When it comes to great world cuisines, or even great Western European culinary traditions, Scotland doesn't typically make the cut.
I'm not an expert in these matters. But if I were looking for a reason why Scottish cooks fail to impress, I'd say it's because of dishes such as haggis, which not only sounds unappetizing but also might make you hurl when you learn what's in it (sheep's heart, liver and lungs mixed with minced onion, oatmeal, suet and spices) and how it's cooked (boiled in the sheep's stomach).
Even when Scottish food is tasty, it often comes with a weird (to American ears, at least) name that gives all but the most robust eaters pause. For instance, what do you picture when you hear "cullin skink"? If you're like me, I'll bet it's a small forest animal, not a thick soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. Other head-scratchers include rumbledethumps, a mixture of sauteed potatoes, cabbage and onions; neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes); and cock-a-leekie soup, made of chicken and leeks.
Much more to American sensibilities are sweets such as Scottish shortbread and rich white scones. That's why scores of both will be sold at The St. Andrew's Society of Pittsburgh's National Tartan Day celebration on Saturday, April 6.
"And there also will be individual meat pies, and shepherd's pies, or what I call Scottish comfort foods," said Dolly Campbell, who is helping to organize the event.
But alas, or maybe thank goodness, no haggis.
This is at least the 15th year for the free event, which, like dozens of similar events across the U.S. and Canada, has two purposes: to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, which asserted Scotland's sovereignty over English territorial claims, and to celebrate Americans who claim Scottish heritage.
That group would include me, who despite my German first name and Irish last name, can trace my heritage to the land where tartans originated in woven wool hundreds of years ago. One of my favorite family photographs is one taken of my paternal grandfather, George Trent, in 1916, when he was a 20-year-old architecture student at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). In it, he's wearing a kilt -- the first drum major at Tech ever to do so, according to my father, who also went to school there. (Apparently, my grandfather rented it.) The tradition stuck, and today, everyone in the Kiltie Band wears the traditional knee-length garment.
Bigger cities such as New York hold Tartan Day parades with pipe bands and dance groups, but it's a bit more low-key here in Pittsburgh, where the event at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Bethel Park will start at 10 a.m. and run until 5 p.m. But it won't be any less enthusiastic.
Scheduled entertainment includes fiddlers, balladeers, folk singing and the Macdonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh. Celebrated bagpiper George Balderose also will perform, as will two dance groups: The Pittsburgh Scottish Country Dancers, and Celtic Spirit Highland Dancers. In addition, several workshops will be held throughout the day, including ones on Scotch whisky (sorry, no tasting!), genealogy, jewelry making and how to speak Gaelic. There also will be raffles for prizes and baskets of cheer, the proceeds of which will go towards scholarships awarded to young Pittsburghers studying the Scottish arts.
And of course there will be the aforementioned food, because no celebration is complete without it.
"This is one of the few times and places Scottish comfort foods are sold locally," said Mrs. Campbell. "We expect, as in the past, we will sell out pretty quickly."
In other words, if you plan on going, you might want to eat first. And if you can't make it? Below we offer a few traditional Scottish recipes to help celebrate the day at home.
Bain sult as! Bon appetit!
The St. Andrew's Society of Pittsburgh's Tartan Day Celebration runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 6 at Bethel Presbyberian Church, 2999 Bethel Church Road, Bethel Park. Parking and admission are free; for more information, visit www.standrewspittsburgh.org.
Just as French toast wasn't born in France, Scotch eggs do not come from Scotland. Rather, they were invented by London department store Fortnum & Mason in 1738.
If you don't have corn flakes, substitute panko bread crumbs, crushed Ritz crackers or regular bread crumbs. Popular Scottish variations on classic sausage meat include black pudding, haggis, venison or less conventional alternatives such as salmon. I made them with eggs from a chicken, but you also could use quail, goose or duck eggs. Keep the sausage coating as thin as possible to make sure it cooks thoroughly.
These can be made 1 day ahead and kept refrigerated, uncovered.
6 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup finely crushed corn flakes
7 ounces ( 3/4 cup) fresh breakfast sausage, casings removed (I used Bob Evan's sausage)
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Mustard for dipping
Place 4 eggs in a small saucepan; add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil; remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 3 minutes (I did 12 minutes for harder eggs). Carefully drain, then fill pan with ice water to cool eggs. Gently crack shells and carefully peel. Place eggs in a bowl of cold water; cover and chill until cold. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)
Place flour in a wide shallow bowl and crushed corn flakes in another wide shallow bowl. Divide sausage into 4 equal portions. Pat 1 portion of sausage into a thin patty over the length of your palm. Lay 1 soft-boiled egg on top of sausage and wrap sausage around egg, sealing to completely enclose. Repeat with remaining sausage and eggs.
Whisk remaining 2 eggs in a medium bowl to blend. Working gently with 1 sausage-wrapped egg at a time, dip eggs into flour, shaking off excess, then coat in egg wash. Roll in corn flakes to coat.
Attach a deep-fry thermometer to side of a large heavy pot. Pour in oil to a depth of 2 inches and heat over medium heat to 375 degrees. Fry eggs, turning occasionally and maintaining oil temperature of 350 degrees, until sausage is cooked through and breading is golden brown and crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer eggs to paper towels to drain. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Serve warm with mustard.
Makes 4 servings.
-- Bon Appetit
Sausages in Pastry Coats
"Most pubs serve sausages in 1 or more forms as Gaels have a boundless enthusiasm for them," writes Kay Shaw Nelson in "The Scotch-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook: Recipes and Lore from Celtic Kitchens." We agree they make a great nosh.
24 links pork sausage
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cut into small squares
About 4 tablespoons cold water
1 large egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a baking pan.
In a large skillet, partially cook sausages by frying over medium-high heat to release most of the fat. Drain on paper towels; cool.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour and salt. With a pastry blender, cut in shortening until mixture is uniformly crumbly. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, enough to make a firm dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle. Cut into 24 strips, each about 21/2 by 3 inches. Place a sausage link in the center of each strip and roll up, leaving ends of sausage out. Seal pastry edges with a little cold water. Cut a couple of small slashes across the top of each roll. Brush tops with beaten egg.
Place rolls about 1 inch apart on prepared sheet and bake until rolls are crisp and golden, about 20 minutes.
Serve hot or cold with mustard. Makes 24.
-- "The Scotch-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook: Recipes and Lore from Celtic Kitchens" by Kay Shaw Nelson (Hippocrene, 2009)
This recipe comes from noted Scottish chef Tom Kitchin, who at age 29 became Scotland's youngest winner of a Michelin star, for his restaurant The Kitchin. It will be among the "good, honest, simple" fare served at his new pub, The Scran & Scallie, which opened earlier this month in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. It's a great example of how pub food can be fuss-free and yet still delicious.
I used cod and omitted the shellfish (my husband's allergic). My parents couldn't stop raving about the dish, which is the seafood version of mashed potato-topped shepherd's pie.
16 ounces milk
2 ounces butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons grain mustard
8 cups milk
2 fillets firm fish of your choice, such as cod, haddock or salmon (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 fillet smoked fish for flavor (about 7 ounces)
4 to 6 langoustines or large shrimp
2 pounds russet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
1 egg for egg wash
Make bechamel by bringing milk to a simmer in a small pot. Set aside. In another pan, melt the butter gently over medium heat then add flour and stir until the mixture is smooth.
Now begin adding the milk a little at a time to avoid lumps. Keep adding milk and stirring, until you have a rich, creamy sauce. Allow to cook slowly for 5 minutes then add the grain mustard. Set aside.
Cook fish by gently heating milk, taking care that it does not boil over. Add the raw fish and poach in the milk for three to 4 minutes. Add the smoked fish and poach for a further three to 4 minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside.
Peel the langoustines/shrimp and gently poach them in the same milk for 2 to 3 minutes. (Keep the heads for decoration.) Set the milk aside to use in the mashed potato.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the potatoes on a tray and bake in a hot oven until crispy and soft. While still hot, scoop out the flesh, discard the skins and mash the potato to remove any lumps.
Re-heat the milk used for poaching the fish previously and add 2 tablespoons butter and fold through the potato mixture. Season to taste.
To make the pie, butter a 9-inch pie pan and spread a small amount of bechamel on the bottom of the dish. On top of that spread the poached fish and quartered eggs. Spread with the remaining bechamel.
Top with mashed potatoes, langoustine heads (if using) and brush with an beaten egg. Place baking dish on a tray and put in a 400-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling. Serves 4 to 6.
-- adapted from Chef Tom Kitchin via Scotsman.com
I didn't have time to test this traditional dessert pudding from Sue McCracken, who is the national catering manager of The National Trust of Scotland. (It's her Grannie's recipe.) Made with suet (a type of fat), dried fruit and spices, it's served hot with jam and/or cream or custard or ice-cream. Leftovers can be fried with bacon for breakfast.
The name "Cloutie" (it rhymes with "hootie") refers to the cloth, or clout, in which the pudding is boiled.
8 ounces self-rising flour, plus extra for dusting
4 ounces grated vegetable or beef suet
2 1/2 ounces demerara sugar
2 1/2 ounces caster (very fine) sugar
2 heaping teaspoons mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice is a good alternative)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg
8 ounces mixed dried fruit
2 free-range eggs
2 tablespoons treacle (a type of golden syrup)
1 cup full-fat milk or buttermilk
Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Stir in dried fruit.
Add eggs and treacle and mix well. Add milk sparingly; mixture should be dropping consistency (not quite soft enough to fall off a spoon) but not too wet.
Line a linen tea towel with grease-proof paper and dust with flour.
Spoon mixture onto the lined tea towel, and gather tea towel into a ball. Tie securely, allowing room for a wee bit expansion.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and place a metal jar lid or plate on the bottom so that the clout (ball) does not touch the bottom of the pan. Lower the clout carefully into the pan, and boil for 21/2 hours, making sure the water is topped up and keeps at a boil.
Remove from the pan and carefully peel off the cloth. Dry off on a plate in a low oven for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with custard or ice cream.
Serves 6 to 8.
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.