Scotland has a rich tradition of raising cattle and the men who drove the folds (herds) to market carried with them a small pocket of oatmeal. When in need, the drovers would make a small incision, and bleed the cows into their oats, which were then stirred over a fire to make a primitive form of blood pudding. Blood - or black - puddings have a rich history in Scotland. However, one of the country’s major black pudding producers, due to increasingly centralized slaughter and meat processing no longer has access to Scottish blood and has resorted to using Spanish blood powder. Of course they would rather use locally slaughtered beasts, but as regulation becomes increasingly tight, slaughterhouses have become fewer and animals have faced longer journeys to slaughter - the fresh products like blood becoming increasingly rare at a local level. If a traditional Scottish product is made in Scotland, but with entirely foreign produce, is it still part of the country’s culinary identity?
How the cultural origins of a recipe, the etymology of its name and the geographical origin of the ingredients each reflect upon the identity of the final product is an interesting conundrum. Haggis, the standard bearer of Scotland’s culinary identity is probably adapted from a Roman recipe while its name comes from Old Norse (hǫggva meaning to hack / to chop). Besides the offal, animal fat, oats and vegetables that go into haggis, and which one can assume to find in Scotland itself, spices are also a key ingredient, and they’re grown on the other side of the world! Nor are the traditional accompaniments to haggis any more Scottish than black pepper: neeps (swedes) are most likely of Swedish origin while tatties (potatoes) of course came from the New World. On that point it is interesting to wonder why potatoes and not rice are served with haggis. Rice has been imported into Scotland since the 14th century, some 200 years before the potato even arrived. Scotland now has its own landraces of potato and different varieties of potato were often passed down through the patriarchal lines of fishing communities. The potato is now most certainly a traditional Scottish product, thanks to its domestication here. It’s plain to see that as long as a people consider something as being ‘theirs’, regardless of its history or its providence, it does become part of their identity.
Sir Walter Scott’s romantic vision of the Highlander as a ‘noble savage’, and of Scotland as this island’s last great wilderness, has much to do with outsiders’ perception of this country. Certainly the image of a huntsman and his gillie stalking a majestic stag across the barren muirs (moors) of the Highlands is one which many visitors subscribe to when they book themselves in for a hunting or fishing trip here. Of course, the prospect of sitting down to a dish of Scotland’s finest venison is a large part of the attraction. However, in a 2008 UK-wide survey, only 0.7% of households surveyed reported buying any game at all. While many remain enthusiastic about game consumption, a lack of retail distribution, compounded by food safety paranoia, fears of ‘doing too much themselves’, and a desire for convenience foods often mean that the majority of Scots don’t enjoy the incredible richness of their own country’s wild game. Most of it, sadly, gets exported. Perhaps such a romantic image of the stag is more in keeping with the British aristocracy’s long standing control of wild game in Scotland, as well as with touristic dinners in up-market restaurants, than it is with the daily fare of Scottish people.