It is easy to forget that in the past, the daily diet of the ordinary person was often extra-ordinarily monotonous. I give you a good example today – the bill of fare for a Scottish ploughman in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. I cannot imagine a more gruelling occupation – with so little reward on the supper table at the end of a long, hard, cold day.
The diet was described in The Scotsman's library: being a collection of anecdotes and facts ... (1825) by James Mitchell.
We shall here give an Aberdeen ploughman's bill of fare for a day, which is just equal to giving one for a twelvemonth, merry-making times, and the two festivals of Christmas and Fasten-even only excepted.
Breakfast.—Pottage, made of boiling water, thickened with oatmeal, and eat with milk or ale. Or brose, made of shorn cabbage, or cole-worts, left over night. After either of which dishes they eat oat-cakes and milk; and where they have not milk, kale, or small beer.
Dinner.—Sowens, eat with milk. Second course, oat-cakes, eat with milk, or kale. Sowens are prepared in this manner. The mealy sid, or hull of the ground oat, is steeped in blood-warm water, for about two days, when it is wrung out, and the liquor put through a search [sieve]; if it is too thick, they add a little fresh cold water to it, and then set it on the fire to boil, constantly stirring it, till it thickens, and continuing the boiling till it becomes tough like a paste. In the stirring they add a little salt and dish it up for table.
Supper.—First course, during the winter season, ale-brose, eat about seven at night, while, at the fire-side, the tale goes round among the men and said servants. Second course, kale, eat with oat cakes about nine. During the summer season, there is generally but one course, pottage and milk, or oat-cakes, and kale, or milk. Kale is thus prepared: red-cabbage, or cole-worts, are cut down, and shorn small, then boiled with salt and water, thickened with a little oatmeal, and so served up to table. Brose, is oatmeal put into a bowl, or wooden dish, where the boiling liquor of the cabbage or cole-worts are stirred with it, till the meal all wet. This is the principal dish upon the festival of Fasten-even, which is emphatically called Beef-brose-day.
In harvest they sometimes have a thick broth made of barley and turnip, in place of sowens, and near a sea-port, frequently some kind of fish, which they eat with butter and mustard. We could have added to the number of their festivals, what they call the Clyak-feast, or, as it is called in the south and west, the Kirn. This is celebrated a few days after the last of their corns are cut down, when it is an established rule that there must be meat, both roasted and boiled.
There you have it – and I hope you are grateful that that is not your own daily fare for 360-odd days a year. I am grateful that the article included several recipes, thus saving me the job of finding them for you.
‘Sowens’ has only briefly been touched upon in this blog in the past (here, and here), but I do not appear to have given you the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, so here it is:
Sowens: An article of diet formerly in common use in Scotland (and some parts of Ireland), consisting of farinaceous matter extracted from the bran or husks of oats by steeping in water, allowed to ferment slightly, and prepared by boiling.
Quotation of the Day.
That knuckle-end of England - that land of Calvin, oat-cakes, and sulphur.
Sydney Smith, (1771 - 1845).
Sydney Smith, (1771 - 1845).