Morag MacInnes, F.-M. McNeill, The Scots Kitchen

Porridge and the Shorter Catechism

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Food is an expression of a culture, a reminder of your roots. I inherited a battered copy of Glasgow Cookery, peppered with my granny’s authoritative biro. It transports me to a simpler time. Liver and bacon every Wednesday, cod in lumpy sauce on Fridays. She scalded and plucked chickens. I’ll never forget the smell of the feathers. She was what’s called a good plain cook – lots of pancakes, jammy scones and barley thickened soups. But it would never have occurred to her that the way she cooked – using every last bit of an animal, turning hard bread into puddings – was interesting in itself, or that it could teach anyone about what it meant to be Scottish. For that insight we are indebted to a remarkable Orcadian woman.

Florence Marian McNeill, known as Floss, understood the importance of regional dishes. You may know her better as a folklorist; but without The Scots Kitchen, first published in 1929, she’d never have begun collecting the scraps of song, story, local traditions and unlikely remedies which grew over the years to become her definitive work on folklore, The Silver Bough. She was born in Holm, in Orkney, in 1885, the eighth of twelve children of the Manse. Her father, Daniel, was not a typical Free Kirk character – he sang, played fiddle, liked a dram and a dance. His wife Jessie was austere, self-effacing. She had wanted to be a doctor or a missionary, but such options weren’t open to her. Instead, she inspired her bairns.

In summer the old Manse overflowed with young life . . . one never knew what the winds would blow in – an Oxford don or a packman . . . the sea before our window was blue and green and purple, and brown sailed fishing vessels passed up and down the sound. Owld Jock would climb the long loan from the village with his creel of silver herring, and Beenie, who presided in the kitchen, would run down to the gate for an ashetful, and serve t

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About the contributor

Morag MacInnes is an Orcadian writer. She has never tried to make her own haggis but her scones are passable. The illustrations in this article are by Iain McIntosh.

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