With its stovies, clouties, mashed tatties and butterballs, Scotland's cuisine has long been maligned. But all that is about to change. The food writer Sue Lawrence, a former winner of MasterChef, yesterday called on Scots to take pride in their "good, wholesome diet" at the opening of the Edinburgh International Book Festival as she launched her book Taste Ye Back, in which famous Scots reveal their favourite traditional dishes from childhood.
The world's largest literary festival will see more than 750 writers, politicians and artists take part in events over the next two weeks, including Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, Margaret Atwood and new poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
Gordon Brown, the actor Ewan McGregor, musician Midge Ure and tennis star Andy Murray are among 70 Scots to give their recipes for Ms Lawrence's book, whose title paraphrases the traditional Scottish farewell "Haste ye back". For example, Sharman Macdonald, the playwright and novelist (and mother of the actress Keira Knightley), remembered medicinal butterballs (butter rolled in sugar), while Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, recalled the squashed tomato sandwiches and Carnation milk tablet of his youth (he was allergic to cow's milk). The actor Alan Cumming fondly remembered mashed tattie sandwiches while Ewan McGregor, who wrote the foreword, drew on memories of his mother's bread and butter pudding. The book also includes Alistair Darling's "to die for" lamb and black pudding, the actor Brian Cox's Dundee apple tart and tennis star Andy Murray's shepherd's pie.
Ms Lawrence, who started collating the recipes in February last year, argues that even butterballs are not unhealthy and that it is only modern convenience food that has given Scottish cuisine a bad reputation.
In the book, the musician Dame Evelyn Glennie wonders "why on earth are our traditional and delicious dishes of stovies [potato and meat stew] and mince and tatties never served in restaurants across the land?", while the writer A L Kennedy said that during her childhood "there wasn't really any sense that Scotland had a cuisine. It was all a bit low self-esteem in those days."
Ms Lawrence, who yesterday fed festival visitors much-appreciated haggis, lasagne and cloutie dumpling (fruit pudding), added that collecting the recipes in a book was also a way of saving the dishes for posterity.
"The book is a great concept, not just from my point of view as a cook and from the fact I like eating, but because it also touches on social history," she said. "Some of the stories are about a lack of all the food we have today because of poverty. Midge Ure gave me his recipe for blue cheese pasta over the phone while he was stuck in a traffic jam in London. He also spoke about living in a tenement flat that was so small, he didn't sit at a dinner table until he was 10."
Not all the food is fondly recalled. Mr Darling revealed a distaste for guga bird – a salted, oily, boiled dish from the Hebridean island of Sula Sgeir. "He remembered many tales from his childhood, not just about their 'acquired' taste, but also their 'vile and lingering' smell," Ms Lawrence said. The chef Gordon Ramsay remembered battered saveloys as a "delicacy", while actor Bill Paterson hated the memory of tripe and potted hough (a beef dish made out of shinbone).
Ms Lawrence added, however, that Scotland's most famous dish – haggis – is not a traditional Scots recipe; it was mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman literature, although Scotland appropriated it.
Critics Choice: The best of the Edinburgh Fringe: What to see this week
With more than 2,000 shows to choose from at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this season, it's probably best to conduct a bit of research before setting out into the weird and wonderful world of Fringe performances. So, if you're feeling a little daunted, here's our definitive list of the critically acclaimed, the downright strange and the simply unmissable performances for the upcoming week.
Laura Solon: Rabbit-Faced Story Soup, Assembly Rooms
Winner of the 2005 Edinburgh Comedy Award (her debut at the festival), Solon has critics lamenting her ineligibility to receive the honour this year. The stand-up show follows the story of 20 characters in a struggling publishing firm trying to finish the book of an author who has suddenly died. Highly praised. If you're looking for comedy that delivers, Rabbit-Faced Story Soup is the one to watch. "A real vindication of the faith that was put in her four years ago" **** (Independent)
Daniel Kitson: The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, Traverse Theatre
Comedic storytelling in all its glory, Kitson's show is a 90-minute narrative about Gregory Church, a man who apparently committed suicide 24 years after sending letters to 56 people declaring his intention to do so and then staying on to correspond with them. The show has been described as "genius", "intriguing" and "exhilarating", and we are assured by all reviewers that Kitson just gets better and better. "Unbelievably good" ***** (Guardian)
Bob Golding: Morecambe, Assembly@Assembly Hall
Bob Golding's solo show is a tour-de-force tribute to Eric Morecambe, the man who was dubbed "Comedian of the Century". Skilfully evading the possible pitfalls of a tribute performance, Golding has been praised for his ability to get to the heart of Morecambe's life rather than simply mimicking his mannerisms. "I bet there's a standing ovation every day" **** (Guardian)
Orphans, Traverse Theatre
Dennis Kelly's dark and gritty play has impressed the reviewers and in the first week of the Fringe was a recipient of one of The Scotsman's Fringe First awards. With a cast of three, all of whom have been praised for their terrifyingly persuasive performances; it explores the proximity of modern domestic life to violence and turmoil. "Excellent" (The Independent); "Dennis Kelly's play grips you tight, like a mugger in a knife-point robbery" **** (Telegraph)
Midsummer (A play with songs), Traverse Theatre
A rom-com from David Greig, with music written by Gordon McIntyre from the indie band Ballboy, Midsummer has been reviewed as a "joyous romp, part Richard Curtis, part Irvine Welsh, a celebration of Edinburgh itself". It follows two impromptu lovers in their mid-thirties on a weekend of bridge burning and soul searching.
"Offers the private pleasure of a rare indie B-side" (Guardian). "A pleasure" **** (Independent)
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