Curry was king 200 years ago, exhibition reveals
The popularity of curry has seen it become Scotland's other national dish but surprising new evidence shows that it was being eaten as far back as two centuries ago.
A free exhibition opening today (Friday 12 June) at the National Library of Scotland, which looks at the country's food history, includes an advert for curry powder being sold by an Edinburgh grocer in 1798.
The grocer, John Caird, informs customers through the 'Edinburgh Evening Courant' that he 'has just received a parcel of REAL INDIA CURRY POWDER in the original package.' It was selling at 2/6d [two shillings and sixpence] a canister.
'This was a considerable sum in the late 18th century and was way beyond the means of ordinary workers,' said curator Olive Geddes who has put the exhibition together. Every night, thousands of Scots tuck into a curry but Olive said in the 18th century 'it was clearly a novelty for the elite.'
This is one of many fascinating discoveries in the exhibition which tells the story of the country’s changing relationship with food and drink over the past 400 years. 'Lifting the lid: 400 years of food and drink in Scotland' is being staged during Scotland's Year of Food and Drink. It will help visitors understand more of how their ancestors lived and how their diet links to what we eat today.
The main ingredients for the exhibition come from the wonderful collection of recipe books, dating from the 17th century to the 1940s, that are held at the National Library. These were mostly written by female members of wealthy families as memory aids to record favourite dishes and new culinary experiences rather than the everyday meals that would be served. They are supported by other striking information in published recipe books, household accounts and inventories, tradesmen’s bills, menus, visitors' journals, maps and amateur and government films about food.
Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see what is thought to be Scotland's first ever recipe book — John Reid's 'The Scots Gard'ner' — which was published in 1683. Although principally a book for food growers, it also includes tips for cooks on preparing meals.
The exhibition tells of old Scottish measures such as a chopin (two pints), a mutchkin (just under a pint), a peck (two gallons) and a forpet or lippie (half a gallon). While some foods such as Cullen skink, crannachan and clootie dumpling have lived on, others like powsowdie (a sheep heid’s broth), crappit heids (haddock heads and livers) and cruddy butter (a type of cheese) have all but disappeared in the mists of time.
'The written records we have are mostly for the wealthy,' said Olive 'But the exhibition also looks at the role of the cook from the ordinary housewife and domestic servant to the professional chef. The social and economic significance of food will also feature. How far has social convention dictated what was eaten by whom and when?'
'Lifting the lid' has been designed like the chapters of a modern day cook book with separate sections on soups, bread, fish, meat, vegetables, desserts and baking, jams and preserves. Each section will have a kitchen counter where items will be displayed and chopping boards with memorable quotes about food and diet on the walls. Information on drinks including tea, ale, wine and whisky appear throughout.
Today food is all around us in shops, restaurants and supermarkets but we only have to go back 60 years to the post war period to recall how limited the supply of food was. Scots have always found innovative ways to make the best of what is available. Haggis, for example, was created to use up the less appealing parts of an animal and ensure nothing was wasted.
'Food has become cheaper and much more plentiful in the developed world over the past few decades. This has led to concern that we are losing sight of where our food comes from,' said Olive. 'We hope that, with this exhibition, people can learn more about food in Scotland and about how tastes have changed and developed. 'Lifting the lid: 400 years of food and drink in Scotland' runs from 12 June to 8 November at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.
See related news story.
11 June 2015