I travel on my stomach. The first thing I do in any new city is look for restaurants, preferably those that specialize in the local cuisine. Naturally, I was full of anticipation when I flew to Scotland recently. I looked forward to the salmon, venison, lamb, and beef. As it turned out, I ate salmon every which way—fresh, smoked, in salad. I also came to love mussels, which I’d always shied away from. Lamb and venison didn’t appear as frequently on menus, though beef and ale pie was a staple. I tasted my son’s one afternoon in a pub, and it was wonderful. But every time I got ready to order red meat, something else called to me.
One night in St. Michael’s Inn I meant to order the beef and ale pie but commented that I hadn’t seen as much sausage as I anticipated. My son pointed out that bangers ‘n mash was a menu item, and I switched to that. A generous serving of Cumberland sausage and mashed potatoes, served with a roast onion and whisky gravy. Delicious. We consistently found that the best food we had was at pubs in small country villages.
I also went to Scotland with a question in my mind about haggis. I’d eaten it once at a St. Andrew’s Day dinner and didn’t care for it. Friends assured me it was much better in Scotland, and I thought I should try it. On our third night I ordered a chicken breast stuffed with haggis and served with that roast onion and whiskey gravy. I loved it.
The next day, in a pub, I ordered haggis for lunch. This came in the traditional way, with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes). I was served three sculptured towers—one each of haggis, neeps, and tatties. And again, there was that gravy, which for me made the dish.
One other thing piqued my curiosity: black pudding. It was on the breakfast menu at our first B&B in Edinburgh. Our host described it as oatmeal mixed with dried pigs blood and laughed when I said I’d stick with bacon. But black pudding followed me all week—it was on menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, often combined with lamb or beef in dinner entrees. Finally the last morning, back at the same Edinburgh B&B, I asked for sausage and black pudding for breakfast. With visions of pudding in my mind, I said maybe just a teaspoonful. What I got was a round pattie that was truly black. It reminded me of a black version of the corned beef hash patties my mom used to slice out of a can. This tasted of oatmeal, maybe a bit sweeter or a bit saltier, but oatmeal. I asked our host the point of the pigs blood, and he said he assumed it began as a way to use every part of the animal.
The one thing I didn’t find was lamb kidneys. My mom used to serve lamb kidneys with bacon, and I loved them but can’t find them here. The Scottish cookbook I brought back has recipes for several versions of kidneys, but I didn’t see them on any menu. Kidneys or no, I really liked Scottish food.
Judy Alter’s forthcoming mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, is due from Turquoise Morning Press in September. Alter has written extensively, fiction and nonfiction, about women of the American West. She is also the author of two cookbooks, Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books (http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-through-Books-Stars-Texas/dp/1933337338/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1306524377&sr=1-1) and Great Texas Chefs (http://www.amazon.com/Great-Texas-Chefs-Small-Books/dp/0875653774/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1306524475&sr=1-1). Keep up with her doings at “Judy’s Stew,” (http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com) and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.