Emily Grant presents the second installment of her journey to explore 600 years of Scottish food history in honor of the 600th year anniversary of the University of St Andrews. This time she presents Cock-a-leekie soup, pork flory with currants and raisins, and lemon-almond shortbread rounds in honor of the French influence in Scottish cuisine.
Whew! Last semester seemed to fly by, but I’m back with the second installment of my little series. As before, I want to start off my article with some historical background about St Andrews —and Scotland more generally— to celebrate such an amazing place and give some reference to my occasionally harebrained recipe choices.
There was a lot going on in 16th century Scotland, actually, and much of it affected the creation of the town and University we know and love today. One of the biggest events was the Protestant Reformation. Though there are enormously important people and events associated with the Protestant Reformation —and I could ramble on about them forever— I’m going to focus on the most direct effects on St Andrews, things that, even today, are ingrained in St Andrean life. First off, Patrick Hamilton, a Lutheran minister, was burnt at the stake in St Salvator’s Quad for heresy in 1528; students still skirt around the PH emblazoned in his memory outside of Sallie’s Quad. In 1559, the St Andrews Cathedral (the largest church ever built in Scotland) was stripped of its finery by Protestants and by the 16th Century had fallen into ruin —leaving it much the same as it is today— after Catholic mass was outlawed in Scotland.
Student life at the University took a distinctly Protestant turn during the 16th century, especially considering their weapon-toting, cock-fighting, archery-protesting 15th century counterparts. In 1544 beards, weapons, gambling, and football were all banned. Though golf was allowed, feasting and drinking were forbidden. Though, of course, that gave the students more time to work on their studies, which included Gregorian chanting. Sounds fun, right?
Don’t worry, the recipes in this installment are not based on Protestantism; I’m not a sadist. Instead, I’ll be talking about the French influence on Scottish cuisine. The 16th century also saw the renewal of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland against England. Scottish King James V married not one, but two French noblewomen, more famously Marie de Guise, who became the mother and regent of Mary, Queen of Scots, James V’s heir. There were a plethora of political and generally historical things going on, but for the sake of the (relative) brevity of this article, I’m going to touch on the relevant culinary impact of 16th century French influence. Mary de Guise and Mary Queen of Scots —who was raised in France—made French cuisine (and lavish feasts) très chic in the Scottish court.
Realistically, decadent French techniques and recipes did not extend to the diets of the contemporary common Scot in any meaningful way, particularly since anti-French (anti-Catholic), pro-English (pro-Protestant) sentiments boiled to the surface by the latter half of the century. The diet of the average Scot was relatively the same as it had always been —oats, broths, stews, root vegetables, and meat when it was available. Despite this, the French influence did leave a lasting impression on traditional Scottish food later enjoyed by all classes. Dishes like collops and stovies (with linguistic origins in the French words ‘escalope’ and ‘etouffer’, respectively) remain integral to Scottish cuisine. The French also brought techniques and recipes that they had picked up from their Continental neighbors, leading to the biggest leap in the diversification of Scottish cuisine since the era of Viking invasions. Now, onto the food!
This comforting chicken and leek soup is just one of many traditional Scottish dishes with French origins. The common theory on this classic is that it originated as a chicken and onion soup in France, was brought to Scotland in the 16th century, and has been tweaked here and there ever since. Eventually, the onions that stood front and center in the French original were replaced by leeks, which are bountiful in Scotland —as anyone who has ever lived here no doubt knows.
The earliest known recipe for the soup combination of leeks and chicken in Scotland is dated 1598, but sources indicate that the name ‘cock-a-leekie’ was not used to refer to the dish until the 18th century. Early versions of the dish included prunes, and though some modern recipes —in homage to the dish’s origins—include either prunes or sultanas, I’ve left them out of my recipe for simplicity’s sake. But feel free to add them; I’m sure they’d be a wonderful, fruity compliment to the dish! You can also add carrots to the recipe; one of the great things about traditional recipes is that they’ve been around for so long and been made by so many different people that there are limitless possibilities and combinations.
– 1lb chicken thighs
– 1 pint water
– 3 stalks celery, diced
-1/2 onion, roughly chopped
– 1 bay leaf
– 2/3 cup (a generous handful pearl barley)
– 4 leeks
– 1 pint chicken stock (plus a bit extra, if needed)
– 1 teaspoon thyme
– generous salt and pepper, to taste
1. Combine the chicken thighs, water, 2 stalks celery, ½ onion, and bay leaf in a saucepan. Season liberally with salt and pepper and cover with the pint of water.
2. Place on a hob over medium heat and bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil.
3. Once the pot is at a boil, add the barley. Put a lid on the saucepan and turn the heat just low enough for it to continue to simmer. Stir occasionally.
4. Let the pot simmer for about 30 minutes, until the chicken thighs are cooked all the way through.
5. Remove the chicken thighs from the pot and let them cool until they’re cool enough to handle with bare hands. Allow the stock mixture to continue simmering (and stir it occasionally) while you do this. Tear the chicken into bite-sized strips.
6. Remove the bay leaf from the saucepan and add the chicken strips back into the stock.
7. Slice the leeks and add them into the pot. Then add the thyme, a bit more salt and pepper, and leave the pot to simmer (with a lid on) for about another half hour, stirring occasionally and adding water or stock if needed.
8. When the soup is aromatic and the leeks are more-or-less dissolved, the soup is ready to be eaten. If it is too watery, don’t be afraid to add a bit of flour to thicken it up—though you should be aware that this soup thickens significantly if refrigerated and reheated later. If it is to thick, just add a bit of water or chicken stock.
9. Serve immediately or refrigerate—this is one of those dishes that actually gets better after a couple of days of refrigeration. Enjoy!
Pork Flory with Currants and Raisins:
This is another example of how the French influence started to spread through Scottish cuisine in the 16th century. Unlike cock-a-leekie soup, this was a dish I was completely unfamiliar with when I started my research, but after having made and eaten it I’m very glad I found it! Also called Florentine pie, this dish has a story that traces its origins from Italy, through France, and into Scotland. Despite its Continental origins, veal flory (which I’ve selfishly reworked into pork flory, due to my veal aversion) is a delicious cousin of British savory pies. What really caught my attention is that it has a pseudo-crust made completely out of bacon. How could a dish like that go wrong?
– 4 pork chops (or veal chops if you prefer)
-1/2 yellow onion, chopped
– 4 bacon rashers
– 50 grams butter
– A generous handful of currants
– A generous handful of raisins
-100 grams mushrooms (I recommend button or cremini), sliced
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– 1 teaspoon nutmeg
– A glass of water
– Salt and pepper, to taste
– 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
– A small package of store-bought puff pastry
1. Preheat the oven at 170C.
2. Separate the fat and bones from the meat of the chops.
3. In a pan with relatively high sides (as to prevent splashing over the side), combine the pork/veal bones and onion and cover them with water; season liberally with salt. Bring the contents of the pan to a boil, cover with a lid, lower the heat to a simmer, and leave to cook for about 45 minutes. Remove from heat after 45 minutes. This will create a basic pork (or veal) stock that you can use later.
4. In the meantime, melt butter in another pan, add sliced mushrooms and let them cook for 5 minutes—make sure not to crowd them in the pan. After 5 minutes, add the currants and raisins to the pan and let them cook in the butter and mushrooms until they become plump. Then stir in the lemon juice and nutmeg. After about 2 more minutes, remove the pan from heat.
5. Dice the deboned, defatted chops into bite-sized pieces. Season the meat liberally with salt, pepper, and rosemary.
6. Line the base of a shallow pie dish with bacon (creating a bacon ‘crust’), then spread the diced pork/veal over the bacon. Then put the fruit and mushroom mix over the bacon and pork/veal.
7. Roll out the puff pastry and thoroughly brush it with the pork/veal stock you made earlier with the bones. Lay the pastry over the top of the pie dish, making sure it doesn’t touch any of the filling. Either cut a hole in the center of the pastry or use a pie bird (as is visible in the photo above) to ventilate the pie.
8. Put the pie into the pre-heated oven and bake for roughly 60 minutes, until the filling is cooked through and the pastry is golden brown.
9. Let the pie cool for about 10-15 minutes, then dig in!
Lemon-Almond Shortbread Rounds:
The ancestor of shortbread as we know it now, ‘biscuit bread’, originated at least as early as the 12th century as a hard rusk derived from leftover bread dough. It eventually evolved into a delicacy as this yeast-based technique was replaced with a butter base.
Despite these earlier origins, there are a couple of significant reasons to celebrate this iconic and delicious Scottish dessert in a French-inspired 16th century menu. Firstly, the refinement and popularization of the shortbread biscuit is attributed to Mary Queen of Scots, the aforementioned daughter of James V—who was raised in France and was very briefly its Queen Consort. Additionally, the separation of savory and sweet courses in Scotland (aka, the advent of a dessert course as a separate, delicious entity) is sometimes attributed to the 16th century French influence. Of course, this would have been largely irrelevant for the average Scot at the time, but was almost certainly beginning to influence the dinner parties of Mary Queen of Scots and her retinue.
While legend holds that Mary Queen of Scots preferred her shortbread in the more elegant petticoat tail shape and spiced with caraway, I’ve decided to include a recipe for rounds flavored with lemon and almond. This may be a departure from the biscuit’s 16th century origins, it is not without historical roots; I’ve mirrored this recipe upon several 18th century ones that showcase almonds and citrus.
-340 grams butter
-200 grams sugar
– ¾ teaspoon almond extract
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-zest from ½ lemon
-440 grams flour
-1 pinch sea salt
1. Preheat the oven at 175C
2. Use a hand mixer (or an standing mixer) to cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl.
3. Once the butter and sugar are creamed, add the almond extract, vanilla extract, and lemon zest to the bowl. Mix until combined.
4. Use a fork to combine (and simultaneously sift) the flour and the salt. Gradually add the flour-salt mixture into the bowl with the other ingredients, mixing on medium-low speed as you do.
5. Continue to beat until well-combined into a crumbly dough.
6. On a floured surface, roll the dough out and use a cookie cutter or the mouth of a glass to cut it into circular biscuits roughly 2.5 centimeters thick.
7. Place the shaped dough onto a cookie tray lined with parchment paper. Put the tray in the refrigerator to chill for about half an hour.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges of the biscuits have started to turn golden brown.
9. Remove the cookies for the oven and allow them to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before moving them to a metal cooling rack and/or eating them. Enjoy!
That’s all for now! If you have managed—yet again—to trudge through my culinary epic: congratulations! I hope you enjoyed the food and the history, or at least one of the two. I’ll be back soon (definitely sooner than last time) with a look at the 17th century.
I want to give special thanks to both Katherine Weight and Hannah Risser, dear friends and members of the Fellowship of St Andrews. Katherine gave me the idea for this series and set me up with culinary connections, and Hannah worked diligently to supplement my rather poor knowledge of St Andrews history.
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons and Mathilde Johnsen