Spring Nettle Broth
“Three platefuls of this broth was considered the best pick-me-up after a long, cold winter devoid of fresh greens,” writes Catherine Brown. “In some areas families gathered for nettle kail suppers on Shrove Tuesday to bless the spring work. We now know that nettles are one of the richest sources of iron and increase blood cells, making us feel better.”
Here is her recipe for spring nettle broth with lamb and potatoes, from Classic Scots Cookery:
1.5kg (3lb 5oz) neck, shoulder, shank or flank of lamb; 3l (5pts) water; several sprigs of parsley and thyme, plus 3 bay leaves tied in a bundle with celery stalk or leek leaves; 3 tbsp pil or dripping; 2 medium onions, finely chopped; 4 medium potatoes, thinly sliced; 250g (9oz) young nettle tops, very finely chopped; salt and pepper.
Cooking the Meat: Put the meat into a large soup pot and add the water. Bring to simmering point. Skim, then add the herbs and cook till the meat is tender and falling off the bones (one to two hours). Strain and leave meat to cool. Cut off the meat and slice into bite-sized pieces.
Cooking the Vegetables: Heat the oil or dripping in the pan and add the onions. Cook gently till transparent and soft. Add the potatoes, toss in the oil, cover and leave on a low heat for a few minutes. Stir regularly. Add the broth liquid and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes till the potatoes are soft. Add the nettles. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately with some of the sliced lamb in the centre of deep soup plates, along with bannocks or oatcakes.
Kilmeny Kail is a rabbit, bacon and cabbage or kail soup, served with oatcakes, here given by Catherine Brown in Scottish Regional Recipes:
1 young rabbit approx. 1¼lb (625g); 1lb bacon in a piece (500g); 2pts water (1l); salt and pepper; 1lb greens, cabbage and/or kail, finely chopped (500g).
Clean the rabbit well and cut into pieces. Put into a large pot with the bacon. Cover with water, bring to the boil, skim and simmer for 2-3 hours. When meat is cooked, add greens and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Remove the rabbit and pork and serve separately. Dice a little of the meat and return it to the soup as garnish. Check seasoning, adjust consistency and serve with oatcakes.
“Known as Hairst Bree (harvest broth), the flavour of this soup depends on the use of really fresh vegetables,” writes Janet Warren in A Feast of Scotland. “The quaint name is thought to be a corruption of the French hocher, which means to shake together or mix up ingredients. Spring onions are sometimes called ‘syboes’ in Scotland, from the French ‘cibo’.” Catherine Browns in Classic Scots Cookery thought even though “the Scots have few classic vegetable dishes, it’s in broths like this that they excel in the subtle combination of fresh vegetables and herbs.” Here’s Janet Warren’s hotch potch:
1½lb middle neck of lamb, chopped; 8oz shelled peas (1½ cups); 40z prepared broad beans (½ cup); 6 spring onions, trimmed and chopped; 2 carrots, peeled and chopped; 1lb turnip, peeled and chopped; 1 medium cauliflower; 1 small lettuce; salt; 4 pts water (10 cups); 1 level tablespoon chopped parsley.
Trim the meat and put it into a pan with the water and some salt. Bring to the boil then skim the surface carefully. Add half the peas and all the broad beans, onions, carrots and turnips, and simmer for an hour. Meanwhile trim the cauliflower and break it into small florets and finely shred the lettuce. When the hour is up add the rest of the peas, the cauliflower and lettuce and simmer for 30 minutes. Check for seasoning then stir in the parsley and serve.
“It was a land of milk and honey when the Border monasteries were at the height of their wealth and power,” writes Catherine Brown in Scottish Regional Recipes. “The friars not only ate well but also, according to Meg Dods, possessed many ‘admirable receipts in cookery’.” Here is Meg Dods’ recipe from her Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826).
1½pt chicken or veal or lamb stock (725ml); 4oz cooked chicken, finely chopped (100g); 3 eggs; ¼pt cream (150ml); 1tbsp parsley, finely chopped; salt and pepper.
“Make a clear stock of veal, or mutton-shanks, or trimmings of fowls. Strain into a nice saucepan, and put a fine white chicken, or young fowl or two, cut down as for curry, into it. Season with salt, white pepper, mace and shred parsley. Thicken, when the soup is finished, with the beat yolks of two eggs, and take great care that they do not curdle. Serve with the carved chicken in the soup.”
Angus Fish Soup
“With a strong fishing tradition, soups and broths using the leftover bones and heads are typical examples of Scottish thriftiness,” observes Catherine Brown in Scottish Regional Recipes. “Although it has a humble beginning, this particular soup is finished with the French egg and cream thickening which makes a delicate light soup in contrast to the heavier broths. It seems quite possible that this soup, like Friar’s Chicken was introduced to this area by the medieval French monks who settled in large numbers in the Borders.”
6 fresh haddock heads; 2pts water (1l); 1 small carrot; 1 slice turnip; 1 stick celery; 3-4 sprigs of parsley; salt and pepper; 2oz butter (50g); 2oz flour (50g); ½pt milk (250ml); 1 egg yolk; 3tbsp double cream.
Rinse the heads and place in a pan with the cold water, bring to the boil and skim. Add vegetables, parsley and seasoning. Simmer till the vegetables are tender. Strain. Melt the butter in a pan and add flour to make a white roux. Gradually add strained broth and then milk. Cook for a few minutes. Season, blend in the egg yolk and cream. Heat through but do not boil. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley.
Hodgils is a Border name for herby oatmeal dumplings bobbing in beef broth, made using F Marian McNeill’s recipe in The Scots Kitchen. “Put some oatmeal into a bowl, season it with pepper, salt and chopped chives (if liked). Mix with fat from the top of the broth. Form into balls and pop into boiling broth. Cook for twenty minutes. Serve with meat.”