OldByreSkye

gallery, cafe & apartment

Soup, and other institutions

Well, there hasn’t been a post on the blog for a while.  I’ve been working on some format changes to make the entry page more of a web portal for the business, leading off to the blog and the gallery, but these aren’t quite ready.  There’s also been the daily posts on our Facebook page, and we also now have a Twitter feed, under Claire’s control, so there’s plenty to keep you up to date!

The other morning I was making cock a leekie soup over in the gallery kitchen.  For the uninitiated it’s a quintessentially Scottish soup made with chicken and leeks.  Traditionally it would have been an old fowl put in the pot and boiled, and then the meat removed and served as a separate dish to make it go further – not so much ‘canny Scots’ as subsistence farmers making the most of what little they had.  Many recipes include rice: I used pearl barley as it seemed more authentic, but it got me thinking as to why you would have rice in a Scottish soup.

waterfall

Quintessential Scotland: it only needs a tartan-clad piper and some shortbread and all the stereotype boxes will be ticked.  And I’ll be run out of town…

Rice is the most important grain grown as a human food source. [More maize is grown, but more of this is used as animal feed, so calorific value is lost.  Look up trophic levels to see why it’s really a bad idea to eat animals even if they taste nice…] It was probably cultivated somewhere around 10,000 years ago in southern China and was known in Europe in the classical world.  Large amounts of rice have been found in Roman camps in Germany dating from the first century AD, but the exact spread throughout Europe seems unclear, and it probably happened more than once, and from different directions.  The Moorish expansion seems to have brought rice-growing to the Iberian peninsula in the 10th century.  It’s production was encouraged in 15th century Italy, from which it is a short step to southern France.  Given the nature of the Auld Alliance [1295 – 1560] it’s not too fanciful to envisage direct trade in rice from France to Scotland, especially given that at least one source claims that cock a leekie soup itself originates in France from chicken and onion soup, crossings over around the 16th century…

So, our quintessentially Scottish soup may be distinctly European, a material memory of historic links and broad-based identities.  No prizes for guessing where this is going.  The major event of the week north of the border [the only  border with the definitive article] has been the publication of the White Paper on Scottish Independence – you may have noticed it elsewhere, wherever you live.  We have the curious situation of having on the one hand a devolved government formed by a party with a clear majority and mandate that clearly stands for, indeed it’s reason for existing is, an independent Scotland, and on the other a population that on present polling rejects that vision, yet would still probably return the same government regardless as its other policies seem to better fit the national belief and self-image.  This in a system that was designed to prevent a clear majority and force coalition governments.

From here the ‘yes’ camp’s best recruiting sergeant seems to be every utterance of the Westminster Government on the issue which are based on negativity and apparent bullying, ‘you couldn’t do this, you can’t do that, we’ll take our ball away and go home’, ignoring both that  this reinforces the stereotypes that play to nationalism, and there is every chance that those issuing such proclamations wouldn’t be in power at the time if Scotland became independent.  There are still more that enough ‘don’t knows’ for arguments and referendums to be won and lost and the national conversation up here in the next year will be interesting to follow, especially if wavy Davy continues to pull U turns every day to desperately try to please a party with more wings than a Chernobyl chicken.

So, this St Andrew’s* day who knows, in five years time those in the ‘home counties’ wanting a weekend in Europe may be going for a jaunt across Hadrian’s wall to seek [Scottish] enlightenment…

Currently listening to: Vagrant stanzas – Martin Simpson.

*He’s Patron Saint of rather a lot of places, including Russia…

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