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Issue 30 - Souper Suppers

Scotland Magazine Issue 30
December 2006


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Souper Suppers

Nothing fills you up more than a hearty bowl of soup. Sue Lawrence provides some traditional Scots recipes

It might have been a day of sledging down the street, all muffled up in woolly hats and gloves to keep out the winter chill. Or a day of clambering over haystacks in the fields behind the garden, when even t-shirts and shorts were too hot in the summer sun. Whatever the weather however, our kitchen – and most in Scotland – would have had a soup pot on the go. Come rain, hail or shine, there it would stand, ready to be heated up and the contents ladled out every day.

For although a bowl of piping hot soup makes sense when there is a biting winter chill outside, it is also served in summer, even in those occasional Scottish heat waves, for that is what Scots tradition dictates.

During my year living in northern Finland, I remember being struck at how seldom soup was served in this bitterly cold climate – only once a week, on Thursdays when thick pea soup is traditionally served in schools, army barracks or office canteens though the entire country. In Scotland, however, once a day is mandatory.

My octogenarian father only ever deviates from the daily soup routine if eating out. But even then, you can see he is struggling, feeling obliged to order the bruschetta with rocket and buffalo mozzarella, rather than a good bowl of broth as starter. And whether it is Scotch broth bulging with barley and vegetables, cock-a-leekie with its characteristic prunes or bawd bree, a gutsy game soup made from hare, soup has always been there, the prelude to any meal.

My mother recalls broth being referred to as simply kail (the Scots spelling of kale) since this is the main vegetable in that thick wholesome soup. The most commonly used piece of equipment in my kitchen was the soup pot, known as the kail pot in times past. The other was the girdle (Scottish griddle) for daily batches of scones, pancakes and bannocks.

The iron kail-pot and the iron girdle were the two most basic pieces of cooking equipment found over the centuries in crofts and cottages.

And although nowadays you might occasionally come across a thin soup or consommé in a Scottish home, you will never find chilled soup, for we Scots believe by its very nature soup must be piping hot, hearty and inviting – and served every day, whatever the weather. And as for consistency, a glance at the opening lines of Robert Crawford’s poem Scotch Broth confirms what Scots throughout the land feel about their soup. The poet declares it should be “a soup so thick you could shake its hand and stroll with it before dinner.” My father is not the only Scot to raise a soup spoon and drink to that!

Traditionally, butter beans (or lima beans) have often been used in the Scottish kitchen – in soups and as a vegetable with mince and tatties.

Use a good farmhouse Cheddar-style cheese for the topping; my Scottish favourites are Loch Arthur or Mull Cheddar.

Serves 6
350 g / 12 oz dried butter beans
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
1.2 litres / 2 pints hot chicken stock
2 thick sprigs of rosemary
50g / 13/4 oz coarsely grated farmhouse cheddar and extra-virgin olive oil, to serve

1. Soak beans overnight, drain and rinse.

2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic for 10 minutes then add the beans, hot stock, rosemary and some black pepper (no salt yet).

3. Bring to boil then cover and simmer gently for about one hour or until beans are tender.

4. Remove the rosemary (and try to poke out most of the leaves which will have dropped off) then purée about half the soup, leaving some beans whole.

5. Now add salt – and pepper if necessary – according to taste.

6. To serve, ladle into warm bowls and top with some cheese and a drizzle of oil.

This is a rich, creamy crab soup: partan means crab, bree means liquid or gravy in Scots. If you can, use a large live crab as your base: boil it for 15-20 minutes then remove the creamy brown (body) meat to one bowl and the sweet white (claw and leg) meat to another. Discard the feathery “dead men’s fingers” as you work. Otherwise, fresh or defrosted frozen crabmeat will do.

Serves 4-6
75g / 3 oz long-grain rice
600 ml / 1 pint milk (full-fat)
A blade of mace
The meat of 1 large crab (OR about 300 g / 101/2 oz fresh or defrosted frozen crabmeat – about 200g / 7 oz brown meat and 100 g / 31/2 oz white meat
600 ml / 1 pint fish stock, hot
150 ml / 1/4 pint double cream, optional Anchovy essence

1. Cook the rice in the milk with the mace for about 15-20 minutes until tender.

2. Discard the mace and tip the mixture into a liquidiser or food processor with the brown meat. Process until combined then tip back into the pan with the hot stock.

3. Reheat over a medium heat until just below boiling point then add the white meat and the cream.

4. Reheat gently for a couple of minutes then add salt, pepper and anchovy essence.

5. Serve in warm bowls and add an extra dash of anchovy essence and extra cream – if you like.

This recipe can be made every day as it uses dried dulse. But, if you can find fresh dulse, you will need about 200g / 7 oz for this recipe – but wash thoroughly first.

Serves 4
40g / 11/2 oz dried dulse, washed then soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
2 large potatoes, peeled, diced
1 large leek, trimmed, chopped
25g / 1 oz medium oatmeal
10g / 1/4 oz fresh parsley
2 fillets of hot-smoked salmon and extra-virgin olive oil, to serve

1. Place the (drained) dulse in a pan with the potatoes, leeks and about 750 ml / 25 fl oz cold water.

2. Season, bring to the boil then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

3. Mix the oatmeal in a cup with about three tablespoons of the cooking liquor then gradually stir this into the soup, stirring well.

4. Cook gently for five minutes.

5. Tip everything into a food mixer or blender and blitz (in batches) with the parsley.

6. Check seasoning and return to the pan to reheat.

7. Flake the salmon and place on top then drizzle over some oil just before serving in a warm bowl.