Don your kilts and pour yourself a wee dram. Today we’re serving up a little festive cheer à la Outlander.
While others may be channeling elves, sugarplum fairies, and red-nosed reindeer, we in the Alphabet Soup kitchen are getting our Scots on.
Ever since experiencing a long Scot summer binge-watching the Outlander TV series and taking a deep dive into Diana Gabaldon’s novels, all we can think about is
men in kilts fascinating Scottish history time traveling between the 18th and 20th centuries.
You can really work up an appetite falling through the stones and zipping around places like Boston, Inverness, Edinburgh, Paris, Jamaica, and North Carolina. Thank goodness for the fortifying recipes in Theresa Carle-Sanders’s Outlander Kitchen cookbooks.
Based in Pender Island, Canada, chef and diehard Outlander fan Carle-Sanders has done a wonderful job of creating cookbooks true to the series with a blend of historical recipes adapted for modern palates, along with her own creative, period appropriate dishes that reflect two centuries and the cuisines of several different countries (no small feat!).
Suffice to say, Gabaldon’s generous bounty of culinary references in the series is a literary feast par excellence. Characters wet their whistles with ale, grog, tea, hot chocolate, brandy, wine, cider, and of course, lots and lots of whisky.
They feast on pheasant, venison, beef, ham, oysters, hares, lamb, chickens, mussels, boar, fish, eels, and haggis, as well as Hershey bars with almonds, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruitcakes, crumblies, tatties, pasties, sausages, nightingales (!) and rolls stuffed with pigeon and truffles, to name a few.
Whether a bowl of restorative cock-a-leekie soup cooked in a big kettle outdoors at Lallybroch, or an elaborate, multi-course supper at the Palace at Versailles, Outlander food is its own character, telling stories of people, places, history, culture and heritage. Truly sensory-rich and satisfying!
So, are you up for a few poems, a nourishing breakfast, a modest afternoon tea? Relax, enjoy, and give your bagpipes a good squeeze!
🏴 Parritch and Bannocks 🥃
PORRIDGE by Spike Milligan Why is there no monument To Porridge in our land? If it's good enough to eat, It's good enough to stand! On a plinth in London A statue we should see Of Porridge made in Scotland Signed, "Oatmeal, O.B.E." (By a young dog of three)
Since becoming an Outlander fan, I’ve taken to calling my morning oatmeal, “parritch.” Scottish porridge is synonymous with the country; they’ve been eating the stuff since Medieval times. Oats was one of the few grains that flourished in the poor soil and harsh climate of the Highlands, inevitably becoming a staple.
No surprise to find frequent mention of parritch, oatcakes, and bannocks in the Outlander novels. Claire Randall eats parritch and bannocks for her first breakfast at Castle Leoch while waiting to meet the laird, Colum MacKenzie.
I had no appetite for the bannocks and parritch that Mrs. FitzGibbons had brought for my breakfast, but crumbled a bit and pretended to eat, in order to gain some time for thought. By the time Mrs. Fitz came back to conduct me to the MacKenzie, I had cobbled together a rough plan. (Outlander, Chapter V)
At Versailles, Jamie Fraser joins courtiers for Louis XIV’s morning toilette. He advises the King, who’s “tight as an owl” to eat parritch for breakfast to avoid constipation.
If Scotsmen were stubborn about anything — and, in fact, they tended to be stubborn about quite a number of things, truth be known — it was the virtues of oatmeal parritch for breakfast. Through eons of living in a land so poor there was little to eat but oats, they had as usual converted necessity into a virtue, and insisted that they liked the stuff. (Dragonfly in Amber, Chapter VII)
The Outlander Kitchen (OK) recipe for Mrs. Fitz’s Porridge was yummy; I had mine with dried cranberries, nuts, and almond milk. Next time I’ll eat it the traditional way, with a little salt and a pat of butter. As the superstition goes, while cooking oats, you should stir with your right hand in a clockwise direction to ward off evil spirits. 🙂
Of course I made bannocks to go with my porridge. I’d heard of but never tried them before. Also of Scottish origin, bannocks (cousin to the oatcake) are an oat (or barley)-based unleavened flatbread that’s fried on a ‘girdle’ (griddle) or baked in the oven. The dough is usually rolled into a circle and then sliced into wedges before serving.
Carle-Sanders looked at 1500+ recipes for bannocks while researching for her cookbooks. That’s because bannocks, which date back to the 8th century, vary widely with regard to type of flour used, cooking method, whether they’re leavened or unleavened, special ingredients added, and/or the names of festivals/rituals for which they are used.
Mrs. Fitz’s bannocks, which would have been on the table for every meal, were probably made of oats, animal fat and water/milk.
Farmers (crofters) used to pack a couple of these heavy and dense ‘hockey pucks’ to eat for lunch out in the field. Just like parritch, bannocks are ubiquitous in the Outlander books.
Modern recipes incorporate butter, wheat flour and buttermilk to tenderize the dough; leavening is also added to make it lighter and airier. The OK recipe calls for yogurt and baking powder, and to make things easier, the dough is rolled into a square, then cut into rectangles before baking (no scraps to re-roll or waste).
They were delicious warm with butter and jam, but would also be good with cheese or dipped into soups/stews. There’s a memorable scene in Voyager where Claire and Jamie enjoy oyster stew and bannocks at Moubray’s Tavern in Edinburgh.
Enjoy a bowl of nutritious, sustaining parritch on Christmas morning, and while you’re at it, pack a couple of bannocks in your saddlebag to ready you for your next Highland adventure. You may also consider prettying up with an oatmeal face mask. You’ll want to look your best when a hot Scot like Jamie Fraser or Roger MacKenzie sweeps you off your feet. Leave the oats on if you don’t mind a hungry Scot nibbling on your face. 🙂
🎄 Intermission 🎁
Time for another wee dram. 🙂 🙂 🙂
To go with your libations, we’ve got Walkers Shortbread Scotties and Tunnock’s Tea Cakes (love them). Are you familiar with Tunnock’s? An iconic Scottish treat, it’s a round shortbread biscuit topped with a dome of Italian meringue, then coated with milk or dark chocolate. The meringue is like marshmallow, only softer. Mmmmmmmm. A family run company dating back to 1890, Tunnock’s is based in Glasgow. They’ve been making the tea cakes since the early 1950s.
While you’re noshing, did you know there’s a Scottish cumulative verse that’s been likened to “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? There are 13 days instead of 12, and the number of gifts doesn’t increase in the manner of “Twelve Days.”
THE YULE DAYS The king sent his lady on the thirteenth Yule day, Three stalks o' merry corn, Three maids a-merry dancing, Three hinds a-merry hunting, An Arabian baboon, Three swans a-merry swimming, Three ducks a-merry laying, A bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, Three starlings, A goose that was grey, Three plovers, Three partridges, A pippin go aye; Wha learns my carol and carries it away? ~ from Popular Rhymes, Fireside Stories, and Amusements of Scotland (1842) * "pippin go aye" is a Scots word for peacock or parrot
Now, back to our regular programming.
🍓Ginger-nut Biscuits and Jam Tarts ☕️
When I started reading the first Outlander novel, I was hoping for some good tea scenes, and I wasn’t disappointed. The more memorable ones occurred in 1960s Inverness at Reverend Wakefield’s manse.
Claire Randall and her daughter Brianna spend a lot of time at the manse with Roger MacKenzie, Rev. Wakefield’s adopted son. Roger, a history professor at Oxford, helps Claire and Brianna “find” Jamie by looking through the Reverend’s old papers, journals, and news articles.
Fiona Graham (granddaughter of the Reverend’s deceased housekeeper) is very sweet on Roger, and it is she who bakes all kinds of treats for elevenses and afternoon tea. One of her specialties is ginger-nut biscuits, which she also serves Roger at his late night research sessions.
Fiona had brought him more tea and a plate of fresh ginger-nut biscuits, which had sat untouched since he had begun reading. A sense of obligation rather than hunger made him pick up a biscuit and take a bite, but the sharp-flavored crumbs caught in his throat and made him cough. (Drums of Autumn, Chapter 32)
Fiona tries her best to win Roger’s heart through his stomach, but he only has eyes for Brianna. While Claire and Brianna are duly impressed with Fiona’s hospitality, Roger knows she’s actually putting on a show especially for him.
A knock on the study door interrupted his thoughts. The door opened and Fiona Graham came in, pushing a tea cart, fully equipped with teapot, cups, doilies, three kinds of sandwiches, cream-cakes, sponge cake, jam tarts, and scones with clotted cream.
“Yum!” said Brianna at the sight. “Is this all for us, or are you expecting ten other people?” (Dragonfly in Amber, Chapter 2)
I can well understand Fiona’s feelings for Roger, as he’s one of my favorite Outlander characters. This probably has a lot to do with Richard Rankin, who plays him in the TV series (adore his accent).
The OK recipe for ginger-nut biscuits is scrumptious. Moderately sweet, these soft cake-like cookies are all about allowing “the ginger and cinnamon to shine through bite after bite.” Obviously Roger was too preoccupied at the time to truly appreciate them — or maybe having Fiona hover over him affected his appetite. In any case, he missed out on a lovely treat.
If I had been there when Fiona rolled out the tea cart, I would definitely reach for a jam tart. Jam always makes me happy — after all, “jam” is 3/4 of my name. Hence the partiality to Paddington Bear and marmalade, linzer cookies, and Jammie Dodgers. For the Jam Tarts, we used an all-butter shortcrust recipe with strawberry and apricot jam. Yum!
Thanks for the tea and treats, Fiona!
Now, about those men in kilts (sigh). While you’re sipping a
Scot spot of tea and nibbling on ginger-nut biscuits and jam tarts, enjoy this Robert Service poem.
A SONG FOR KILTS by Robert Service How grand the human race would be If every man would wear a kilt, A flirt of Tartan finery, Instead of trousers, custom built! Nay, do not think I speak to joke: (You know I'm not that kind of man), I am convinced that all men folk. Should wear the costume of a Clan. Imagine how it's braw and clean As in the wind it flutters free; And so conducive to hygiene In its sublime simplicity. No fool fly-buttons to adjust,— Wi' shanks and maybe buttocks bare; Oh chiels, just take my word on trust, A bonny kilt's the only wear. 'Twill save a lot of siller too, (And here a canny Scotsman speaks), For one good kilt will wear you through A half-a-dozen pairs of breeks. And how it's healthy in the breeze! And how it swings with saucy tilt! How lassies love athletic knees Below the waggle of a kilt! True, I just wear one in my mind, Since sent to school by Celtic aunts, When girls would flip it up behind, Until I begged for lowland pants. But now none dare do that to me, And so I sing with lyric lilt,— How happier the world would be If every male would wear a kilt!
Great Scot! Did that set your sporran aquiver? Dinna fash, it’s a good thing. 😀
🎄 Merry Tidings 🍷
Our outlandish holiday celebration would not be complete without mentioning Hogmanay and haggis, the national dish of Scotland. Haggis is served after the oath-taking at Castle Leoch in the first Outlander book, and also to Lord John as Governor of Ardsmuir Prison in Voyager.
In Scotland, Hogmanay — celebrating the New Year — is bigger than Christmas. Gabaldon includes Hogmanay celebrations in both Voyager and The Fiery Cross. It’s a time of music, dancing, and lots of food, including haggis. Who better to recite Robert Burns’s famous “Address to a Haggis” than Sam Heughan? This comes from the Starz “Men in Kilts” series he hosts with Graham McTavish.
Finally, good news for Outlander fans: the long-awaited 9th novel in the series, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (Delacorte Press, 2021) was just released November 23, and Season 6 of the Starz TV series will finally air March 6, 2022.
Also released last month: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish’s Clanlands Almanac: Seasonal Stories from Scotland (Hodder & Stoughton, 2021), a follow-up to their wildly popular Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other (Quercus, 2020). Sam and Graham’s “Men in Kilts” series on Starz just got the green light for Season 2. 🙂
Just what we need to tide us over during Droughtlander!
As we close out another year at Alphabet Soup, we thank you for your kind attention, enthusiasm, support, and wonderful comments.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year, or as the Scots say, Haud Hogmanay! How quickly the time passes, with much to reflect on, and much to look forward to. Here’s a bagpipe farewell to the old year. See you in 2022!
🎁 MORE 🎄
♥️ These three recipes may be found at Outlander Kitchen online:
♥️ The recipe for Jam Tarts is from Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook by Theresa Carle-Sanders (Delacorte Press, 2016).
The lovely and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting the roundup this week. Gallop over there to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere. Have fun!
*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.