Origins: A Taste of Scotland - #125

Every place in the world has a series of things that give that spot a special character... and make it different from every other place.  When you look at the ORIGINS of these things, you often end up with a better appreciation of the territory -- and that makes it a lot more interesting to visit.  And sometimes, these ORIGINS help us understand why we live the way we do.

The Scottish city of Edinburgh is one of the great capitals of Northern Europe.  Situated on the east coast of Great Britain, it has a long history of trading with France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.  It’s a beautiful city and quite interesting to visit.  The Old Town is one of the ancient settlements of Scotland.  It was developed as a walled city and much of its architecture has been preserved.  You can walk through its narrow walkways and see what life was like during the fifteen- and sixteen-hundreds.

Gladstone’s Land is a restored shop and home that was originally constructed in 1617.

There’s the High Kirk of St. Giles, the great Gothic church which is the home of the established Church of Scotland.

You can pop into the Castle and take a peek at the crown jewels...

And then there’s The New Town, which got started in 1767.  It came about as part of Scotland’s participation in what has come to be known as the Age of Enlightenment, a period of intellectual, cultural and industrial expansion that ran throughout the 18th Century.

Georgian House is a museum which clearly presents life in the New Town as it was in the late 1700’s.  The details of its kitchen and dining room are quite extraordinary.

Which brings me to the subject of food.  Edinburgh has dozens of very good places for eating and drinking.  And yet, for many years all of Scotland has had, shall we say, a weak image in the world of gastronomy.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When most people think about Scottish food they come up with, shall we say, less than the most enticing images.

First to mind is usually Haggis, a nationally famous dish made from the innards of sheep that have been chopped up and boiled in the lining of a sheep’s stomach.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And then they stop thinking about Scottish food and desperately try to think about something else.  Reflect for a moment.  You’ve undoubtedly heard people say: “Let’s go out for French food, or Italian food, or Chinese food.  But I’ll bet you, that you have never heard anybody say: “Let’s go out for Scottish food.”

And yet, for the last few years, I have been having really good meals in Scotland.

I would like to introduce you to Catherine Brown.  She’s the author of a number of books on Scottish gastronomy, including Scottish Cookery and Broths to Bannocks which traces the history of Scottish cooking from 1690 to the present.

CATHERINE BROWN:  Our cooking is based on our good raw materials, on our fish, salmon, our game, our beef... very, very fine quality beef in Scotland.  And also in our cold climate which -- we are cold northerners so that we depend on good warming things, good substantial food; and thirdly, our cooking is dependent on the way that we cook which is different to other, to the rest of the UK.  Because we, our tradition is to cook in a pot, in a large pot over a slow-burning peat fire which gives us not only good broths and stews, but also gives us our national dish, Haggis.

BURT WOLF:  If I were a tourist coming to Scotland for the first time, what would you want me to taste?

CATHERINE BROWN:  Well, there’s quite an interesting dessert which you should have if you, if you come across it in its traditional form.  It was a harvest home dish, and it was set on a table at the end of the harvest.  It was a big big bowl of cream, a big big bowl of toasted oatmeal, a big bowl of berries, fresh berries, and a bottle of whiskey and honey.  And everybody was given their own little bowl, and they took a spoonful of oatmeal and a spoonful of cream and a handful of berries and a bit of honey on top and then a splash of whiskey...

BURT WOLF:  What’s it called?

CATHERINE BROWN:  It’s called Cranican.  The real quality of Scottish food is in its quality flavors which we don’t really need to do a great deal with and that is the beauty of Scottish food, that it speaks for itself and we enjoy that aspect of it.

BURT WOLF:  I’ll drink to that...Slainte! [“slange”]


The national beverage of Scotland is whiskey -- a whiskey of such importance that the rest of the world simply calls it Scotch.  There are about one hundred different Scotch whiskey producers in Scotland and each one has their own very particular approach to the craft.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  But it’s not only the skilled labor of the maker that controls the final product.  To a great extent, the taste and color of a particular Scotch whiskey is the result of the physical environment in which the distillery is located.  And that has led to the development of something called the “whiskey trail.”

The whiskey trail is actually a well-beaten path that takes you through Scotland’s Scotch producing districts, which fortunately for the Tourist Commission, takes in all of Scotland.  It is an ideal journey for someone with a great thirst for knowledge.  If you are starting out from Edinburgh, a good first stop would be the Central Highlands.

And this is the Dalwhinnie distillery.  It’s been in operation since 1897.  Its name is Gaelic for “the meeting place.”  Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland at over 1000 feet above sea level.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Each of the distilleries in Scotland has chosen a very specific place for its facility.  In the old days one of the most important considerations was the relationship of the distillery to tax agents.  Ideally you would be in a place where the King’s men could never find you.  At the very minimum you wanted to be in a spot where you got enough warning so you could hide your whiskey.

The next most important element in the selection of a site has always been the water supply.  Most of the distilleries are set next to streams.  The water that is drained to make the whiskey comes into the stream from a spring, or drains down from the rain that falls on the nearby hills, or from melting snow.  The trip that the water makes on the way to the distillery gives it a very distinct taste.  If the water passes over and through rocks, it picks up the flavors of the minerals in those rocks.  If it passes through a moor with heather growing, the water will pick up a honey note.  If it passes through fields of peat it will end up with a peatty flavor.  How peatty will depend on the amount of time that the water spends near the peat.  Peat is the remains of compressed plant life, sort of an early form of coal.  Some land formations will filter water for years before delivering it to a stream that feeds a still.  And every inch of the journey will be reflected in the taste of the Scotch.

The type of wood used in the aging cask is also important.  In the early days of Scotch making, the wooden casks were used merely as containers to store the whiskey.  Eventually, however, people discovered that the cask could change the flavor of the Scotch.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Temperature also affects the flavor of Scotch whiskey.  And so does the air.  Scotch spends years maturing in wooden casks, and during that time period, it pulls air into the cask.  If the distillery is near the sea the air may have a salty quality.  That salty air enters the cask and the salty flavor is reflected in the Scotch.

When all the whiskey in a particular bottle comes from the same distillery and has not been blended with whiskey from any other distillery, it has earned the right to be called a malt, or single malt.

The next leg of Scotland’s whiskey trail runs northeast, into a district that faces out on the Moray Firth and the North Sea, and is known as Speyside.  The river from which the area takes its name is one of the world’s great locations for salmon fishing.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  But before you give up your local fish market, I should point out that the actual cost of hooking a Speyside salmon, when you include the expense of the gear and the guide and the permit, comes in at about 3,500 dollars.  And that doesn’t include the expense of any sauce or perhaps a vegetable, a little parsley would be nice, that’s all extra.  So, I’m pretty much off that court.  Much more in keeping with my budget is the fact that Speyside is single malt heaven.  The granite rocks in the Grampian Mountains appear to add a gentle smoothness, a kind of a soft-water feeling which is very attractive.

Cragganmore is a small distillery in Speyside, but its whiskey is considered to be one of the best.  The area is also famous for its wild mushrooms.  For a classic recipe, take a look at salmon on a bed of roasted fennel with a white wine and cream sauce.  There’s also lots of home-baked fruit cakes, scones and shortbreads.

Now the path works its way across the top of Scotland... to the Isle of Skye which is only fifty miles long and thirty miles wide.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The only distillery on the Isle of Skye is called Talisker.  It was established in 1831, and makes a whiskey that turned out to be the favorite of the great Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson who, amongst his many famous books wrote Treasure Island, the search for the buried treasure of Captain Kidd, a treasure that very well might have included a bottle of whiskey from Skye.

Talisker is considered to have a peppery quality, which goes well with the food of the area.  Skye is famous for fish and shellfish... grilled scallops on a bed of langustine... and monkfish wrapped in slices of Scottish ham.


Now it’s time to turn down and head along the west coast.  This is one of the most romantic parts of Scotland.  Isolated villages.  Tiny port towns.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The first settlers in the area are thought to have arrived about 7,000 years ago and made their homes in cliff side caves.  These days the capital of the area is a town called Oban, which is also the name of the local Scotch whiskey.  Authorities believe that Oban is a classic example of the single malts that are made in this area.

The pros describe it as having the aroma of fresh peat with a slight hint of the sea.  They like to add a splash of water and drink it along with a dinner of grilled fish.

Leaving Oban, the trail heads south to the Isle of Islay.  Islay is the most famous of the “Whiskey Islands.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Their stills produce whiskey with flavor notes that remind drinkers of peat and the great North Atlantic ocean.  Then whiskey rests in casks; can be there for three years minimum, or may be there for decades, and during that time period the casks actually breathe in the atmosphere.  The end result is that the climate becomes part of the flavor.

A wee dram of the local whiskey called Lagavulin makes the point.  And to go along with it, the great seafood of the region -- Islay’s famous for its oysters and mussels.

And finally, the trail moves across the southern Lowlands, an area known as the Borders because it borders on England.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  This is one of the most unspoiled spots in Europe.  It’s Scotland’s  garden and it’s covered with rich farmland.  It’s also the birthplace of John Muir, the Scottsman who was a conservationist who moved to North America and actually began the idea of establishing National Parks.

Glenkinchie is a good example of a Lowland whiskey.  The aroma of the local wildflowers ends up in the glass.  And the fields of wheat end up in a wide range of yeast breads.  The Borders are also famous for their traditional Scottish cheeses.

But everything about Scotland is not ancient tradition.  I hear they have a site on the World Wide Web under “” -- I wonder what Robert Burns would have said about that?

And if you would like to see a wee bit of the magnificent Scottish countryside and what elegant country life was like for the British during the heydays of the 1920s, you can get yourself some wheels and head north... over the bridge that crosses the Firth of Forth, which is easier to cross than it is to pronounce.  And on into Gleneagles.

Gleneagles was opened in 1924 and described as “a Riviera resort in the Highlands.”  I assume that the river they had in mind was the Tay that runs near the property.  It was the place to vacation in Great Britain, and it still is.

Gleneagles is also well respected for its cooking.  Scotland’s long association with France is reflected in many of the dishes, but they are also very serious about their preparation of traditional Scottish foods.  All of this is prepared under the direction of head chef Mike Picken, who has agreed to demonstrate a couple of very traditional Scottish farmhouse recipes.

The first is for Highland Meatballs with a Mustard and Whiskey Sauce.  Mike starts by putting a pound of beef into a blender along with one egg, some thyme, rosemary and coriander, plus ten pieces of bread that have been soaked in a little milk, and a chopped onion.  All that is blended together for a few minutes.

The chopped meat mixture is then rolled into balls that are about two inches in diameter.

MIKE PICKEN:  Rolling them up nice and tight.  Make sure there’s no splits in them, otherwise you end up with them starting to fall apart when they cook.  You can smell the onions coming out of them now.  Rolling that into fine pinhead oatmeal.  Okay?  Just to get a nice coating on it.  Doesn’t need any egg or anything; that’ll stick by itself.

Two ounces of unsalted butter are melted in a sauté pan.  The meatballs go in and are pan-fried on all sides until they have a brown coating.

BURT WOLF:  This is a really easy dish and I could do it with ground turkey or chicken also.

MIKE PICKEN:  Yeah, sure.  If you’re looking for something a little less fattening or something like that.  There’s no reason why you can’t.  Just change your flavorings to suit is all.  I think the herbs that we used here today go very well with the beef, but you might want to use something different for turkey or chicken.

At this point they are removed from the sauté pan and placed into a saucepan which is set aside, while the vegetables are prepared.

Carrots are sliced into bite-sized pieces.  Leeks are sliced into rounds that are about an inch long.  Parsnips are cut into small pieces.  The carrots go into a saucepan with some water, a little sugar and a little butter.  After a few minutes the rest of the vegetables are added.  The carrots are started first because they will take longer to cook.  Some celery goes in, and a piece of paper goes on top to hold in the steam.

MIKE PICKEN:  Okay, Burt, I’ve put all the vegetables in there now.  Just a very, very small amount of water with the butter and the sugar.  The reason for the small amount of water -- I don’t want to boil it off in loads of water which ends up getting thrown away. The flavors are in the vegetables, not in the water.

BURT WOLF:   Less water, more vitamins.

MIKE PICKEN:  That’s right, yeah.  See?  Butter paper on there, just gonna let that cook away for another couple more minutes now.

While the vegetables are cooking a second sauté pan goes on the range.  A little butter is melted in it.  A quarter of a cup of minced shallots are added.  A clove of garlic.  A cup of mushrooms.  Those ingredients are sautéed together until the water dries out.  That should take about two minutes.  Then two tablespoons of coarse-grain mustard are mixed in, and finally an ounce of Scotch whiskey.

BURT WOLF:  Now, flaming or not flaming is optional; if your fire insurance policy covers flambé dishes, by all means go right ahead.  If your fire insurance policy doesn’t, then just heat the whiskey, that’ll be fine.

A cup of beef gravy is added.  A few bay leaves go in.  A few more minutes of cooking and the sauce goes onto the meatballs.  Then it’s into a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for thirty minutes.  When they come out, the meatballs go onto a plate, followed by the mushrooms, the vegetables and a garnish of herbs.  And that is served with steamed new potatoes.

Mike’s second recipe is for a dish called Chicken Stovies with Clapshot.

MIKE PICKEN:  What I’ve done there is taken the chicken and jointed it down, or your butcher can joint in down for you... I’ve got the breast... got the wing... and I’ve got the thigh bone... I’ve taken the drumstick out and we’re going to use that for the stock.  To that, I’ve added some rough cut onion, sliced up, nice and rough there, into the pan and we just put on the stove down there and just cook it away...

BURT WOLF:  A little butter?

MIKE PICKEN:  A little butter in the bottom as well, yeah, and that’s, the stovie means actually cooking on the stove, that’s where it traditionally comes from.  Stovies are actually a traditional dish that would be made from the leftovers from your Sunday lunch in the old days then.  They would maybe have some meat left and meat needed to do more than one day then, so what they had done is they used that down there to cook that down with potatoes, onions, I left the potatoes out of this one cause I’m gonna top it with the clapshot, it’s a little different dish there.

A cup of chicken stock that has been cooked together with a little cream and thickened with a touch of flour and butter is added.  The creamed chicken sauce is traditional but I tried it with just plain chicken stock and it was still a perfectly fine recipe.  It’s your call.  Then some salt and pepper.  Two minutes of additional cooking, and a cup of cubed pre-cooked ham is added.  A quarter of a cup of chopped flat parsley is stirred in and everything is transferred to a heat-proof casserole.

Now it’s time to make the clapshot, which was not developed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  It is actually a mixture of bite-sized pieces of turnips, rutabaga and potatoes that have been boiled together in water until they are tender, then mixed with salt, pepper and chopped parsley.

MIKE PICKEN:  Essential when you’re using turnip: plenty of black pepper.  It really just brings the flavor out.

The clapshot goes onto the chicken, about a half cup of bread crumbs go onto the clapshot and the casserole goes under the broiler until the bread crumbs are toasted.  That’s it -- Chicken Stovie with Clapshot.

What also makes Gleneagles attractive is their activity program.  They focused on a series of leisure time undertakings and set up a school for each -- a school that was designed and in many cases is still directed by one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject.  The championship golf course was developed by Jack Nicklaus.

The Equestrian Centre is under the direction of Mark Phillips.

The Shooting School is run by Jackie Stewart.  Not many people know it, but before Mr. Stewart became one of the world’s most famous racing car drivers, he was a champion Olympic shooter.

They have two angling beats for salmon and sea trout on the River Tay, and lochs for brown trout.  The experts explained to me that a salmon beat and trout loch were really just good spots to fish from.

For me, however, the most fascinating school at Gleneagles is the British School of Falconry, where James Knight took me through the introductory course.

JAMES KNIGHT:  This is Talisker.  Now we’ve got about twenty-one birds here at the school.  Most of them are Harris hawks, and the reason we concentrate on them is because of their temperament.  They’re the only birds of prey that we can hand over to the guests, and we know that he’s going to be a hundred percent trustworthy just as he is with us.

There he is.  He’s obviously raring to go.  Now, the most important thing we do with him now -- and I’ll explain it while we’re there -- is we’ve got to weigh him.  Okay?  Before we can use him.  So we take him down the corridor here... and then we’re going to pop him on the scale.  There we go.

BURT WOLF:  He seems to know where he’s going.

JAMES KNIGHT:  Yeah, he gets weighed every day.  The thing to remember about falconry is it’s four thousand years old, okay?  It started in China and Japan as a means of getting food for ourselves, but he’s not going to do that if he’s full and fat, okay?  So he has to be hungry.  He does nothing for us whatsoever, okay?  He purely does it for himself.  So if he doesn’t feel like hunting, he’s not going to do it.  So we have to get him to what we call his hunting weight.  Okay?  And that happens to be one pound, four ounces.  So we’re lucky, he’s just spot on.

JAMES KNIGHT:  Now we’ll try to get him to do a little bit of work for you, and I say “work” because he doesn’t like flying, okay?

BURT WOLF:  Doesn’t like flying?

JAMES KNIGHT:  People always think that birds like to fly and that’s our idea because we can’t fly -- you know, we think it would be great to fly.  But flying for him is work.  And he only does it for a reason, okay?  That’s true of all birds, and with us it’s food, in the wild he’s got to find a mate to build a nest and do all sorts of things, okay, but he’s not thinking “Yippee I’m enjoying this,” okay.  He’s thinking “Yippee I’ve got a bit of beef.”  So to cast him off, you put your arm out straight, okay you can see he’s excited, he’s ready to go, keep hold of the jesses and then I’m just going to take a little step and give him a little push.  Just like an airplane, they always like to take and land off into the wind.  They hate the downwind landing.  So fingers crossed.  So take a little step and give him a push.  There he goes, you see he turns into the wind and lands into the wind.  Now to call him back all I have to do is to put my glove up with some food on and back he comes.  His eyesight is eight times better than ours.  He will see that little piece of beef,  you know, from three or four hundred yards away without any problem.  Right!  So, it’s your go.  So we’re gonna turn these, that’s it, so that your glove is facing into the wind.  I’m just going to step around the side here and I’m going to place the jesses through your thumb, through your middle fingers, perfect, and he’s all yours.

BURT WOLF:  It’s amazing, for over four thousand years we’ve been sending these birds out for our dinner.  Go for it!  And don’t forget...the one with the pepperoni has the extra cheese!  And I hope you won’t forget to join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the things that surround us, and their ORIGINS.  From Scotland, I’m Burt Wolf.

Origins: Edinburgh - #108

Every place in the world has a series of things that give that spot a special character... and make it different from every other place.  When you look at the ORIGINS of these things, you often end up with a better appreciation of the territory -- and that makes it a lot more interesting to visit.  And sometimes, these ORIGINS help us understand why we live the way we do.

Scotland.  People have been living on this land for at least 6,000 years.  The first inhabitants appear to have been groups of hunters and fishermen. Next the Celtic tribes who had been forced out of Europe.  In the year 80 AD the Roman legions marched through. And finally the English.

The first references to Scotland’s central city of Edinburgh were in the notes of Ptolemy, the ancient Roman writer who made his comments in the year 160 AD.   The first site in the area to be colonized was probably a hill called Arthur’s Seat.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Precisely which Arthur actually took a seat here isn’t quite clear.  Romantics like to point to the legendary King Arthur of the Round Table.  But there is no evidence to support that view.  There is, however, considerable evidence that this hill had at least four prehistoric forts and an ancient farming community.

Immediate seating for Camelot or not, it’s definitely a spot from which you can see a lot.  And just below Arthur’s Seat -- Old Town.

Edinburgh’s Old Town is one of the oldest communities in Great Britain and much of it has remained intact.  The Edinburgh author Robert Lewis Stevenson, who wrote  Treasure Island, described what Old Town was like during the 1800’s.

“STEVENSON”:“It grew under the law that regulates the growth of walled cities, not out, but up. Public buildings were forced, whenever there was room for them, into the midst of thoroughfares; thoroughfares were diminished into lanes; houses sprang up, story after story, neighbor mounting upon neighbor’s shoulders, until the population slept fourteen to fifteen deep, in a vertical direction.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the things I liked about the Old Town was that all economic levels of the society lived in the same house.  The rich and famous lived in the middle, the poor and unknown at the top and the bottom.  And they were in regular contact with each other.  They met each other in the hallways, on the staircases, in the courtyards.  And they knew a lot about each others’ lives.  If someone in business was being dishonest or a magistrate handed down an unpopular opinion in the courts, they would be confronted about those issues when they got home.  And often the confrontation took the form of a flying bucket of garbage.  I like that system a lot.  As I see our public officials leaving their elegant homes in their chauffeur-driven limousines, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a law that said that all government officials had to go to work in public transportation.  Just to keep them in touch.

Someone who is very much in touch is Anne Doig.  I first met her in 1995 when she worked as an independent guide to Scotland.  And she was one of the best guides we ever hired.  Today she is the Director of Tourism for the city of Edinburgh and a better guide than ever.  She begins by taking us to the top of the most famous building in the city -- Edinburgh Castle.

ANNE DOIG:  You can see the city is very dramatic, because it’s a city born from fire and sculpted by ice.

BURT WOLF:  What was the fire?

ANNE DOIG:  Volcanoes.  This whole area was under a shallow tropical sea that was subject to intense volcanic activity.  And so there were bubbling under the water all these volcanoes and eventually when the ice came, one time there was two miles sheet ice on top of this area and when it moved, it tipped up so dramatically that the ice scraped away all the soft debris and earth and rock and left seven hills that Edinburgh was created on.

BURT WOLF:  So these hills are still volcanic hills...

ANNE DOIG:  They’re still volcanic...

BURT WOLF:  Fire and ice...

ANNE DOIG:  Fire and of fire and ice.  We’re going up the Lang stairs here.  This is the original entrance to the castle way back in the very early period.  Now it’s quite steep, so you can imagine that coming up here with heavy guns and equipment and supplies is very difficult. 

BURT WOLF:  It must’ve been really tough with cannons.  I can see how hard it just is for a guy with a camera.

ANNE DOIG:  Exactly.  Well, this is right at the top, the very citadel.  This is the oldest building in Edinburgh, in fact.  It dates back to the eleventh, twelfth century.  And it’s a small chapel.  The castle was taken in 1313 by the Scots again when they took it back from the English.  They razed it to the ground.  So everything went except the chapel.  They razed it to the ground so the English couldn’t get a stronghold of Scotland again.  So, because this is a chapel it was saved.  So it predates 1313, but it’s...St. Margaret’s Chapel.  There’s a lovely story I’d like to tell you about the chapel. The Scottish military can still hold their weddings and christenings in that chapel.  It’s a very tiny chapel.  So if it’s a wedding, it’s much to the delight of the father of the bride because it only holds sixteen people so it’s not an expensive wedding, he loves it.

BURT WOLF:  It’s a great story.

ANNE DOIG:  So, we’re going to Crown Square now.  This is actually quite interesting because we’re standing here looking at the oldest building in the castle to the right and the very youngest opposite us.  And you’d never really believe that that was the youngest building on the rock, because the castle really is layer upon layer of history going all the way back to the twelfth century.  This building here fits in so beautifully with the other old buildings, but it was actually built between 1923 and -27.  The weathered rock used to build this war memorial was originally part of a chapel called St. Mary’s On the Rock.  It was a Catholic chapel which was demolished during the turbulence of the Reformation.  But being Scottish, they didn’t waste anything, right?  Recycling is nothing new to the Scots.  They kept all the original stonework until they had another purpose to build on this site.  And it was after the First World War they wanted to build a memorial to all the Scots who died in World War I.  So they used the same stones and resurrected this building here.  And we think it’s a beautiful building.  Because it’s something to build out of brick, but to use original stones and fit all back so beautifully, it’s like poetry in rock really.  All the Scots who died and all the conflicts of the twentieth century are listed by name in books in this memorial.  And they can be very touching because people come from all around the world to visit Edinburgh Castle, and they might have a grandfather or an uncle or something who died in the First or Second World War, and they can go to the books inside and their names will be there.  So it can be really quite a touching experience. 

The origins of the Old Town of Edinburgh and the city begin with the castle, which was a fortress.  And what happened was we had several periods of invading armies and so what the people did is they built these scattered houses and huts in the shadow of the old fortress for protection, and eventually the beginnings of the Old Town developed, coming down from the castle all the way down a rocky ridge.  And as the city increased its importance and eventually became a capital, there was a huge population concentrated on this rocky ridge, and so there was no room for the city to expand out the way, it had to develop up the way because it was a walled city.   So it became a vertical city.  So there was a tumble of tall tenements developed all the way down from the castle down a spine of rock.  So you can forget about Manhattan being the place where the skyscraper was developed; the skyscraper/high-rise development, first in the world, was right here in Edinburgh and that’s a superb example.  Some of the buildings were fifteen, sixteen stories high.

BURT WOLF:  The man that Jekyll and Hyde was based on lived right here.

ANNE DOIG:  That’s exactly right, just around the corner.  His name was William Brodie; his title was Deacon Brodie and he was a well-respected man in the city, head of his guild, a magistrate, a wealthy cabinetmaker, high up in the church.  But at night, this was during the day he had this respected existence, and at night he became a burglar.  So this wave of crime was well-known but they couldn’t catch the thief.  Why not?  Because he was the chair of the committee examining it.  So eventually he was caught red-handed, soon they did catch him stealing, breaking into the excise office down in the Cannongate.  Now this was in front of a very surprised crowd, because here was this well-respected, wealthy cabinetmaker / magistrate being executed for burglary.  He was responsible for all the crime.  There was another twist to the tale, because when he was executed, he was actually executed on the new, improved gallows.  He designed the trap door and he was the first person executed. He also wore an iron collar, hoping to cheat the noose, but he only made his sufferings longer.  So the double life of William Brodie which inspired Stevenson to write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

BURT WOLF:  Right here.

ANNE DOIG:  Right here, yeah.

In 1752, the Lord Mayor of Edinburgh secretly published a proposal for the improvement of the city.  He complained that there was no place for the merchants of Edinburgh to do their business, no safe repository for the public records, no meeting place for the magistrates and the town council.  The New Town was constructed to meet the needs which the Lord Mayor so rightly described. And everyone who could get up the money moved from the Old Town to the New Town. The exodus from the Old Town was so fast and so dramatic that it has come to be known as “the great flitting.”

ANNE DOIG:  The New Town of Edinburgh was built at the same time when there was an outburst of amazing intellectual energy.  It was a period in our history known as the golden age, the enlightenment.  And the New Town of Edinburgh was really the physical manifestation of what was happening in the minds of the people at that time.  So in contrast to the Old Town, described by Stevenson as “so many smoky beehives,” the New Town was light; it was a city of nature, gardens, reason.  The streets were laid out symmetrically.  Squares were balanced at either end.  So it was exactly a reflection of what was happening to the people at the time.

BURT WOLF:  That’s quite amazing that the architecture would follow the intellectual thought of the period.

ANNE DOIG:  You can read all about the people by reading the buildings.  You can still see the wide doorways, lovely fanlight windows, the original lamps which would have been whale oil, then gas and now electricity.  You can still see the boot scrapes where they used to scrape their boots...

BURT WOLF: they came in from the mud...

ANNE DOIG:  Corinthian columns, medallions.  Nothing has changed much in Charlotte Square since 1767. 

And this is a typical house from that period built by one of the greatest men in our history, the greatest architect of the eighteenth century was Robert Adam.  So this house belongs to the National Trust, but they’ve brought it back to the way it was back in 1790s.  This exactly the way the people would have eaten.  You see the china’s Wedgwood.  Everything came to the table at the same time.  So you have the soup, fish, vegetables, and the courses started in the nineteenth century when you got your soup first and then your next course.  But back in the eighteenth century they ate everything all at once.  So they had their plate warmers, that’s kind of a cute piece of -- you don’t see that very often nowadays.  They brought that up from the kitchen to keep the plates warm, and over there by the fire they would leave them there...

BURT WOLF:  Oh, that faces the back...

ANNE DOIG:  That’s right...

BURT WOLF:  And it’s open and the heat would come in...

ANNE DOIG:  That’s right...

BURT WOLF:  And the foods would be kept in there...

ANNE DOIG:  Kept there, kept warm...

BURT WOLF:  Interesting... after dinner the women would leave...

ANNE DOIG:  That’s right...

BURT WOLF:  And the men would sit here and drink their port...

ANNE DOIG:  Absolutely.  So the ladies would withdraw to the drawing room upstairs and typically of the eighteenth century, they had chairs on the outside.  So there was a big space in the middle, because they might have spontaneous dancing, Scots dancing...

The 18th Century was the golden age of the Scottish Enlightenment.  The city of Edinburgh had become an intellectual center and reminded people of ancient Greece -- to the point where they were calling Edinburgh “the Athens of the North.”  But for much of the population, it was also an age of great change and confusion.  

For hundreds of years the economy had been based on farming.  The structure of life was simple. The year was kept by the rhythm of the seasons.  And then quite suddenly, everything began to change.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   New inventions were being tried out.  New ideas were being presented.  People were beginning to come off the land and work in factories.  It was the beginning of the industrial revolution, and the great thinkers of the time were being asked to explain what was happening.

And this is the resting place of one of the most influential thinkers of them all, Adam Smith.  He lived from 1723 to 1790 and was the author of a book entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 

He tried to explain the way an industrial society worked, how it produced wealth, and how it avoided chaos.

Smith believed that everyone in business was interested solely in their own profit. And that the chaotic buying and selling of goods and services was actually regulated by this interest in making a buck -- or in Smith’s case, a pound.  “I’ll supply you with something you are demanding, only if you have something that I want in exchange.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   He also believed that anytime the free market was restricted it sent investment moneys in the wrong direction.  He looked at government policies that funded or protected specific elements in the economy.  He looked at import duties.  He pointed at excessive taxation.  He believed that in general, the average person in business would end up doing things that eventually benefited the society.  On the other hand, he believed that the average person in the government would end up doing things that eventually hurt us.  He was famous for saying that “the government that governs least is the government that governs best.”  Over two hundred years have passed since Adam Smith came to rest here, and these days many of his ideas are more respected than ever before.

The Scots have always been talented in business, and fortunately they have almost always been honest.  One of their areas of greatest skill has been modern banking. And they have been so reliable that the banks have the right to print their own bank notes...  a right that the English banks lost during the 1800s.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   For the past 150 years or so, one of the most powerful segments of the Edinburgh financial community have been of the investment trusts.  They were originally set up to manage other people’s money, and one of the first places they invested in was the American West.  It was Scottish financial investors who put up the original funds for the North American cattle ranches, railroads and fruit farms.

Adam Smith once said that “Every thrifty man is a public benefactor,” and the trust companies of Edinburgh have used that idea to build one of the most powerful financial networks in the world.

And where have we been eating in Edinburgh?  A grand, French-style building in Register Place.  Inside, the Cafe Royal, originally opened in 1817.  Hundred-year-old stained glass windows show the British at their traditional sports.  At the end of the bar, a tile that presents the first ship that put to sea for the Cunard Line.  For lunch:  seafood chowder, and grilled salmon on a bed of spinach with a mustard sauce. 

Leith has been a port area for centuries, an independent and wealthy place with a clear sense of its own future.  But as Edinburgh grew, it slowly incorporated Leith.  I say “slowly,” because Leith went to war to prevent that incorporation.  Today it is a charming, gentrified edge of the city of Edinburgh.  The docks are lined with a dozen or so small restaurants, of which our favorite turned out to be The Shore.  Set in a building that was constructed during the 1700s, the collective preference of our crew was the Squid with Rosemary, Saffron Fish Soup, and for dessert -- Lemon Tart and Toffee Pudding Cake.

Just in front of the entrance to Edinburgh Castle, in a building that dates back to the 1500s, is a restaurant called The Witchery.

JAMES THOMSON:  Well, the restaurant’s called The Witchery because between 1470 and 1722 over fifteen hundred people were burned as witches in the Castle Hill, which is just outside here.   Anybody who had a physical deformity -- it could be a large nose, or a wart, or whatever -- could be thought to be a witch.   And they’d be taken away and tortured until they confessed to being a witch.  Of course, most of them weren’t actually witches; it was just a public sport at the time, but the church and the Crown became very wealthy because they inherited the estate of the witch.  Now, I researched this and found that there was this great history of witchcraft in the Castle Hill, which had been more or less written out of history books because the churches had lots to do with writing the history books.  So I thought that with this building being on the Castle Hill, we would be a reminder for all the innocent people who died, sadly, of being accused of being witches.

The room is decorated with Scottish antiques, and the kitchen specializes in the use of traditional Scottish produce. I had a good lunch here.  It started with a roasted tomato soup... and was followed by a roast loin of lamb with a mustard and chopped olive crust.  No dessert today -- because my lighting grip, Nigel Smith tells me that there is a unique Edinburgh sweet that I must taste.

BURT WOLF:   I’d like to order six Deep-Fried Mars bars.


BURT WOLF:   Six, please.


Ah, yes, you heard it right, Deep-Fried Mars Bars.  Here in Pasquale’s, as in Fish and Chips shops all over Scotland, the Mars Bar Fritter is as common as malt vinegar.  And no one knows if it was created intentionally or if it was the result of a freak deep-fat fryer accident, but the famous candy bar is indeed coated with batter and plunged into hot fat. ... this batch seems to be fortified with a little extra iron... and yes, this is the same fat that the fish and chips are fried in.

BURT WOLF:   Besides Mars Bars, do you use any other kind of candy?

PASQUALE:  Umm... Snickers... any kind of sweet that I’ve got up there.

BURT WOLF:   What do you think works best?

PASQUALE:  The Mars Bar is the best.  It is more popular.

BURT WOLF:   Do you eat them?

SALESGIRL:  I’ve never tasted one.

BURT WOLF:   You’re right -- you gotta eat ‘em when they’re hot.  Definitely an acquired taste.

There are a number of things that you can do to learn about a city that you are visiting, besides reading a guidebook.  You can walk around the main center of town at rush hour and see the people...You can take a careful look at the architecture... Human scale or future world... Preserving or destroying... You can eat the traditional foods of the town...  And if you can speak the language you can talk to shopkeepers or cab drivers.

SCOTSMAN:  [intense Robert Burns recitation]

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said something to the effect that “the United States and England were two great nations separated by a common language.”  I think that was just proven.  But one of the most interesting ways to find out about the culture of a city is to get somebody to tell you the local jokes.

BILL BARCLAY:  There was an English tour up here, up in the highlands.  And this bus driver was taking them round and I’m not very good at history, but he was sort of stopping off here and saying that “In this field here, that’s when we annihilated the English, annihilated them in 16 whatever,” and he goes on and he says “Just the other side of that bridge is where we pulverized the English, pulverized them in 17 whatever,” and he goes along a bit and, “Over here this is where we massacred the English...” and this chap says “Hold on mate, hold on!”  You know in his English accent -- is that an English accent? -- he says “Did we not win any battles?”  He says, “Not when I’m driving the bus,” he says.

RADIO ANNOUNCER:  You’re listening to Bill Barclay on MAX AM...

BILL BARCLAY:  Now Hunt for Red October star Alec Baldwin is being whipped into shape by his wife Kim Basinger...wouldn’t mind getting whipped into shape by Kim Basinger...

Bill Barclay is an Edinburgh entertainer, stand-up comedian and well-known disc jockey.  Six days each week from noon until 2 PM, he plays records and tells jokes on MAX AM. 

BILL BARCLAY:  We got a lost budgie.  It’s a yellow budgie, it was lost on Thursday the sixth, from the back of Harriet Row between Dundow Street and Howe Street, but I don’t think it’s there now...

Today he’s spending the afternoon in the local pub and educating me on the origin of Edinburgh humor. 

BURT WOLF:  Scots have a big reputation for being, shall we say, careful with their money...

BILL BARCLAY:  Rubbish...

BURT WOLF:  Not wasting...


BURT WOLF:  Is that ever reflected in the local jokes?

BILL BARCLAY:  Did I not just buy you that drink?  There’s a lovely one where of course, where the chap, chapped at a door, a big, big posh house in Edinburgh, and he said, “I wonder if you could give me something for a cup of tea or some --”  “Oh!” the woman said,  “Would you like bowl of yesterday’s soup?”  And he says “Oh, that would be lovely,” and she says “Come back tomorrow.”  It’s not true but not really mean...Well, Scots are known to be sort of hard men.  There’s a lovely story about the Second World War when two Scottish hard men, as we call ‘em, they dropped ‘em off in parachutes behind enemy lines in Germany.  And they were arrested, and taken to the SS headquarters for interrogation and they kept one in one room.  And they grabbed the other one by the hair and dragged him into this room to interrogate him.  And while he’s being interrogated, his pal’s trying to listen at the door to see what’s going on, and he hears the SS officer saying “Vat is your name, wee one?  [Sound of slapping] Where do you come from? [Slap! Slap!]  What are you doing over here? [Slap! Slap!]  Stop punching me while I’m questioning you.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):    I like Edinburgh.  It has four distinct seasons and you get them all in the same day!  I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Robert Burns Night, Scotland - #108

It was the year 80.  The tribes had been living in the hills of Scotland for over 5,000 years, but now there was a serious challenge to their independence.  The Roman emperor Hadrian and his army were marching into the countryside.  Hadrian had decided to subdue these troublesome people...  a task which he believed would be quite simple.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Not quite.  As Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet, pointed out about 1,700 years later, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go wrong.” The ancient Scots gave the ancient Romans so much trouble that eventually the Emperor decided to just forget about the whole thing.  And to help him forget, he built a wall -- a wall that ran for 73 miles across England. The Scots were on the north side, the Romans were on the south side, and the emperor tried to make believe that the Scots weren’t there.  But the Scots wouldn’t forget about the Romans.  They’d learned a valuable lesson about their own vulnerability.  And to protect themselves, they formed defensive clans, clans that were held together by blood ties, and eventually an appreciation of well-designed plaids. 

The next nine hundred years or so were spent making illuminated manuscripts, and fighting off the Vikings, Teutonic Knights, William the Conqueror, and of course, the English.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   It is true that a Treaty of Union was signed in 1707 bringing the English parliament together with the Scottish parliament, in order to form the United Kingdom.  But there are many Scotsmen and Scotswomen who believe that that is a deal in theory only.  And one of the first things that I noticed when I got to Scotland is that even though England and Scotland both have currency denominated in pounds, and they exchange that currency freely, the English pounds are issued by the Bank of England and the Scottish pounds by the banks of Scotland. 

This is Glamis Castle, a place where the complex history between the English and the Scots has been playing itself out since 1372.  The current Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain was born here; so was the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret.  Shakespeare used this castle as the location for his play Macbeth.  Macbeth was a real person, but his life story was not quite the one that Shakespeare told.

BURT WOLF:   So what’s the real story with Macbeth?

SHONA THOMSON:  Well, he was a good king, Burt; he reigned between 1040 for about seventeen years [sic].  And so he wasn’t all bad; he lasted seventeen years. 

BURT WOLF:   So Shakespeare was not quite accurate. 

SHONA THOMSON:  No.  “Artistic Licence,” you might say.

BURT WOLF:   (in new location)  Thank you... wow.  Not exactly a breakfast nook.  What a room.

SHONA THOMSON:  Would you like to dine here?

BURT WOLF:   I certainly would --

SHONA THOMSON:  You can --

BURT WOLF:   -- but not by myself.

SHONA THOMSON:  Well, you could have thirty-six at the main table here, the family table, or we can take that away and have ninety.  So, whatever you wish.

BURT WOLF:   And the room is actually for rent. 

SHONA THOMSON:  It is indeed, yes, for our dinner parties.  It’s actually -- you’re now in the west wing of the castle, which was originally built in the seventeenth century.  The portraits at the end here are of the Queen Mother’s grandparents, and in 1903, they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.  And the estate tenants gave them a gift of this silver neff, or galleon on their golden wedding anniversary. ... [new location]  This room was used by the Earl and his family for afternoon tea, dining, entertaining their friends, and certainly the Lord’s retainers wouldn’t have been up here.  It was the Great Hall.

BURT WOLF:   With a live-in fireplace.

SHONA THOMSON:  Absolutely.  It’s actually very Scottish.  It has here the thistles on the left-hand side and the roses of England on the right, and it was to commemorate the union of the crown in 1603. 

BURT WOLF:   And the thistle is always a symbol of Scotland.

SHONA THOMSON:  Absolutely.

The castle piper is Stewart Robertson. The Scots are very serious about being very Scottish.  They have a great sense of their history and the uniqueness of their culture. 

STEWART ROBERTSON:  Well, the early history of the pipes actually originated in the Middle East, possibly Egypt.  And it’s only through a process of migration and invasion that civilization has moved westwards, that the pipes have actually come to Scotland.  They work on a quite basic principle; the bag here is a reservoir of air, which the piper inflates at the start and continues to top off as he progresses through the tune.  The air is then passed over the reeds; the chatter reed, which is here, where the melody’s played, the chatter, and also the drone reeds, which are here -- the bass drone here and the two tenor drones.  And that is the background tone you hear when the pipes are being played.  A lot of young players are coming through, and especially female players, which is a great thing, you know.  Boys and girls take up the pipes, and it’s been encouraged greatly throughout the schools.

Being Scottish is very much a part of daily life, but it is particularly pronounced during three annual celebrations.


The Scots felt that Christmas was too much a creation of the Popes and therefore proceeded to write it off.  Their celebrating became focused on New Year’s Eve, which the Scots called Hogmanay.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The second annual gathering of the Scots takes place on St. Andrews’ Day, which falls on November 30th.  And though it is celebrated in Scotland, it has really become an important day for Scots living outside of Scotland.  They gather in cities all around the world and celebrate their Scottish heritage.

In Scotland itself, however, the great day for rejoicing in things Scottish is the birthday of Robert Burns.  Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland.  He was born in 1759 and his words have become familiar throughout the world.  Each New Year’s Eve millions of people join together and sing his words to “Auld Lang Syne.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o’ auld lang syne? 

“Auld lang syne” is Scottish dialect, and it means “long ago.”  Burns was reminding his countrymen not to forget their past.  He became a national hero because he celebrated the history and beliefs of Scotland at a time where everything Scottish were under attack by the British government. He celebrated the rights of the common man.  He celebrated their battle against the dishonesty of the official government and the corruption of the church.  And these days, everybody in Scotland celebrates the anniversary of his birthday, which takes place on January 25th. The celebration takes the form of a Burns Night dinner, and we’ve come to Scotland to take part in one.

Our very traditional Burns Night Dinner is taking place at Alvie House, by the village of Kincraig, near Kingussie, in Inverness-shire.  All of which is actually much easier to get to than it is to say.  Alvie House is an Edwardian shooting lodge set above a small loch in the Scottish Highlands.  A thirteen thousand acre estate surrounds the main house and offers all the sports that are dear to the Scotsman’s heart. Alvie House has been home to five generations of the Williamson family. These days a portion of the estate has been turned into a charming guest house under the direction of Jamie and Lyn Williamson.

BURT WOLF:   What does Robert Burns Night mean?

JAMIE WILLIAMSON:  He’s very important because Scotland started losing its identity; it amalgamated the parliaments in 1707.  And though there was a 1715 rebellion, with what we call “The Olde Pretender,” and then Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745... and so by the 1750s, when Robbie Burns was born, in 1759, I think it was, we were at a fairly low ebb.  The revolution had been put down, the 1745 rebellion had been put down, and we were losing our Scots identity.  Now, Robbie Burns did his poetry not in the English, but in the dialect of the southwest of Scotland, and really poked fun at the administration and some of the corruption.  And he really brought home the sort of culture , and though he probably wasn’t as popular when, by the time he died in about the turn of the century, I think it was 1796 he died, gradually, especially as people going abroad, he’s been remembered, and he’s the one thing that is very typically Scottish.

Scotland is not a country rich in farmland and its climate can be less than ideal in terms of growing seasons.  As a result, the history of its cooking illustrates the Scots’ skill at making a lot from a little.  Hundreds of miles of seashore, loch-front and riverside have given Scotland an ideal source of seafood.  Scotch salmon is world famous.  There’s great trout... haddock... and kippers.  Aberdeen Angus beef produces steaks that are outstanding. The Scots are devoted to recipes that are based on root vegetables like potatoes and turnips. The hunting season brings in venison, pheasant, hare and grouse.  Because of the intensity of the winters, Scots have a cuisine designed to produce a sense of inner warmth.  Lots of porridge. Thick soups.  Endless rounds of baking.  Scones. Oatcakes.  Shortbreads.

Lyn Williamson, amongst all her other responsibilities, is the head cook at Alvie House and she’s preparing our Burns Night menu.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  All right, we’re going to put together Cock-A-Leekie Soup, which is very much a Scottish favorite, all right?  And it’s really simple.  You just take a chicken, this is about a three pound chicken, all right, and this will feed about eight people, or a family for two days, because it reheats very well.  We just add the leeks, which we’ve cut up to about two millimetre thickness, including some of the green, because that adds flavor to the soup... put all that in... we’ve probably got a bit much... that’ll probably be enough.  I’ve made up a little bunch of herbs; it’s just fresh thyme, parsley and a bay leaf.  I’ve tied it together to make it easier to fish out later on.  Now I’m going to fill this with cold water, okay?  So perhaps if you’d pop round to the sink I could pass it over to you, and we just want the water just covering the chicken and the leeks. 

BURT WOLF:   Should do it...

LYN WILLIAMSON:  I would say that was perfect. 

BURT WOLF:   All right.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  Thank you, now we’ll pop it onto the fast one, the fast lane this time  [she’s referring to her stove, which has different preset temperatures].  Right, we’ll cover that with the lid, and we’ll just leave that for about two hours.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  After two hours of cooking, the chicken is taken out of the pot, its skin and bones discarded, and the tender meat put back into the soup.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  In bite-size pieces.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In bite-size pieces.

Some cooked bacon goes in, and some prunes are added.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  This dish is very much a family food, what you just put together for a family supper, or have friends in.

Dinner is ready and the guests are arriving.

[some party chatter; BURT is sipping a glass of Scotch with two guests]

BURT WOLF:   Now, I noticed that we don’t have any ice or water in ours.

SIMON SANDERS:  Well, I have water, and I noticed that you don’t.  And I was going to talk to you about that.

BURT WOLF:   Should I?

SIMON SANDERS:  Well, everything is a matter of preference, but I personally believe you should.  For me, it releases all the interesting bits of a blended Scotch whisky.  It releases all the aroma, all the bouquet.  If you drink it neat,  as we say, “neat,” you’re drinking forty percent alcohol.  That’s very strong, and that’s more than your palate is going to be able to cope with.  And it’s not going to be able to pull out of that strong alcohol all the fine bouquets and aromas that go to make Scotch whisky what it is.  So add a little water, half and half will do fine, and you’ll find it’s a much more rewarding and satisfying drink, and you’ll enjoy it even more.

BURT WOLF:   You’re absolutely right, I totally agree, and I didn’t know that.


It’s not unusual to be attired formally for a Burns Night dinner in Scotland, but Scotland’s formal attire... well... that’s another thing.

BURT WOLF:   What are we wearing tonight?  Yours is slightly different than mine.

COLIN MacPHAIL:  The difference is, I’m wearing something that has a front, and it has a back as well.  What I’m wearing started out as a kilt; what you’re wearing is what it evolved into.  You’re wearing a kilt circa twentieth century, I’m wearing a kilt circa seventeenth century. 

BURT WOLF:   And it just started as one big piece of cloth?

COLIN MacPHAIL:  One big piece of cloth; it’s like a toga, it’s like a kimono... any culture starts off with a very basic piece of material they wrap themselves up in, and the Scots were the same.  They had a basic piece of material, and what they would do, is they would wake up in the morning, and they’d lay it out on the ground, and they’d pleat it and put their belt behind it, you’d lay down on that, you’d throw the belt up around, and you’d pull the material up, and you were dressed.

BURT WOLF:   And what’s in here?

COLIN MacPHAIL:  Okay, this is a sporin; in the old days there was a pouch worn usually at the side of the hip there, and what you kept in it was your oatmeal, or whatever it was that you were eating.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, it was a food pouch!

COLIN MacPHAIL:  Oh yeah, it was very, very basic.  I mean, there’s no pockets in all this.  Now it’s for keeping your small change in, and also positioned here for protecting your “small change” as well.

BURT WOLF:   [laughing]  I never thought about that.  Well, let’s go in to dinner.


JAMIE WILLIAMSON:  Welcome to Alvie.  Grace:  “Some ha’e meat and canno’ eat / And some would eat that want it / But we ha’e meat, and we can eat / And say the Lord be thanked.  Amen.”

[Dinner begins; various chatter.  Then the haggis is presented, and a guest gives a short speech in dialect in tribute to the haggis.]

The arrival of the main course is traditionally greeted by the dramatic recitation of a Robert Burns poem honoring the dish.

Very often the most important dish at a Scottish gathering will be the haggis; traditionally it involved stuffing meat, vegetables and grain into the stomach of an animal and then cooking it in a simmering liquid.  The word haggis comes from a verb that means “to hack” or “to mince,” as in minced pie.  It’s also the root that gave us the word hash, and a modern recipe for haggis is very similar to a modern recipe for hash.  Various parts of a lamb are minced and seasoned, but these days they are cooked in a sack rather than a stomach.

COLIN MacPHAIL:  Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for that bit of the Burns evening which we call the “Immortal Memory,” which involves someone who’s fairly terrified standing up and trying to do Burns justice.  I’d like to start off with a little poem which goes like this:

[he immediately launches into a fiercely dramatic recitation in Scottish dialect, then jumps right back to his own personality.]

Thank you.  I still today don’t know exactly what that means... but it impresses the hell out of American visitors if you can say it.  The last part that you have to do is you have to say... what shall we say?  Just Burns, I suppose.  To Robert Burns.

ALL:  Burns.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Scottish have been distilling spirits for hundreds of years.  Nobody knows exactly when they got started, but there are records in the tax office that go back into the 1400s.  At the time, Scottish monks were distilling a spirit that had a big-deal reputation as a cure-all. Of course, they were drinking it for purely medicinal purposes.  They called it the “water of life.” In the Gaelic dialect, the name was “usquebaugh.” That sounded like “uishgi” to the English, who soon began to mispronounce it as “whisky.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   These days the Scots drink two types of whisky.  One is called “single malt,” the other is called “blended.”  The making of a single malt Scotch whisky starts with a process called malting.  Barley grain is mixed with water until it begins to germinate.  It literally starts to sprout.  After about two days of sprouting, the process is stopped by drying the barley.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The traditional way to dry the barley is with a fire that is at least in part fueled by peat. Peat is a local soil that comes from decomposed and concentrated plant life.  It is so thick that it can be cut and used very much the way we use coal. It adds a smoky flavor to the barley. 

The barley is then ground and sent off for mashing.  It’s mixed with warm water in a vessel called a mash tun.  After a while a liquid is drained off. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The liquid is called a wort and it’s packed with natural sugar that’s come out of the barley.  Yeast is added to the wort, which causes the sugar to convert to alcohol.  It’s called fermentation and it’s basically the same chemical process that’s used in making beer or wine.

The fermented liquid is transferred to a still.  A still is really just a giant teapot used to heat the liquid.  Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, so the alcohol turns to a vapor first.  It rises up to the top of the still, then turns down in a pipe, and is recondensed to liquid alcohol on the other side.  The distilled spirit goes into a cask.  By law, the whisky must mature in the cask for at least three years in order to be called Scotch.  In practice, however, serious Scotch makers can age their whisky in wood for considerably longer.  A single malt whisky is made in one distillery, exclusively from barley. It may come from a number of different casks and different ages, but always from the same distillery.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   During the late 1800s, a wine and spirits merchant by the name of Matthew Gloag began to develop a blended Scotch whisky.  He wanted it to appeal to the tastes of ladies and gentlemen who were coming up to Scotland to take part in the sporting activities. 

They liked to fish for salmon in the great Highland rivers.  They liked to hunt the famous grouse on the moors.  They liked to track the magnificent Scottish deer.  And hunt the famous grouse on the moors.  They liked to seek out the wild partridge... and hunt the famous grouse on the moors. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Matthew Gloag could see the emergence of a pattern and its related opportunity.  If he could come up with a Scotch that was a classic and call it The Famous Grouse, then all he had to do was get the English to drink it as well as shoot it.

He got his daughter to sketch the famous red grouse on the label, and in time The Famous Grouse became the most popular blended Scotch in Scotland. It still is.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The blenders at Matthew Gloag have a secret formula for The Famous Grouse, which includes over twenty different single malts, including Highland Park from Orkney, and whisky from the patent still.

JOHN RAMSEY:  A blender has a job of bringing together all the various single malt whiskies and their differences in flavor, putting them together into hopefully a mix that will be greater than the component parts; almost a synergy of flavors, overlaying that with some grain spirit, or grain whisky.  Grain whisky was introduced during the 1800s, and at that time was used very much as a dilutant for the very harsh malt flavors that were abundant at that time.  Nowadays the malt flavors are softer and mellower, but the grain is still used very much as a sort of foil to lift and support the complex malt flavors.  I believe you’ve been filming some of the works of Robert Burns, and I could quote from Robbie:  “Freedom and whisky gang together; take half your dram.”  Will you have a dram?

BURT WOLF:   I sure will.

And just for the record, a dram is not a specific unit of measurement.  It can be a half ounce or a half pint.  It’s all in the eyes of the pourer. 

BURT WOLF:   Slangivar!

JOHN RAMSEY:  Slangivar.  Your very good health.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Well, that’s a brief look at Scotland and their Robert Burns celebration.  I’m going to be sorry to leave Scotland; it’s quite a place.  But as Robert Burns said, in a somewhat different context:

Had we never loved so kindly,

Had we never loved so blindly,

Had we never met - and never parted,

We would never have been brokenhearted.

Which I guess means that it’s time for me to start travelling around the world again, taking a look at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I hope you’ll join me; I’m Burt Wolf.