If asked to picture a traditional Scottish breakfast, I suspect the first thing most people would think of is a piping-hot bowl of porridge; a wholesome, stick-to-the-ribs start to the day synonymous with my native Scotland.
Porridge being the breakfast of choice for centuries, it’s no surprise that it readily springs to mind. We inventive Scots even created our own specific tool to stir it, the spurtle. This stick-shaped cooking utensil was designed to stop the porridge from going lumpy or sticking to the pan.
Made by cooking porridge oats in milk, water, or both, with a pinch of salt and sometimes a dash of honey, porridge harks back to late medieval times when oats were the staple diet of crofters (farmers). The grain was plentiful, nutritious and a great source of energy for people eking out a living in cold, wet winters.
These days, porridge is chosen more for its health benefits and a regular, everyday Scottish breakfast would look much like the breakfast plates in most European cities; cereal (including porridge), toast, fruit, or a combination of all three.
For weekends and special occasions, we have the Full Scottish breakfast. So named because it contains a bit of everything, but quite possibly because after having one, you won’t need to eat again for a very long time! Sometimes called “the full fry” — due to the fact that, like the English or Irish versions, most of the components are fried — it offers its own unique twist to what’s become a popular breakfast offering across the world.
Scots have unfairly gained a reputation for being stingy, but there’s nothing stingy about our full breakfast! It’s generous, joyously greasy, and will set you up till lunchtime (or longer).
First and foremost, it’s not for the faint-hearted. The contents of a full breakfast vary between establishments but will generally include everything you’d expect to see in a fried breakfast; eggs (fried or scrambled), bacon, sausages, beans, tomatoes, fried mushrooms and toast. We add a little bit of tartan flair to our version in the form of haggis, tattie scone, lorne sausage and either black or white pudding.
Haggis is best tried if you don’t know what’s in it. It’s made with the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, mixed with spices, onion, oatmeal and suet, soaked in stock and then boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Scottish people were zero-waste cooks before it was even a thing! It actually tastes better than you’d think…
A tattie scone is made with mashed potato (tatties being the Scottish word for spuds). We add flour, butter and salt, then it’s rolled out and grilled. Carby and delicious, it’s my favourite element of the full fry.
Lorne sausage is sometimes called square sausage due its unique shape. It’s made with minced meat (beef or pork) with rusk and spices and unlike regular sausages, there’s no casing, which is why it’s packed into a tin and comes out square.
White pudding is similar to black pudding but without the blood essential to the latter. Puddings have a bit of a Marmite reaction – people tend to love or hate them. Recipes go back to medieval times, but modern takes typically include suet or fat, oatmeal or barley, breadcrumbs and in some cases pork, stuffed into a sausage casing. It’s served sliced in a fried breakfast, but you can buy a whole pudding with chips in takeaways, called a “pudding supper”.
Naturally, to suit modern tastes there are vegetarian and vegan versions of the Full Scottish. Yet what I love about the original is its connection with the past. Scotland is a beautiful country with bountiful culture and wild, unspoiled countryside, but historically it was a harsh place to live. Winters are bitter, and even summer can be a mixed bag! Our full fry tethers us to recent history when we needed a hearty breakfast to spend a day in a field or a factory, and we used ingredients that were locally sourced and plentiful.
Of course, these days most people work in offices or shops, not farms or fields. For those without the time or the constitution to sit down to a “full” breakfast, a breakfast roll (or butty) is a great way to sample some of the full breakfast staples on the go. Bacon butties are most common, but it’s possible to buy a sausage or egg roll from most breakfast takeaways.
I was born and raised in Scotland but have lived in Australia, Spain and Ireland. I’ve gone looking for a Full Scottish wherever I roam, but never found anything close to the real thing. Being Celtic cousins, Ireland comes pretty close; but there really is nothing quite like the taste of home in the form of a tattie scone.
More on the menu…