The 18th century was a time of great change in Scotland – its major cities were full of learning and progress in areas such as architecture, philosophy, science, religion and – importantly – it marked the beginning of the change from medieval to modern medicine.
Modern medicine is, essentially, just folk medicine that worked. A huge proportion of modern western medicine is derived from plants that had been used for centuries. A well-known example being willow bark used to treat pain; a derivative from this was eventually used in Aspirin. Foxgloves, known to be poisonous (especially to children) were used to treat heart disease and heart attacks – chemicals from these flowers are used today for the same thing. One particularly unappealing cure was eating woodlice (or mixing them with wine) to treat stomach aches, heartburn and indigestion – and considering that their exoskeletons are predominately calcium carbonate (a main ingredient of Rennies) – it might have actually worked.
However, for every tincture, potion, ointment and salve that worked; many more had no more power to heal a wound or illness than the Primary School method of putting a wet paper towel on it. It was a belief that if there was an illness – God provided a cure. Unfortunately, unlike diseases like scurvy, which was cured by something as simple as Vitamin C from Kale or Citrus fruits, a large number of diseases had many treatments, but no cures. Smallpox remained the scourge of the 18th Century, responsible for as much as 10% of all deaths worldwide. Unfortunately, because of the lack of scientific understanding behind how the treatments worked and why, attempts to cure these more serious diseases were for the most part unsuccessful. Any survival was almost entirely down to luck and the patient’s overall health. The cure for Rabies (which still remains incurable today without immediate retroviral drugs) was a prayer for the patient’s soul and then a swift smothering. Our own Bard is testament to the fact that submerging yourself in the ice cold Solway Firth to cure heart problems was not one of these cures that were eventually incorporated into the NHS.
Throughout the 18th Century, the people of rural Scotland were dependant on their home remedies for treating illness; home remedies that were often medieval in their origins. The issue was that although trained Doctors did exist at this time; they were expensive to hire, rare and travel was difficult from city to isolated village. So communities made do with what they could.
Home remedies were often passed down from word of mouth, stories, songs, letters and kitchen cookbooks – meaning they changed very little over the years – much opposed to orthodox medicine, which underwent a huge shift in the 18th century. There were many books on home medicine – including Buchan’s Guide to Domestic Medicine, however, a large proportion of the rural population could not afford the books and illiteracy was still very high.
Most diagnoses and medicines were administered by a local healer, wise-woman (or man), apothecary or family members – as most housewives would have grown herbs for medicinal use or at least have known where to look for them; making potions and ointments to be stored away for later use. Local healers would often be members of a family known for practicing medicine, or even a landowner who owned some of the ‘do-it-yourself’ medicine books. Burns famously wrote of ‘Dr Hornbook’, a teacher who practiced as a healer, albeit not successfully if the Grim Reaper was to be believed.
A famous book of ‘do-it-yourself’ medicine was William Buchan’s succinctly titled ‘Domestic Medicine: or, a Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines’. The list of local plants and herbs that could be used in treatments in the book is exhausting;
Wormwood was a cure for jaundice and, as its name suggest, worms. Peppermint was used to treat wind. Common Mugwort was thought to be a cure-all, for everything from consumption to weariness. Juniper was a disinfectant, Bettony healed infected wounds, Poppies were sedatives and Carline thistle was an antibiotic (it’s also worth noting Carline is a scots word for witch). Nettles were for skin conditions, Heather is an antiseptic, Bog myrtle is a midge repellent and fever remedy. Eventually, due to the increasing professionalisation of medicine over the 18th Century, the gulf between local healers and trained, professional Doctors widened – the latter saw the former as superstitious and looked down upon traditional forms of medicine quite vehemently. This led to many folk medicines being abandoned in favour of more modern, clinical and chemical cures. However, even today we still sometimes use folk medicine in its original from, for example: the Dock Leaf, which grows around nettle patches, crushed and is used to cure their stings, is an ancient cure passed down generation to generation.
We are all big lovers of Irn Bru here so when we saw this recipe we had to try it out! But wee dainty cupcakes wouldn’t have been Burns’s thing – no doubt he would have preferred a good giant slab of cake that would see a working man through the hard slog in the fields. So here we have for you a recipe for this fantastic Irn Bru cake!
For the cakes:
- To make a double sponge like in the picture above, double the amounts of everything.
125g plain flour (sieved)
125g caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
125ml buttermilk (or regular milk with a squirt of lemon juice)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g unsalted butter
85ml Irn Bru
For the icing:
110g icing sugar (sieved)
50g unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Recipe Source: London Baking blog.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees or gas mark 4
Mix together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, sugar, bicarbonate of soda
Put the room temperature butter and Irn Bru in a sauce pan and heat gently until the butter melts into the Irn Bru, then remove from the hob.
Pour the buttermilk into a cup and add the egg and vanilla essence, beating it all together.
Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients and add the buttermilk mixture and the butter/irn bru mixture and mix until fully combined and any lumps have gone. To make the cake look orange, add some orange food colouring. Pour into a cake tin (making sure it is greased or lined with parchment paper).
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a pick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
Make the icing! Cream room temperature butter in a bowl, then add the icing sugar and vanilla extract, beating the mixture until all ingredients are incorporated.
Spread icing onto the cake and decorate with all the unnaturally blue sweeties you can find!
Keep an eye out on our blog for more Irn Bru recipes in the coming months!
Got more Haggis than you know what to do with? This last recipe in our January series looks to Poland for culinery inspiration. Pierogi are dumplings, usually filled with simple ingredients like potato, ham, or cheese, and can be either fried or boiled. They are very popular, and for good reason!
To make a Haggis version is very simple, so this recipe shouldn’t be at all difficult.
3 cups flour
3 quarters of a cup water
Cook your Haggis according to package instructions and leave it to cool.
Seive the flour into a bowl
Beat the two eggs in a separate bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the beaten eggs.
Stir the flour and egg mixture, adding in water as you go until the mixture becomes crumbly.
Use your hands to work the crumbly dough until it starts to come together.
Form it into a big bowl and rest for 30 minutes.
Once the dough has rested, put some flour on your counter and rolling pin and roll the dough thinly.
Cut with cookie cutter.
Spoon haggis into each circle, and pinch the edges down.
Put a frying pan on the stove with some oil, and once the oil is hot start firing in the pierogi.
This is an Italian take on the traditional Scottish meal of Haggis, Neeps & Tatties. In Italy sausage and potato is a common pizza topping, so this seemed like the perfect Burns Night experiment!
For the pizza dough (enough for 2 pizzas):
- 300g. strong bread flour
- 200ml warm water
- 1tsp instant yeast
- 1tbsp olive oil
For the topping:
- Haggis for 2-3 people (I used vegetarian)
- Grated turnip (1/3 average size)
- Grated potato (1 medium sized)
- Olive oil
Cook the haggis according to package instructions. Once cooked scoop the contents of the package into a bowl and separate with a fork. While the haggis is cooking (usually it takes over 50 minutes) prepare the pizza dough.
To make the pizza bases:
1. Put the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the yeast and salt.
2. Make a well, pour in 200ml warm water and the olive oil and bring together with a wooden spoon until you have a soft, fairly wet dough.
3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 mins until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and set aside. You can leave the dough to rise if you like, but it’s not essential for a thin crust.
Putting it all together:
4. Once you have prepared the pizza dough, grate the turnip and potato and set aside.
5. Roll out the pizza dough, making sure you cover the pizza trays with flour.
6. Once the Haggis is ready, increase the oven temperature to 200C.
7. Sprinkle the haggis, turnips and potatoes (in that order as the potatoes will moisten the rest of the ingredients) over the pizza bases. Drizzle plenty of olive oil on the pizzas.
Cook for 8-10 minutes and Buon appetito!
Recipe by Elena Trimarchi Learning Intern
Thanks to Christine Jones for the photographs and for the pizza dough!
We all enjoy sitting down to a ‘groaning trencher’ of haggis, neeps, and tatties on Burns night, but over recent years we’ve all seen new interpretations of our Bard’s favourite dish. Haggis samosas, pizzas, crisps are just some of the Haggis products you might see in the shops in Scotland! So we’ve decided to delve right in there and create some of our own haggis concoctions.
First of our creations has been inspired by the wonderful county of Yorkshire and its contribution to culinary culture: the yorkshire pudding. So if you fancy a bit of a Yorkshire twist on your Burns night, follow the recipe below for a delicious Haggis in the Hole!
1 and a half cups plain flour
3 eggs beaten
1 and a half cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
1) Whisk flour, eggs, milk, and melted butter until there are no lumps and let stand for 30 minutes.
2) Pre-heat your oven to 220°C or Gas Mark 7.
3) Put oil in non stick baking tin and pre heat the tin in the oven to make the oil very hot.
4) Take your haggis, pierce the skin and take all the contents out. Mash it up with the fork.
5) Take out the tin from the oven. Test the heat of the oil by dropping a little bit of batter in it. If it sizzles its ready.
6) Dollop lumps of the haggis into the tin and pour batter on top.
7) Bake for 30-40 minutes or until Batter is risen and golden brown.
Finally serve up with neeps and tatties or the vegetables of your choice! You can also add some gravy if you fancy it too.