Stephen Jardine: Giving thanks for Scots food

The new enthusiasm for all things Thanksgiving comes from Scots customers looking for something else to celebrate. Picture: AP
The new enthusiasm for all things Thanksgiving comes from Scots customers looking for something else to celebrate. Picture: AP
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IT’S time to start a new tradition that’s home-grown in all respects, writes Stephen Jardine

Until recently, Thanksgiving was just a weird American thing. The closest most Scots got to the celebration was watching Steve Martin struggling to get home for it with no help from John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

In no time at all, that has changed. On Thursday you could have sat down to Pumpkin Veloute and Pecan Pie at the Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh while just across the road even that most Scottish of eating spots Ghillie Dhu had a menu featuring Turkey and Pumpkin Pie.

The new enthusiasm for all things Thanksgiving comes not from chefs who want to cook more turkey but from customers looking for something else to celebrate.

According to figures from British turkey producers, an estimated one in six of the UK population marked Thanksgiving in some way in 2014 and that figure is expected to have risen further this year.

Perhaps it’s not surprising Thanksgiving is gaining ground in Britain since the tradition seems to have originated here in harvest festivals and then been carried to America by the pilgrims and puritans.

Nowadays online content and social media help blur cultural boundaries and just as Halloween has become increasingly Americanised, so Thanksgiving has crept into our cultural calendar.

That’s not a bad thing. I never need an excuse to eat Pecan Pie but it’s curious we are still missing our own homegrown opportunity to celebrate at this time of year.

On Monday, St Andrew’s Day will be marked by musical performances, poetry readings and Scottish country dancing here, there and everywhere but something important is missing.

The official Scottish Government website does its best with great recipes for Cullen Skink, Smoked Haddock Bake and Loin of Venison but St Andrew’s Day food celebrations are few and far between.

It’s a curious omission. This is a great time for a meal showcasing seasonal Scottish produce with lamb, beef and game all in plentiful supply. And let’s face it, we Scots rarely need an excuse for a celebration, particularly at a time when our sense of national awareness has never been stronger.

Perhaps it’s just a little too close to the Christmas blow out for our Presbyterian tendancies but St Andrew’s Day feels like a date in the calendar that needs to find a way to celebrate. The solution lies with us.

Back in 1801, the first Burns Supper wasn’t organised by Event Scotland or a local council. Instead it was a spontaneous celebration put together by friends of Robert Burns to commemorate his death. From that, a tradition developed and spread worldwide.

There is absolutely no reason we can’t do it again.

St Andrew’s Day could become our Thanksgiving – a special feast to celebrate the glorious natural bounty of the year drawing to a close and the produce that will sustain us Scots through the long, cold winter ahead.

It could be a special meal in hotels, restaurants, schools and canteens or in homes up and down the land. It could be fancy or simple, Venison Wellington or Mince and Tatties- it just needs to showcase Scotland and be served on the last day of November.

But the impetus to make it happen needs to come from every one of us.

So why not make a bit of extra effort on Monday? If we all take the time to visit locals shops, markets or ,a farm shop this weekend, we will be supporting local jobs. Make a meal for Scotland on St Andrew’s Day. It just might catch on.