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Issue 2 - Breakfast of champions

Scotland Magazine Issue 2
June 2002


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Breakfast of champions

Sue Lawrence looks at the traditional Scottish breakfast and adds a few ideas of her own...

Remember when sideboards groaned with silver salvers of bacon, eggs, sausages and kippers? No, neither do I. So why does this constitute the breakfast of our dreams? This scene is idyllic not just because of the unusual concept of a long, leisurely breakfast; nor simply the profusion of victuals. It is because you have not cooked it; you merely followed the wafting bacon smells down the stairs to arrive at the bountiful breakfast table.

Most of us no longer rattle around in huge country houses with servants to curl the butter, decant the marmalade and iron the newspaper (yes, they really used to do that). For most of us, it is simply a question of grabbing whatever we can in between gulps of tea or coffee while rushing around the kitchen looking for misplaced socks or car keys.

In Scotland we have a rich tradition at breakfast time, based around porridge, that glorious dish that transcends class and circumstance. For every family, from poor crofter to noble laird, the day would have begun with porridge. Wholesome and nutritious, it is easy to make and even easier to eat. The traditional way is to soak the oatmeal overnight then cook, stirring as often as possible, with a long wooden stick called a spurtle, until thick and creamy. Only salt and water are added to the oats as they cook. Nowadays they are often served with brown sugar, honey and even cream and whisky, but still cooked with salt, never sugar. When my parents were growing up, their porridge ritual was one that had remained unchanged over the centuries. A bowl (usually wooden) of porridge was placed in front of you and another smaller bowl of milk set alongside.

With your spoon (usually horn), you took a spoonful of porridge, dipped it into the milk and ate. This kept the porridge hotter and the milk colder for longer.

There was – and is – still a great tradition of eating smoked fish for breakfast, sometimes with bacon (especially the fabulous Ayrshire cure) and sometimes without. Kippers, finnan haddock (a cold-smoked haddock from Aberdeenshire) and Arbroath Smokies (hot-smoked haddock from the Arbroath area of Angus) are some of those you might have room for after your porridge. Obviously sausages, eggs, black pudding, tomatoes and mushrooms (hopefully wild chanterelles, freshly picked) are on offer, but I recommend you leave a little room for all the Scottish home-baked goodies in the breakfast bread basket. From tattie scones, oatcakes and bannocks to morning rolls, baps and Scotland's answer to the croissant – Aberdeen's butteries – there will be a little something on which to spread your thick Dundee marmalade.
And so, while you toy with that last piece of toast and sigh in satisfaction after a hearty Scottish breakfast, you can remind yourself that it all started with porridge, possibly the most simple of all dishes, but one of the best. As Burns wrote, “Halesome parritch, chief o’ Scotia’s food.”

The bard was seldom wrong.

Choose firm yet ripe tomatoes for this; and try to find really large ones, of uniform size.

4 large tomatoes
60g / 21/4oz medium oatmeal
40g / 11/2oz finely grated parmesan
3tbsp olive oil

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices. Pat dry on kitchen paper. Mix the oatmeal, parmesan and plenty of salt and pepper on a plate. Heat half the oil in a frying pan. Dredge each tomato slice with the coating, pressing in gently, to coat on either side. Fry the tomatoes for two to three minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Remove and keep warm while you fry the other half of the tomatoes. Serve warm, with some pan juices on the side, for dunking.

This recipe is taken from Sue Lawrence’s Scots Cooking (Headline, £12.99).
For the ham, I suggest dry-cure Ayrshire bacon but parma ham is also excellent: only grill or fry it for a minute or two until crispy. A welcome addition are a few chopped leaves of either parsley or lovage to the cream sauce at the last minute.

One finnan haddock
100ml / 31/2fl oz full-cream milk
40g / 11/2oz butter
2tbsp double cream
2 or 3 rashers of dry-cure back bacon
Parsley or lovage leaves, chopped, optional

Place the finnan haddock in a saucepan with the milk and half the butter. Bring slowly to the boil, cover and cook gently for three to four minutes until just done. Carefully remove the fish – using one large or two medium spatulas – place on serving plate and keep warm. Reserve the liquor in the pan.

Dry-fry or grill the bacon until crispy. Melt the remaining butter in another pan, add two tablespoons of the poaching liquor and two tablespoons of cream, stir then bubble away for a minute or two until thickened slightly. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. If adding herbs, stir in now.

To serve, pour the sauce over the fish and top with the bacon. (A poached egg on top makes a wonderful breakfast dish sublime.)

If using frozen raspberries, only defrost briefly so they are still half frozen – then add to the muffin batter.

150g / 51/2oz butter, melted
2 heaped tbsp golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
200ml / 7fl oz milk
The grated zest and juice of a lemon
250g / 9oz plain flour, sifted
2 heaped tsp baking powder
250g / 9oz raspberries
Crumble topping
40g / 11/2oz plain flour
2tbsp light muscovado sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
40g / 11/2oz butter, diced

Place the first five ingredients in a bowl, add the flour and baking powder and gently stir, then fold in the raspberries, taking care not to crush them. (The mixture will be a sloppy mess at this stage.)

For the crumble topping, mix the flour, sugar and cinnamon in bowl. Rub in the butter until you have dampish crumbs. Spoon the raspberry mixture into 12 to 15 muffin cases in a bun tin. Sprinkle over some crumble mixture. Bake at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Eat warm.

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