Scots had expensive taste for "novelty" curry in Victorian times, newspaper reveals

By Ben Miller | 11 June 2015

Female members of wealthy families recorded favourite dishes and advice in ancient books, say curators

A photo of an old newspaper advertisement about a book dealing in gardens
Scotland's first ever recipe book© NLS
Curry was a “novelty for the elite” in Scotland during the late 18th century, according to historians who found an advert by a grocer advertising a parcel of then-exotic real powder from India in a real package, selling in the Edinburgh Evening Courier.

Writing in 1798, trader John Caird told that public that he had “just received a parcel of real India curry powder in the original package,” available for 2/6d a canister long before curry became a favourite across Britain.

“This was a considerable sum in the late 18th century and was way beyond the means of ordinary workers,” points out curator Olive Geddes, who has lined up an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland including Scotland’s first recipe book.

An image of an old black ink illustration advertising a glasgow and london confectionary company
A classic ad for Scottish sweet treats© NLS
“The written records we have are mostly for the wealthy. But the exhibition also looks at the role of the cook from the ordinary housewife and domestic servant to the professional chef.

“We hope that people can learn more about food in Scotland and about how tastes have changed and developed.”

Female members of wealthy families cooked up most of the books, using them to record favourite dishes and new culinary tips rather than recount everyday meals.

An image of an illustration from an ancient cookery book showing a leg of pork recipe
An excerpt from an illustrated 19th century Scottish recipe book by Katherine Jane Ellice© NLS
The earliest cookbook is John Reid’s The Scots Gard’ner, published in 1683 as a book for food growers and meal preparation.

“The social and economic significance of food will also feature,” says Geddes, who has designed the displays into a series of kitchen counters, with memorable quotes, tea, ale, wine and whisky.

“Food has become cheaper and much more plentiful in the developed world over the past few decades. This has led to concern that we are losing sight of where our food comes from.”

An image of a book called The Scots Gardner with black ink and floral illustrations
© NLS

Eight old Scottish measures and traditions

A chopin – two pints

A mutchkin – just under a pint

A peck – two gallons

A forpet or lippie – half a gallon

Powsowdie – a sheep heid’s broth

Crappit heids – haddock heads and livers

Cruddy butter – a type of cheese

Haggis – originally created to use up the less appealing parts of an animal and ensure nothing was wasted

  • Lifting the Lid: 400 years of Food and Drink in Scotland is at the National Library of Scotland until November 12 2015.

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