Food Glorious Food
The diet at Auchindrain consisted mainly of dairy, oats, and potatoes, all of which were grown here. We are close to the sea here, and fish and seafood like crab, mussels and salmon would all have been eaten.
The people of the township would have eaten dishes that didn’t require recipes, like soups and stovies. An account from 1911 describes a diet similar to that at Auchindrain:
“In the summer the cattle were going to the shieling, and we were living for the most part on milk. We had porridge made with milk and porridge made with whey instead of porridge made with water. Butter and cheese were made as part of the winter store. We would have crowdie as a treat, and there was plenty whey and sour-milk to drink. Milk, in every way in which it could be prepared; eggs and fish; those, with oaten bread or barley bread mixed with a little pease-meal, were our food in the summer. …. After coming home from the shieling, or sometime about the end of autumn, there were many who used to take blood from the cattle. They would say that the cattle were none the worse of this at all, on account of them being in condition after good summering. The blood was boiled, salted in a dish, and put by for a winter delicacy. When they had a need, a lump would be put in a pot, with suet and onions, and this food was eaten with bread as a black-pudding.”
All available food was used. When food was scarce, people turned to letting the blood of their cattle, mixing it with grain to tide themselves over.
The Reverend Dugald Campbell, Minister of Glassary, said of Argyll: “The oats and barley produced are inconsiderable in proportion to the extent of the parish, but there are great crops of potatoes.” Wheat doesn’t grow on the west coast – the climate is too wet – but small quantities were bought in for recipes like scones and clootie dumpling. Oatcakes were far more important as a staple than wheat bread.
Carrots, onions, leeks and turnips were all grown at Auchindrain. Kail (cabbage) was particularly important; vegetable patches were even named for them. In the Highlands, nettles were preferred to kale, though both were available throughout Scotland.
Wild herbs, such as thyme and wild garlic, were used in cooking. Fruit was also collected; at Auchindrain apple, cherry and perhaps plum trees grew, as well as rhubarb. Wild blueberries and other currants were gathered, and all of these fruits were used in puddings. People were resourceful and nothing went to waste: fat was used for candles, wool for clothes, and a variety of plants were thought to have medicinal qualities. Thyme was used to cure headaches and rhubarb was made into a paste to cure toothache. Honey would also have been available – it too had medicinal qualities.
What was not grown could sometimes be found elsewhere. Pepper, cinnamon, malt vinegar and treacle were all bought by the women of the township. These ingredients could be bought at the market, or were brought to the township by the ‘Tinkers’. This was a commonly used term for the Travellers who passed through the township.
Later on, ingredients would have been available to purchase in shops in Inveraray. Anne Weir used to take the bus to the town to supplement what was grown at Auchindrain.
A typical day for an agricultural worker may have looked like this:
- Breakfast: brose or porridge with milk.
- Dinner (the main meal of the day around midday): potatoes, potato soup, broth or oatcakes and skimmed milk. If meat was to be had, something like a boiled hen would be eaten for dinner at midday.
- Supper: porridge and milk, potatoes with fish, meel and créis, or a scone and cheese.