Scotland invokes a sense of “once upon a time…” Or, as the old Scottish poets once said, “in the days of Auld Lang Syne.” Shrouded in misty air, waters so clear they look as they’ve never been touched, and a human density that’s so sparse the cows and lambs seem to own the land, this country is a poetry book by the fire with a drum of (as the locals call it) “fusky”—or, what we might call “whiskey.”
My foodie memories of Britain began at fourteen on a road trip to Stonehedge with my family. Stopping at a local pub way out from London not expectant of much, we ordered my first ever sticky toffee pudding. The plate touched down in front of us and within seconds the perfectly burnt caramel was licked off every part of my spoon and plate. Ever since that trip I’ve been dreaming of that perfect dessert. So of course being back in the British isles, home of STP (sticky toffee pudding), I was determined to try it at every place in Scotland that offered it. To my delight that happened to be four out of the eight nights.
If you have not had the opportunity to enjoy this stemmed British pudding topped with toffee sauce, let me explain to you its drool worthy elements.
As mentioned, you start with a pudding. The pudding is typically made like a standard bundt cake but the Brits add dates and sometimes raisins. The goal of the pudding is to be light and spongy without too much density, otherwise you don’t have the perfect sopping sponge for your sauce. Now the sauce to me is where the taste really comes from.
The sauce needs a balance of sugar and butter for two reasons: first, you don’t want a cloyingly sweet topping. Second, the consistency should not be too runny or too thick, but should have the consistency of a steady stream when poured on top of the cake. When matched perfectly, you get the best dessert Scotland and the Brits have to offer. I found one such STP on the west coast of Scotland overlooking Port Appin at the Airds Hotel. Not only was their STP dessert divine but their water smelled and tasted of butterscotch! Was this why their pudding tasted so good? They had flavored water? At least I’ll pretend it was as I’m not sure I have the delicate hand to create the perfection I found here.
Walking along the Port and most areas of Scotland you are struck by the air that forces you to breath deeply; taking in every clean breath until your lungs sing with purity. Of course the food was fresh, every part of this country is!
The next night we were on the Isle of Islay in the town of Bowmore. Venturing into the local pub I ordered some fresh oysters. Asked if we wanted whiskey or cocktail sauce, I knew I had to say whiskey. Alas the combo wasn’t my favorite so I tried them with a squeeze of lemon instead. These babies were as fresh as the salty brine on their back, and they were creamy.
I also ordered the stew. With the cows drinking and eating the purity of Scotland this had to be delicious; not to mention the fact that Scots know how to braise their meat pies! Piping hot underneath the flakey crust was a bed of saucy braised meat, carrots and potatoes soft to the jab of a fork but still with a good chew to the teeth. A sip of Macallan Ruby to finish the flavors off and I was satisfied and ready to count sheep.
The following night we were offered to join the group dinner with our B&B owner, Andrew, who was pulling in freshly caught lobsters, langoustine and scallops that day. Andrew spent a lot of time in Spain and believes in pulling back on the cooking to let the seafood speak for itself.
When lobster is pulled off a boat 30 minutes before you eat it, you don’t need butter. The piles, and I mean 10 plates piled with lobster, were devoured by ten people, along with the same amount of langoustine and scallops. Surrounded by Dutch and Belgium nationals, plus the British couple who ran the B&B, we had a fascinating family-style meal that showcased the gem that Scotland is, and what it offers: fresh raw ingredients of plenty!
And of course I can’t forget the whiskey he poured that night. Like many of countries, the best stuff is saved for the locals. Earlier that day we ran into Andrew and his two daughters on our tour of Bowmore Whisky. He was off to the side with an employee who was pulling whiskey from an aged single barrel cask—not something you can buy off the shelves in the US. Being a wonderful host, Andrew shared his plunder and that’s when I knew I had became a converted whiskey drinker and Scottish food lover.
Sharing a dram and a meal with our new friends, it was as if we were in an old Scottish tale.