food - the names of which are often baffling to outsiders. So for the benefit of those who don't know their brose from their brees or their skink from their skirlie-mirlie, here's a run-down of Scottish culinary terms (written with the vegetarian reader very much in mind).

Abernethy biscuitsA sweet biscuit (cookie) containing caraway seeds, which give it a pungent flavor. Invented by Dr. John Abernethy as an aid to digestion. Recipe.
Arbroath smokieA type of smoked haddock, a specialty of the town of Arbroath in Angus. One of the few Scottish food items to enjoy EU Protected Geographical Indication status.
Atholl broseA drink made by mixing honey and whisky with water in which oatmeal has been steeping. Thought to be named after the 1st Earl of Atholl, who (legend has it) used it to contaminate his enemies' water supplies.
bannockA flat, round cake, similar to an oatcake but thicker and softer - in fact, more like a scone. See also Selkirk bannock.
bashed neepsTurnips (swede or rutabaga) mashed with butter and spices. See also neeps.
black bunBest described as a rich fruit cake baked in a case of pastry. Originally from the Borders and eaten at Hogmanay.
brambleScottish term for blackberry.
breeJuice or liquid in which something has been soaked.
broseA mixture of oatmeal and boiling water or milk. See also Atholl brose. "Brose and Bannock Day" is an old term for Shrove Tuesday.
burnt creamThe same as the French crème brulée, that is, a dessert consisting of a creamy base and a caramel topping. Legend has it that it was introduced into Trinity College, Cambridge, by a student from Aberdeenshire.
butteriesSimilar to croissants, but richer and saltier. Popular in Aberdeen, where they are eaten at breakfast. Traditional recipes use lard, but commercial versions are generally made with vegetable oils. Also known as rowies or Aberdeen rolls.
clapshotA combination of mashed potatoes, neeps and chives, originally from Orkney. Traditional recipes include beef dripping, but a vegetarian version may be made with butter or margarine.
clootie dumplingA sweet, spicy dumpling traditionally steamed in a cloth (cloot), but now more often made in a conventional steamer.
cock-a-leekieA soup made by boiling a whole chicken (especially a cockerel, hence the name) with leeks. In some parts of Scotland, prunes are also added. Easily adapted for vegetarians and vegans. Recipe.
cranachanA rich dessert made with cream, oatmeal and raspberries. See also crowdie. Recipe.
crowdieA crumbly soft cheese from the Highlands. Cream crowdie is a dessert made with oatmeal and cream; the term is also used as an alternative to cranachan.
crumpetA small pancake, made with self-raising flour or baking powder, and cooked in a pan or on a griddle. Eaten with butter and/or jam. Not to be confused with the English crumpet, which is made with yeast.
Cullen skinkA soup made with haddock and milk, originating from the village of Cullen, near Elgin.
deep-fried Mars barA Mars bar (a chocolate confection containing nougat and caramel, similar to the American Milky Way) which has been deep-fried in batter. Thought to have been invented in a fish-and-chip shop in Stonehaven in the mid 1990s, and now sold by chippies throughout the country. Often cited as the epitome of unhealthy Scottish cuisine.
DunlopA mild cheese, similar to Cheddar, from the town of Dunlop, in Ayrshire.
Finnan haddieSmoked haddock, originally from Finnan, near Aberdeen.
Forfar bridieA meat pasty, originally from the town of Forfar in Angus.
haggisHard to explain. Essentially, it's a mixture of various internal organs of a calf or lamb, ground into a mince with oatmeal and seasoning, and stuffed into a sheep's stomach-bag. Definitely not veggie-friendly, but vegetarian versions are possible (for example, see our recipe for vegan haggis). Traditionally served on Burns Night.
Lanark blueA blue-veined cheese made from sheep's milk. It is produced in the village of Carnwath in Lanarkshire.
neepsColloquial term for turnips. But be careful. What Scots call turnips, the English call swedes, and Americans call rutabaga (or Swedish turnips). See also What exactly are neeps?
oatcakesThin savory biscuits (crackers) made from oatmeal. Traditionally made with lard, but modern commercial varieties use vegetable oils instead and are therefore suitable for vegetarians. Recipe.
porridgeOne of the best known of all Scottish dishes. Made by stirring oatmeal into boiling water or milk. Optionally served with sugar. Usually, but not always, eaten at breakfast.
rumblethumps,  rumbledethumpsA dish made with potatoes, cabbage, onions and cheese, similar to the English bubble and squeak or the Irish colcannon. Former British prime minister Gordon Brown named it as his favorite dish. Recipe.
Scotch brothA warming and sustaining soup, usually made with barley, vegetables and meat, and cooked slowly. A vegetarian version may be made by omitting the meat and adding extra barley or vegetables. Recipe.
Selkirk bannockA type of bannock, made with wheat flour rather than oatmeal, and containing raisins or other dried fruit. Thought to be invented by a baker in Selkirk in the Borders, and popularized by Queen Victoria who ate them on a visit to nearby Abbotsford.
shortbreadA sweet biscuit (cookie), made with flour, sugar and butter. Although not exclusive to Scotland, it is often regarded as a sort of national icon, along with bagpipes, tartan and heather. Recipe.
skinkA soup, usually made with fish. See also Cullen skink.
skirlieA dish made with oatmeal and onions. It's traditionally made with beef dripping and is therefore unsuitable for vegetarians, but a vegetarian versions may be made with butter or margarine. See also skirlie-mirlie.
skirlie-mirlieA dish made with mashed potatoes and neeps, or sometimes parsnips.
stoviesA potato dish, usually made by slowly stewing potatoes with onions in a small amount of water. The term is also used for a dish of left-over potatoes and meat. The verb "to stove" means to stew (possibly from the French étuvé).
tabletSimilar to fudge, but with a brittle, grainy texture.
tattiesColloquial term for potatoes. A tattie scone is a potato scone.
tipsy lady, tipsy lairdTrifle, usually made with sherry or whisky (hence the name).
Tunnock's TeacakesA popular confection consisting of a shortbread base, a marshmallow-like filling, and an outer coating of chocolate, all wrapped in a distinctive foil wrapper. Completely suitable for vegetarians. They have been made by the same family firm for over 120 years. No connection with the English teacake, which is more like a sweet fruity bun.

July 2011

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