An Auld Alliance

A cardoon – pic taken in Culloden

It was Burns Night during the week – a celebration of all things Scotland to commemorate the birthday of Robbie Burns. Given that Grant was born in Scotland, it’s one of those days that we generally like to mark in some way.

Traditionally on Burns night you’d celebrate with haggis and neeps and tatties. I’m not a fan, but Grant is – and has even been known to order it willingly off a menu.

Haggis with neeps and tatties at Glenfiddich

He says I haven’t given haggis a chance and I usually counter with some rude comments about how the national flower is a noxious weed, the national dish is offal encased in a sheep’s stomach, and the national drink was invented to chase away the taste of the national dish and to promote enjoyment of the national instrument ie bagpipes.

Of course, I jest – I happen to love everything about Scotland…except haggis..and deep-fried Mars bars. But if I have haggis to thank for the invention of whisky (my theory, probably not a true story) well, how can I complain?

I have, however, hunted down and cooked haggis, the crafty wee buggers, before. Once I prepared them the traditional way with mashed tatties (potatoes) and neeps (swedes), and another time I turned it into a shepherd’s pie of sorts with the tatties and neeps as the topping and served it with a whisky sauce. That was, however, in the early days of our relationship…need I say more? The things you do when you’re newly in love, right?

Anyways, we were having friends around for dinner on Saturday night so I decided that something Scottish – cranachan… more on that later – would be on the menu. That was dessert taken care of, but what to have before that? Grant suggested haggis (I hoped he was joking) and I suggested salmon, at which point he reminded me that these friends don’t eat seafood.

What about Coq au Vin?’ he asked.

It’s not exactly Scottish,’ I said.

‘But it’s nice.’

He had a point. 

‘If we bring in the Auld Alliance we can get away with it,’ I decided. I’m nothing if not creative in my justifications.

The Auld Alliance, or An Seann-chaidreachas in Scottish Gaelic, was an alliance forged between Scotland and France against England back in 1295. To this day it’s never formally been revoked.

It wasn’t just a military alliance – although that certainly was the original intention – but the French influence was seen in many parts of Scottish life – architecture, law, language and cuisine. Many Scots studied at French universities and privileges were granted to Scottish winemakers. As for the French, well, they got whisky. (They probably got more out of the deal, but this post isn’t about that.)

So, Coq au Vin it was. Because I’d left it so late to decide and didn’t have time for marinating, the recipe I used was this one. I cooked it earlier in the afternoon, removed the chicken pieces from the sauce so they wouldn’t dry out, and took my time reducing it down, before adding the chicken back to heat through. We served it with steamed green beans and Vichy-style carrots – carrots cooked with butter, sugar, and fresh thyme. Okay, so there’s butter – and sugar – but this was a dinner party, and carrots cooked this way end up tasting more of carrot than any carrot has the right to taste of.

For something to nibble on while we had a drink – and while I reduced the sauce and cooked the veg – I put out a platter with savoury cake, radishes and little bowls of butter and salt. Very French and not at all Scottish, but the recipe for the savoury cake is here

As for dessert? This is where we got our Scots on with Cranachan. Not only is it historically a Scottish harvest dish (and would therefore probably not have been present on January 25 in Scotland) but it’s ridiculously simple to put together and is my favourite dessert.

Grant describes it as an Eton Mess without the meringue, I think of it more as a Scottish trifle without the jelly or sponge cake – which, come to think of it, means it’s really nothing like a trifle. It is, at its simplest, layers of oats, softly whipped light as a feather cream, raspberries, honey, and whisky. 

Usually the raspberries are mixed with a little whisky and honey, but they were fresh so I didn’t bother with that this time, although I did drizzle a little local (from bees in our neighbourhood) honey over them. As for the oats, we’re not talking about instant quick oats, but real traditional oats. The sort of oats you stir for porridge on a winter’s morning. It’s the oats that give texture and crunch to the pudding.

You could just toast them in a frypan, but I take it one extra step and for 50g of oats, add about 30g brown sugar to the pan. You need to stir them about and watch them like a hawk – don’t take your eyes off them for one second – until the sugar has melted into the oats and they’re toasty and golden-brown but not bitter and burnt. As they cool, they take on a toffee crunch. You can leave them in little nuggetty clumps but being not at all fond of visits to the dentist, I prefer to separate them.All you need to do when you’re ready for dessert is layer it all together and serve it with a wee dram of whisky on the side which you can, if you choose to, tip over the top.

Linking up with Donna from Retirement Reflections and her co-host Deb The Widow Badass Blog in their #whatsonyourplateblogchallenge.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

33 thoughts

  1. I didn’t know what neeps (or swedes) are so I googled – I had no idea that neeps are turnips! I alos checked out the recipe for your savory bread. I don’t think I’ve ever been served anything like that but I think my husband would really enjoy it!

    1. That savoury loaf is so versatile – and is never the same (depending on what’s in the veggie crisper…). Thanks for dropping by.

  2. How lucky were your friends to be treated to such a wonderful Auld Alliance meal?! Everything looks absolutely amazing — and that Cranachan looks divine!!
    BTW – I continue to learn a great deal from your posts. Previously, I wasn’t sure what haggis, neeps, tatties and cranachan were. Don’t tell Grant, but I will definitely pass on the first item on this list. 😀

  3. That dinner sounds amazing! Thank heavens for the Auld Alliance 😉. I love carrots cooked that way – it brings out their carrotiness (is that a word?) so spectacularly. Cranachan sounds like my kind of dessert…sounds like a deconstructed fruit crisp or crumble. Yum!


  4. I’ve never been to Scotland but, if I go, I don’t think I’ll be ordering Haggis with neeps and tatties, or deep-fried Mars bars. That dessert, though? yes, please! By the way, I couldn’t read your post without thinking about the old (2013 era) Saturday Night Live skits called “All Things Scottish.” Very silly but funny.

    1. Sarah ordered the deep fried Mars bar once – it was weird & she loved it. Waaaaay too sweet for me. I’m off to google that skit.

  5. I learnt so much here Jo, such an interesting post! Scotland is one of my favourite places but I drew the line at Haggis too. Your dessert sounds so delicious!

  6. You’ve outdone yourself Jo! Thanks for the history lesson as a bonus. I love everything about Scotland and did Highland Dancing in my youth. We would be booked to perform on Burns Night and NYE so I had my fill of Haggis although I only used to have a nibble really. What a great menu you created and I’ve been thinking of something special to make for Mike so plenty to select from. Thanks!

    1. A nibble of haggis is well and truly enough in my book. Although we did try a posh one at the Glenfiddich distillery that was almost nice…or was that just teh whisky?

  7. Ah! Burns Nigh, whisky & Haggis – I love the “tussle” you have in your kitchen; Coq au Vin seems like the logical neutral ground!

    Loving Husband loves haggis (with tatties & neeps, and a wee dram, of course); he has since we visited Scotland decades ago before we were married. We used to buy him a roll from the supermarket whenever we visited London and fly it home in our suitcase to Singapore. I think we can get it at some specialty stores now – but he hasn’t asked for it and I am keeping very quiet.

  8. I tried commenting through inLinkz but my WordPress account never clicked in. Your delicious dessert looks perfect for me because I’m avoiding sweets, and I could do that without real sugar. Gorgeous. You are so good at delivery! Have a great rest of your weekend. 🙂

    1. It’s a great dessert – I’m not a real sweet tooth, so this fits the bill for me. I made something similar but French in style at a cooking class yesterday – but you’ll need to wait until next month for that one…

      1. Aw shucks! I am avoiding sweets all together. I bought some sugar-free chocolate treets which are ok but not worth the calories. Same with some keto cupcakes I tried last week. They were pretty but dry and again, not worth the calories. 🙂

  9. Jo, Lucky Grant and your friends to have this Saturday dinner prepared by you and with you. Everything looks good and delicious. Thank you for linking up with #weekendcoffeeshare.

  10. Hi Jo,

    You had me laughing several times with this post. I offer the following by way of thanks,

    You may have heard of a national disgrace we have here in the US called okra.

    It masquerades as a simple chili, but tastes nothing like one. It is one of those vegetables that is prepared sliced and boiled down to a murky, lumpy, sauce-like mess where the slices still retain their shape but the juices have percolated out to become a snotty, viscous, sticky substance which is then used to punish people for various sins.

    Folks raised in our south-east are used to it and even like it (an honest mystery to us normal folk) so it shows up in diners where visitors and travelers can happen across it, taste some and thus be guaranteed never return to the region. People who are not raised on it, don’t have the genetic damage required to allow one to swallow it.

    I’m pretty sure that our gag-reflex was created by God to protect the body from okra.

    When visiting the area on business, I love trying new foods, so I gave okra a normal chance. My wife and I raised our kids with one rule about food. If served something new, you have to politely and honestly taste it, give it a chance you know. But after giving it a real chance you find your just don’t like it, then you are empowered to unload your disgust and revulsion to whatever degree is merited.

    I tell folks that having tried okra, that, properly prepared, it would make a fabulous base for tarmac.

    I so enjoyed your post today, and it’s embarrassing how much I enjoyed creating this review of okra for you.

    Have a great week.

  11. Hi Jo, you definitely made me laugh with your comments about Haggis and the origins of whisky. I love whisky sauce, but not whisky itself and I don’t think I’ve ever had haggis, but the idea sounds disgusting. I tried shepherd’s pie at Christmas last year (2021) and didn’t like that either. Then again, I’m not a fan of the feel of mash in my mouth. That being said, I loved learning more about Scottish culture and cuisine through your post. Thanks so much!

  12. Deep-fried Mars bars sounds like a county fair food. At county fairs they deep fry everything: chicken, oreos, and even butter. I’ve never had one and I never had haggis either but I’d be willing to try.

  13. That first flower is pretty. I’ve never eaten anything scottish. I agree with Julie, our county fairs here deep fry everything. I’ve never eaten the deep fried mars bars, twinkies, oreos, etc. I do love to eat elephant ears at the fair, those are always yummy with powdered sugar, but sometimes served with whipped cream and strawberries

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