The Scottish Kitchen – Food for an Outlander

If you haven’t caught Outlander fever yet, it is high time you did!  The amazing series of books by Diana Gabaldon have started to make their transition to the small screen, and so far the series has been very satisfying to long-time fans and newcomers alike.  I decided to follow my Scottish roots and research the foods and the events based around the people in the stories.  This past weekend I taught a cooking class at Cook’s Warehouse in Decatur, GA, and was surprised that half of the students and volunteers were there because they loved the books and series, and half had no idea about the stories, but were big fans of Scottish food!  The food all turned out great, and I think everyone had a good time learning to read their tea leaves!

The menu for the class was:
Mrs. Graham’s Oolong Tea
Scot’s Toasts
Lallybroch Hotch-Potch
Highland Beef Balls
Mrs. Fitz’s Rumbledethumps
Wedding Day Whiskey Cranachan
Captain Jack Randall’s Lavender Essence

Here are a few of the recipes from the class.  If you have any questions about them or are interested in more, just ask!

Mrs. Graham’s Oolong Tea

“It is a very favourite method with the Highlanders, where it is customary for the “guid wife” to read in her cup of tea at breakfast the events she may look for during the day.
Simple though they may probably be, there are to be seen in the tea-leaves, a letter, a parcel, a visitor, a wedding, and so on. It is said that no Highland seer would take money for making prognostications as to the future. This, no doubt, is one good reason for their powers as clairvoyants.” – Telling Fortunes by Tea Leaves, by Cicely Kent (1922)

Oolong tea is mentioned in the show as Mrs. Graham says that  Indian tea is too hard to read, and that was all she could get during the War.  Tea from India was considered inferior because it contains too much dust and twigs and cannot form into easily distinguishable pictures and symbols. Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis) produced through a unique process including withering the plant under the strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting.

Since the cooking school didn’t have any teacups, I broke out my wedding china cups to use in the class.  It was so nice to have them see the light of day!

For a glimpse into tea leaf reading in the Scottish Highlands, check out this free book courtesy of the Gutenberg Press:
Tea-Cup Reading And Fortune-Telling By Tea Leaves, By A Highland Seer

Lallybroch Hotch-Potch

‘Then here’s to ilka kindly Scot;
Wi’ mony gude broths he boils his pot,
But rare hotch-potch beats a’ the lot,
It smells and smacks sae brawly.’

“Hotch-potch, known also as Hairst Bree (Harvest Broth) is made only when the kail-yard is in its prime, and the soup is fragrant with the juices of young growing things. Where possible go out with a basket to select your vegetables within an hour or so of starting to prepare them.” – The Scots Kitchen, Its lore and recipes, by F. Marian McNeill (1929)


Hotch-Potch (Lamb and Spring Vegetable Soup)
3 lbs. neck of lamb or a good marrow bone
6 young carrots, peeled and diced
6 young turnips
1 medium cauliflower
1 head of firm green lettuce, e.g. romaine, young kale, spring greens
1 ½ pints fresh green peas
½ pint broad beans, shelled and skinned (canned broad beans speeds up the cooking time)
6 – 12 spring onions, sliced (‘Be generous with your onions’ says one housewife)
½ cup chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped mint (optional)

Put lamb or marrow bone into the broth-pot with three quarts of cold water and a little salt. Bring to the boil and skim carefully.
Shell fresh green peas and young broad beans; pare turnips and carrots and cut both into a medium dice; slice spring onions.
Retain half a pint of peas and put the rest, along with the other prepared vegetables into the boiling water. Lower the heat and simmer gently for three or four hours or longer. (If using canned broad beans or white beans, the cooking time can be dropped to 1-2 hours.)
Soak the cauliflower and the lettuce, then break the cauliflower into small sprigs and chop the lettuce. Add these, along with the rest of the peas, to the soup, and to simmer for half an hour longer.
Just before dishing up, add a small handful of chopped parsley (and mint, if using).
The soup can be a broth full of bits of meat and vegetables, or it can be cooked down to a porridge consistency. More pieces of meat can be added, or omitted altogether for a hearty vegetarian dish.

When ready, remove the bones, salt and pepper to taste and serve in a heated tureen. Make enough to let the rest keep simmering, or reheated the next day when it will be even better.

Almost any other young vegetables in season may be added to this soup such as the shredded heart of white cabbage, which takes less time than the cauliflower to cook if you want to speed up the time you have to wait to get your first bowl!


Mrs. Fitz’s Rumbledethumps

North: May I ask, with all due solemnity, what are rumbledethumps?
Shepherd: Something like Mr. Hazlitt’s Characters of Shakespeare. Take a peck of purtatoes and put them into a boyne* – at them with a beetle – a dab of butter – the beetle again – another dab – then cabbage – purtato – beetle and dab – saut** meanwhile – and a shake o’ common black pepper – feenally, cabbage and purtato throughither – pree***, and you’ll fin’ them decent rumbledethumps,’
– Christopher North: Noctes Ambrosianae(circa 1825)
*large pot
** salt

James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd

This recipe gave me quite the Food Historian Geek Girl thrill when I realized that I was quoting a direct ancestor for my own historic cooking class!  The “Shepherd” referred to in the quote above was James Hogg, known as The Ettrick Shepherd, who was an author and poet and companion of Sir Walter Scott and other literary notables of the day, and a direct relation of mine back through my paternal grandmother.

Recipes vary for this dish from kitchen to kitchen. It can be as simple as mashed potatoes and cabbage (very much like the Irish Colcannon), or it can have more vegetables added; it can be fried in bacon grease; have bacon chunks included in the mash; even be spread in a dish and covered with cheese to be melted in the oven. Chives or spring onions can be included or used as a garnish, or parsley can be mixed in and sprinkled on top.
The result should be a mash but also have definitive texture from the other ingredients. Rutabaga takes longer to cook than potatoes, resulting in firmer bits amongst the softer mash. Using cabbage and kale adds plenty of ‘bubble and squeak’ to the dish for lots of flavor and interest. Amounts will vary, but aim for equal parts of the starchy tubers and the green vegetables.

Serves 6-8


1 large rutabaga cut into 1 inch squares
½ large head of white cabbage,
cut into large chunks
3-4 leaves of curly kale, sliced
into ribbons
8-10 medium red or white
potatoes, peeled
2 large leeks, washed and sliced
8 oz butter
Salt and pepper


Optional ingredients:
bacon grease
bacon, crumbled
carrots, diced
cheese, shredded
fresh chives, chopped
milk or cream
onions, sliced & caramelized
parsley, minced
scallions, chopped

Peel and chop the potatoes and the rutabaga. Place them in a pot and cover with water. Slice the kale and cabbage. Add them to the pot and toss them together with the potato. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper to the pot and place over medium high heat. Keep at a slow boil for 20 – 30 minutes or until the rutabagas are soft and the potatoes are ready to mash.
Wash the leek to remove all grit. Slice in half-moons through the white and pale green parts. In a frying pan, melt 2oz butter and sauté the leeks slowly, allowing them to brown and partially caramelize. Reserve.
Drain the boiling water. Use a potato masher to mix and mash the vegetables together. Cut the butter into pieces and add while mashing. Combine the sautéed leeks with the mash mixture. Adjust seasoning.
Add optional herbs; spread with cheese and melt under a broiler; or simply dot with more butter and serve.

Wedding Day Whiskey Cranachan

Gaelic Wedding Blessing
Mi\le fa\ilte dhuit le d’bhre/id,
Fad do re/ gun robh thu sla\n.
Mo/ran la\ithean dhuit is si\th,
Le d’mhaitheas is le d’ni\ bhi fa\s.

“A thousand welcomes to you with your marriage kerchief, may you be healthy all your days. May you be blessed with long life and peace, may you grow old with goodness, and with riches.” – the Rev. Donald MacLeod, minister of Duirinish, Skye, Scotland c. 1760.

“Use your right hand to hold the spirtle (a wooden stick) as you stir oats clockwise, otherwise the Devil will come for you.” – auld Scots housewife wisdom

Our heroine consumed mass quantities of whisky on her wedding day, but I know that I couldn’t possibly imbibe that much – I would be under the table in no time at all!  Using a good quality whisky (spelled without the ‘e’ in Scotland!) as a flavoring here is a great way to enjoy the flavor without the inevitable headache later on!  This recipe is so simple, and yet so satisfying.  The comment in class was that it would make a great Christmas morning treat as well.  If you want to make it in advance, do everything except mixing the oats in with the whipped cream.  Reserve that for just before serving.

Wedding Day Whisky Cranachan

(Creamy Berry Oat Dessert, also known as Cream Crowdie)
Serves 6-8

1 cup pinhead or steel cut oats
2 cups double cream or heavy whipping cream
½ cup sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons Scotch whisky, Drambuie, Lochan Ora, or other whisky liqueur
8 oz. fresh raspberries (or other fresh berries)

Toast the oatmeal in a dry frying pan over medium high heat until it is lightly browned.  Cool the oatmeal completely before adding to the cream mixture.
Whip the cream to soft peak stage, adding sugar (optional), and whisky, mix thoroughly.
Fold in the toasted oatmeal and most of the berries, reserving a few for garnish.
Serve in glasses with a berry and a fresh mint leaf to garnish.


I want to give a shout-out to a wonderful website called Outlander Kitchen.  There are loads of recipes and references to all things Outlander there.  During the long hiatus between the first and second half of the first season, aka “Droughtlander”, I would check in on her site often to get my fix.

I’d love to hear your comments or questions about Scottish food (or any other food topics).  I have loads of old cookbooks on my shelves, and I am happy to be a resource if you are doing your own research.

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