A taste of how our Stuart ancestors ate

Sandy Neil and Ols Hofer (from Sealed Knot as a Master Gunner of the Scots Brigade Artillery at Philiphaugh battle site nr Selkirk with food from Traquair House gift shop.
Sandy Neil and Ols Hofer (from Sealed Knot as a Master Gunner of the Scots Brigade Artillery at Philiphaugh battle site nr Selkirk with food from Traquair House gift shop.
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For a long time now, I’ve been meaning to start a new theme of monthly articles called “The Ages of Border Food”, following what Borderers have eaten from prehistory to the twentieth century, featuring either in chronological order or sometimes with jumps ahead or back in time if there was something topical going in.

So this month, to get you in the seventeenth century mood for the re-enactment of the 1645 Battle of Philiphaugh on August 13-14, and two events at Traquair in August, the Traquair Fair (August 6-7) and Borders, Books and Bikes (August 20-21), we’re going to start our Borders culinary journey through time in the Stuart era.

Twenty years after my Scottish history lessons with Dr Wilson at St Mary’s in Melrose, I’d forgotten just how long the Stuarts oversaw our food culture, and fearing I’d perhaps bitten off more than I could chew, I decided to try to focus our trip to the years 1603-1746.

While the Royal House of Stuart reigned in Scotland from Robert II in 1371, the line came to rule England and Ireland too with James VI and I after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, until the last Stuart monarch, Anne of Great Britain, died in 1714 and the House of Hanover succeeded to the throne.

The Stuarts hadn’t quite finished however, leading two Jacobite Risings to restore the Stuart kings to the throne: the first by the Old Pretender James Francis Edward Stuart in 1715, known as The 15, and the second by his son, the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart in 1745, called The 45. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 ended all hopes of a Stuart restoration.

The six Stuart monarchs of England, Scotland and Ireland were interrupted by an interregnum from 1649 to 1660 after the English Civil War - just one of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms: an intertwined series of conflicts arising when the three countries came under the personal rule of Charles I. The Battle of Philiphaugh in 1645 was fought as part of the War of the Three Kingdoms, and the Covenanters’ victory under General Leslie against the Royalists commanded by the Marquis of Montrose ended King Charles’ cause in Scotland.

During the weekend of the battle re-enactment at Philiphaugh near Selkirk, the Waterwheel Café overlooking the battlefield will be serving Stuart dishes, including knot biscuits (twisted, spiced shortbread), gingerbread with claret, chicken cullis, and a battlefield pie with a Stuart chutney. “The soldiers will need a hunky thing to stuff in their pockets to keep them going during the battle,” forecasts Lynn Hume, chef to the battle. For children, there’ll even be taster pots of gruel.

Scotland has long had a special relationship with France, and has often turned to her for support in skirmishes with England. Although strong links go back to the 12th century, it was during the 16th century that the Auld Alliance between the two countries really brought about a change in culinary fashions.

James V of Scotland married a French noblewoman, Mary of Guise-Lorraine, and she brought with her to the court at Holyrood in Edinburgh a large retinue of servants and courtiers. Entertaining in the French matter became all the rage, and fashionable people vied with one another to follow her lead and set the most lavish table. The fashions set by Mary of Guise-Lorraine were strengthened by her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, who had been brought up at the French court.

Everybody connected with court circles now wanted a French chef, and their tables overflowed with a wasteful abundance of rich food.

These extravagances led to a real food shortage, and in 1581 a law had to be passed to prevent “superfluous banquetting”. Dishes were allotted according to one’s station in life, and fines imposed if regulations were contravened.

During this century the practice of eating dessert was introduced from France. Before this sweet and savoury dishes had been served side by side.

These culinary fashions were at first confined to Edinburgh and its environs such as the Borders, and it was not until the eighteenth century that elaborate cooking became the vogue in wealthier houses throughout Scotland.

Although the direct association with France came to an end with the unification of the English and Scottish Parliaments in 1707, French influence is still apparent in the kitchens of Scottish life today: gigot or jiggot from gigot, a leg of mutton; ashet from assiette, a dish; grosert, the gooseberry, from groseille.

There are a number of Franco-Scottish dishes: Lorraine soup, veal Flory, and others, and a very close similarity between the French pot-au-feu and the early Scots strong broth, both eaten in a deep old-fashioned soup plate.

While England could be characterised as a nation of roasters, a focus for Scottish food through the ages has been the big cooking pot. I cannot be the only Scot whose heart fills with joy accepting a main course in a deep broth-trencher: the meat and vegetables piled up, surrounded by natural cooking juices. It’s my favourite meal: you start with a knife and fork, and end with a spoon.

A 17th century recipe kindly dug up by Catherine Maxwell Stuart from the archives at Traquair describes one such dish called “The King of France’s Maigre Soop”. The recipe is: “A Chopine of dryed whyte peese boiled in a quart of water draw off the water into a clean pot, then ad to the water 24 carrots 12 Pasnips 6 Turnips Six Leeks 4 Stalks Salary 24 onions a hand full of parslie roots, one cabbage wash them in boiling water ere you put them in the pot and tye them in different parcells. Then take half a nutmeg 4 Cloves and a little coriander Seed (as much as will ly on a knife point) and put them in a piece clean linnen with a proper honable quantity of Salt. Boill the whole 10 hours on a slow fire and Soak your bread in this Liquor.”

It was during the 17th century that Scotland’s most famous product, whisky, was properly developed.

Aqua vitae (Latin for water of life) was distilled by religious establishments as early as 1494, but the Highlander either drank the fresh burn water, or milk, buttermilk and whey. Ale was drunk in the Lowlands, and wine was brewed from native fruits and plants.

Heavy duties were imposed on imports of French wine, but to compensate for this, a clause in the law allowed families to distill sufficient whisky in their own homes for the need of the household. Turplus barley would be malted and turned into uisge-beatha (Gaelic for water of life) in a pot still over a peat fire. Clansmen would carry scallop shells with them to use as tumblers for their whisky.

Naturally, home distilling spread rapidly, and assumed great importance in Scotland’s economy, being used for rent and barter and servants’ wages.

After the Union with England in 1707 the English parliament imposed a duty on it, but this led to an even greater increase in illicit distilling. During the 18th century it became established as the standard drink for morning, noon and night.

Again thanks to the research skills of the current Lady of Traquair, we can publish from the archives there another 18th century recipe, this time for “cock ale”:

“Take three goode cocks, parboyle them, and take the skin and beate the bones and put them in a pinte of seck [a dry white wine] and let it stand all night, and in the morning take 4 gallons of ale when it hath well wrought the barme from it, and putt in the cocks with the liquor and two pound off raisins ston’d and well bruis’d ane pound of dates ston’d and bruis’d, 3 nutmegs some clov’s all beaten and ane orange slic’d putt them all in youre barrel and stop it five days then draw it off in botles.”

A brewery existed at Traquair since Mary Queen of Scot’s visit in 1566. The craft brewery was revived in 1965 by Catherine Stuart’s father, the 20th Laird of Traquair. Jacobite Ale, brewed to commemorate the anniversary of the 1745 rebellion, is spiced with coriander using an eighteenth century recipe discovered from the same old beer book unearthed in Traquair’s archives.

This year Gary Moore, the chef at Traquair’s 1745 Restaurant, has been inspired by Jacobite Ale to create three chutneys, a mustard and a marinade. His three chutneys (tomato and basil, spiced pear and sweet red onion), smokey BBQ marinade and “Dynamite Jacobite” hot mustard all contain lashings of Jacobite Ale.

“For 30 kilos of chutney, we reduce 36 pints of Jacobite to just 2 or 3. We only get a tenth back, but it’s concentrated!” he says.

The coriander-flavoured ale also spices a Traquair Bannock, Traquair Spice Cake, and a Jacobite Ale ice cream churned by As Cool As at Overlangshaws Farm near Galashiels from its own milk and free-range farm eggs. All are available from Traquair’s 1745 Restaurant.

To finish however, let me leave you with a recipe for Stuart pudding, “a rice pudden”, again from the Traquair library, and definitely more palatable to today’s tastes than cock ale.

“Take halfe a pounde off rice, and boile it in water till it be sore bruist then pour of the broth and make itt thin with sweete cream, and let it boile till it be thick, then take halfe a pounde off beefe sewett and sheare it small, and six yolks off eggs and four whites and three spoonfuls off rose water, some grated nutmeg and halfe a pound off raisins, and steere them well together, and put it in a plate, and cover it over with a sheete off puff’t paste, making a pretty worke that some off the pudden may be seene, then sett it in the oven till it be hardned.”