Sunday, 11 May 2008

Archive: The Scottish Cellar - F Marian McNeill

The Scottish Cellar
F Marian McNeill

This is a sister companion to another book, The Scots Kitchen. Whereas The Scots Kitchen deals with recipes and customs associated with food and cooking, this book focuses on drink.

It's less heavy on the recipes than the other book, focusing more on the culture and customs associated with drinks, drinking and hospitality. The focus is mainly relatively modern customs and culture from around the eighteenth century onwards, and the emphasis on the provision of hospitality, and the different types of hospitality (in the home, in the taverns and so on) was illuminating for me. McNeill also includes drinking songs (with music provided) and blessings from a variety of sources that I haven't seen before, so that was useful and interesting.

There are still plenty of recipes to brew your own wines and ales, or make caudle, sowens (a type of gruel/drink), whisky nog and things like that. I was hoping to find some pointers about the Bealltainn caudle that was made as a drink (rather than the batter), but was disappointed on that score, and was expecting a little more folklore than there turned out to be. Over all there's plenty to be getting on with if I ever wanted to make my own brews for libations or whatever (hawthorn or rowanberry liquer would seem apt), though, and McNeill goes into particular detail about her efforts to find, or reconstruct, an authentic 'Pictish' heather ale.

McNeill writes in a style that I'd call 'jolly hockey sticks' - what ho! - and that might be hard for some readers to get used to because it's very dated and can be hard to read at times. The recipes also use a lot of ingredients that probably aren't widely available any more, and use measurements that are outdated (and would have to be converted into cups and so forth for anyone across the Pond) so some of them are of limited use. It shouldn't be too difficult to modernise them, once you've looked up what some of the terms mean as well (I've no idea what 'sack' is, as an ingredient).

Overall, the book was interesting, but not overwhelmingly so. It was cheap at least, and I'm tempted to go looking for a more up to date book that covers similar recipes in a more straightforward manner, using modern terms and measurements that perhaps offer substitutes for ingredients that aren't necessarily available anymore.

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