Scottish Celebratory Foods: Then and Now

Indulging in luxury food on special occasions is no new phenomenon; from Ancient Greece, where they indulged in honey chestnuts and bread dipped in wine to celebrate, right up to modern day celebrations where champagne and luxury food hampers are the standard. In 1826, the wife of an Edinburgh publisher compiled a detailed record of the Scottish food which was traditionally served at celebrations such as St Andrew’s Night or Burns Night. Published in ‘The Cook And Housewife’s Manual’, it details the recipes and ingredient needed to create such dishes, and differs wildly from the food which we celebrate with in this day and age.

There was a great variety of options for each course, and the cooks and housewives crafting the meal would be able to choose between them. Rich households feeding many mouths could often afford to cook them all! Friar’s Chicken consisted of a rich broth with veal, eggs and of course, chicken, which was supposedly a favourite of King James VI. Old Scots Brown Soup was a similar concoction, which was simmered for hours to release a variety of meaty flavours, before slivers of rump-steak were added. The famous haggis was a popular starter for celebratory meals in Scotland, and is one of the few dishes outlined in the book which is still served frequently today. Sheep’s Head Broth, also known as powsowdie, was also commonly cooked to start a meal, however the recipe outlined doesn’t sound like something which would appeal to modern palates; the instructions include finding a ‘large, fat, young head’, as well as boiling ‘singed trotters’ and taking out the ‘glassy part’ of the eyes.

The second course would often feature meat more heavily, with traditional dishes including roast fowls with poached eggs, or dressed lamb’s heads (possibly more appetising than a full-grown sheep’s). Partans were a form of edible crab which were often served dripping in rich butter, and pastries and stewed onions were often enjoyed. This course seamlessly made way for dessert, with some odd concoctions as well as some which are still favourites today. Calves’ foot jelly was a slightly less palatable dessert by modern standards, but meals like blancmange or plum-damas (prune) pie might still be enjoyed hundreds of years later.

Celebratory starters nowadays can be incredibly varied; if enjoying a full three-course meal, many often start with something light like a soup or a selection of cured meats. Food hampers bought for celebratory purposes often contain nibbles which can be shared around as starters, or enhance a dish. Preserves, chutneys and dips can be served with breads, cured meats and cheese, for example. The main course is often based around meat in some way, before the dessert course is brought out. Desserts in these situations are often served in tiny portions so guests can choose exactly how much they’d like to eat; these can range from boxes of chocolate to scoops of ice cream, and from slices of traditional cakes to oatcake biscuits or shortbread.

Courses dedicated entirely to cheese were often enjoyed among richer households during celebratory events, with as much selection as nowadays. Cheese was a staple part of the diet in the 1800s, but a course devoted entirely to cheese was still seen as decadent and an indulgence. Nowadays, cheese courses often involve cheeses from across the world, of varying textures and flavours. Blue cheeses combine with crumbly cheddars, with goat’s cheese another popular favourite on a cheese board. Food hampers given in celebration often contain a selection of cheeses that could be served as a singular course, with some choosing to dedicate build-your-own hampers to cheese from around the globe.

Celebratory drinks have surprisingly barely changed over many hundreds of years in Scotland; wine was a drink of choice with most meals in the 19thcentury, and we still indulge in a glass or two over dinner and at special occasions today. Back in the 1820s, ale was also enjoyed as an accompaniment to many meals, and indeed as an ingredient in some, though many consider it to be too heavy to enjoy with a meal these days. Many luxury food hampers contain a selection of drinks to enhance any celebration, with everything from local beer to champagne, as well as some alcohol-free alternatives.

To browse the entire collection and to order a hamper online visit: or call 0845 834 0086. 

Issued by Dakota Digital. For further information and image request, please contact Rebecca Appleton. Email:

About Scottish Hampers: Scottish Hampers take a modern approach to gift hampers, sourcing the best quality food and drink from every corner of Scotland. The hampers cater to all tastes and budgets with a choice of contemporary and traditional products. Scottish Hampers evolved from  a Scottish food business established in 1982, building an excellent reputation for quality and service. It is committed to finding the best products from coast to coast, tasting and discovering big name brands and artisan producers.