Tag Archives: potato

Banana flowers, custard apples, fresh coconut and much more

One in a series on vegetable markets around the world: this one in ‘Little India’, Singapore.

Fresh vegetables, unpackaged, typically mean local production, short food chains, fine taste and a high nutritional content. The Living Field encourages local growing and use of vegetables, most recently through its Vegetable Map of Scotland.

But we also enjoy visiting fresh vegetable markets in other places, for example in Bangkok, Inle Lake Burma and Carsassonne in France.

Here we look at some of what’s on offer at Tekka, in the district of Singapore known as Little India [1]. As in most other vegetable markets, the goods offer a range of storage times from a few days to weeks or even months.

Here are some unusual ones … unusual to us that is. They are widely eaten throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. To the left of the three above are flowers of the banana or another plantain, encased in their reddish sheaths. The tough outer layers are usually discarded then the softer inners used in soups, salads and curries.

To the right are custard apples, not so appetising on the outside but split them with a knife to get at soft tasty fruits inside. In the middle, fresh coconuts, pared ready for extracting the ‘milk’, jostle on the central shelf, gourds above them and more banana products below. Just visible above the banana flowers (left) are two jackfruit, their rough surfaces protecting luscious, tasty, orange fruits inside.

Next are two types of fruit that will be more familiar in European supermarkets. Lower right in the panel above is a mass of gooseberries and above them the shiny purple fruits of brinjal (also known as aubergine and eggplant) of which there are many forms. The brinjal’s botanical name is Solanum melongena, relative of the potato therefore (Solanum tuberosum) and some poisonous nightshades. The wall poster to the left of them is advertising a vegetable mart.

And here are some more unusual ones. To the right of the flower stall (centre) are spiny gourds Momordica dioica, a fruit usually cooked as a vegetable, fried with meat for example. They are a little larger than a golf ball.

To the left are clusters of green ‘berries’ – the fruit of the pea eggplant or turkey berry Solanum torvum, used to give some bitterness to various dishes including curries.

So brinjal, pea aubergine and potato are part of the same plant group. People throughout the world have learnt to eat the safe parts of these Solanum species and leave or neutralise the inedible or poisonous parts (usually the leaves). Potato’s edible parts are tubers rather than fruits – though if left to flower and fruit, potato produces berries similar in appearance to those of pea aubergine [3].

And finally there are things both familiar and exotic. To the left are limes and next to them sections of banana stem. Then in the panel of three to the right are what looks like a type of okra or cucumber, green but characteristically streaked with white, then tomato in the centre and at the bottom a collection of carrots, beans and what are probably long tubers locally called ‘radishes’ but which are not a bit like the small oval radish grown in Britain.

Further sources and links

[1] Little India, Singapore: vegetables, herbs and spices at and around the Tekka Centre off Serangoon Road and Bukit Timah Road.

[2] Information on the trees and shrubs mentioned above can be found in several searchable databases: e.g., see entries for custard apple Annona reticulata at the Agroforestree database of the World Agroforestry Centre and the CABI Invasive Species Compendium.

[3] Potato plants can form fruits in fields in Scotland and if dropped, persist in the soil for many years, giving rise to ‘volunteer’ populations that occur as weeds in subsequent crops of potato or other species. The role of potato as a weed is described on this web site at Crop-weeds.

All images by Living Field.

Veg posters from open farm sunday

What a great day, 9 June! Yet another successful Open Farm Sunday at the Hutton Dundee. Crowds of visitors enjoying themselves in sunny weather. The Living Field garden did its bit as before – exhibits on barley and legumes in the polytunnel, potato varieties in the west garden and further science exhibits in the cabins.

Our friends from Dundee Astronomical Society were here again showing people round the new observatory and explaining about the sun, moon and noctilucent clouds. And this year we were helped for the first time by a workshop on cyanotype imagery run by Kit Martin.

The centrepiece was the new Vegetable Map of Scotland, shown top left and centre in the panel above. For more on how it was made, see Vegetable map made real. The map occasioned much comment and wonder that the country was already growing such a wide range of vegetables and could grow much more of its own.

The two posters located next to the Vegetable map are available to view or download here.

The Vegetable Posters

One of the posters – The Vegetable Products of Scotland – explained the background to the original Vegetable map which was first shown at Can we grow more vegetables? The poster is reproduced below as a low resolution jpg image. It is also available as a pdf file printable up to A3 size.

Click for an A3 size pdf of the Vegetable Products of Scotland.

The other poster – Vegetables in the Living Field garden – showed many of the vegetables typically grown in the garden, grouped into leaves, fleshy fruits, roots and seeds. More on the plants can be seen at the garden pages under Vegetables. This poster is also reproduced as a jpeg below and available as a pdf.

Click for an A3 size pdf of Vegetables in the Living Field garden.

Contacts for Living Field activities: gladys.wright@hutton.ac.uk or geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Open Farm Sunday was a joint effort between The Farm, science staff, the events team, the Living Field community and many others.

Vegetable map made real

Since its publication on these pages in 2017 the Vegetable Map of Scotland [1] has attracted much interest. There is a growing awareness of the benefits of local, nutritious food – especially if bought from short supply chains that use the least possible carbon.

People want to know where their food comes from, how much is imported and how much grown locally and whether the country can grow more of its food within or near its borders.

These questions are asked especially of vegetables, including pulses and potato, because they are (or should be) mostly eaten very fresh, such as leaf, or else, like carrot and swede, kept not too long on the shelf before being cooked.

With this background of interest, the Vegetable Map was constructed by researchers at the Institute as part of joint interests with Nourish Scotland [2]. The group interrogated EU databases provided by the Scottish Government [3] to locate the fields in which the various vegetables and soft fruits were grown.

Part of the Vegetable Map showing Strathmore, Angus and Fife

An example of part of the region is shown above. The Map remained available through this web site, then in late 2018, ideas began to form about making the map real – complete with vegetables – and it would be constructed in the Living Field garden [4].

Tayside’s neolithic?

Time went by. Ground was weeded, cleared and cultivated – a rare barrenness in the otherwise plant-rich garden. Then gradually, over the winter, tectonic plates shifted.

People began to wonder about the strange earthworks dotted with rocks that appeared in the plot. Was the garden being visited at night by strange forces or was the Living Field community finally just losing it? Rumours were rife.

Rocks laid in formation and the ground smoothed again

More time went by. Turf was laid in a great rectangle over the whole patch, but people were still unclear of what it was all for …. and what lay underneath.

The turf rooted and formed a fine carpet. But what were the rocks? A ritual landscape? Tayside’s answer to the Ring of Brodgar?

The laying of the turf, before the winter 2018/19

Then one day in late spring 2019 an outline was traced and the turf was cut to reveal the unmistakable shape of ….. Scotland ….. its indented coast now clear and the land inside complete with hills and mountains.

All well so far ……. a map of the country covered in grass and rocks …… nothing new there. But then in May, holes were cut in the turf and plants put in the holes: and you’ll guess what plants – Yes, vegetables.

The map complete, ready for the vegetables in spring 2019

And that is where we are at the beginning of June 2019. The Farm’s drone was flown to photograph the Living Field garden from the air on 5 June. The image of the map appears below.

Different types of vegetable are being planted in the parts of the country where they are typically grown. It is possible to see the early plantings to the right of the image. The brown holes in the turf are where circles have been cut in readiness for later plantings. (The ‘corners’ and lower border are spare turf in case of need.)

The Vegetable Map in the Living Field garden, taken by The Farm’s drone on 5 June 2019

Planting will continue well into the summer. There will be some surprises which we shall show later.

For now, you can read more about the history of vegetable growing at the original page [1]. photographs of the construction will follow – link to be provided. And there will be more articles on what can and can’t be grown in the soils and climates of our northern latitudes.

Living Field people will be on hand at Open Farm Sunday 9 June 2019 to explain more about the Vegetable Map of Scotland. See you there!

With apologies to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, presently missing from the map but to be included.

Sources, references, links

[1] The Vegetable Map of Scotland at Can we grow more vegetables? was constructed by Nora Quesada with Graham Begg and Geoff Squire.

[2] Nourish Scotland at nourishscotland.org and Peas please.

[3] The original digital map was produced during work on the distribution of crops as part of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme.

[4] Gladys Wright had the idea of constructing the Vegetable Map in the Living Field garden and was soon offered enthusiastic help by The Farm. Together, and with other coopted helpers they measured out the grid, made the mountains (like Titans), laid and cut the turf and raised and planted the plants. A great effort by the Living Field community!

[5] Further links to the map on this site: Living Field garden from the air and Veg posters from Open Farm Sunday.

Contact: gladys.wright@hutton.ac.uk, geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Can we grow more vegetables?

Vegetables and fruit in Scotland mapped. Regions of historically strategic land and soil. The Iron Age, then the Romans, Picts and 1700s Improvers. Imports vs local production. Opportunities.

As background to the recent Vegetable Summit, held in Edinburgh, London and Cardiff, Nourish Scotland [1] asked the James Hutton Institute if it was possible to define the places where vegetables are grown in the region. The resulting map, prepared by Nora Quesada, is shown below.

Click on the map to open a larger version in a separate tab

Each coloured dot on the map indicates a field of fruit or vegetables. (The dots are much larger than individual fields.) It is clear from the distribution of dots that relatively little land exists in Scotland on which vegetables and fruit are grown. Even in places where the coloured dots are concentrated, the land area covered by fruit and vegetables is generally less than a few percent. Most of the other cultivated land is under cereals, wheat and barley.

Why do we want to know where vegetables are grown? Questions around  diet, health and food poverty at this time of agricultural plenty were  raised in a recent issue of Nourish Scotland’s magazine, January 2017, with the title ‘What would Boyd Orr do?’ [2].

John Boyd Orr was a pioneer of research into nutrition in Scotland many decades ago.  His work became known throughout the world. The article asked what he would do today faced with the situation that, while vegetables are essential for a healthy human diet, most are imported and fail to reach the people that need them.

It is important to know therefore whether more land than shown on the maps can be converted to growing vegetables? For example, how much land would be needed to provide an optimum (rather than minimum) diet for the whole country from local produce; and can the cities be supplied with fruit and veg by the land surrounding them?

To answer such questions, it is necessary, first, to know what is grown and where. That is the purpose of the present mapping.

How is it done?

The EU’s Integrated Administration and Control Systems (IACS), which is used to manage farm subsidies, collects data on the crops grown on each field. The Scottish Government provided that information to the James Hutton Institute. Each field in IACS is geo-referenced and can be located on a base map that is of high enough resolution to show the outlines of the fields. The IACS reference then allows the fields on the base map to be linked to specific crops in specific years. This is how the maps shown in this article were constructed [3].

The IACS system does not account for vegetables from gardens and allotments and inner city and rural small scale production. There is much activity at these small scales, which we’ll look at in future posts.

Here we  consider two examples of areas where vegetables are now produced: Strathmore and Angus and then Moray, Cromarty and Tarbat. Commercial growing needs good soil and a not-too-extreme climate, and given the difficulty of finding this combination in Scotland, it becomes apparent that today’s vegetable-producing regions have had strategic importance for hundreds and even thousands of years.

Strathmore and Angus

The  main area for production of vegetables lies in Strathmore (map below), which stretches over a generally lowland region, from east of Perth and then in a north-east direction to the coast north of Angus. Angus itself is a major source of fruit and many types of vegetable. Across the Tay, parts of Fife are similarly productive.

The crops occupying the greatest surface area are still the cereals – barley and wheat – but they are not shown on the map. In addition to potato and a wide range of vegetables, this area is the centre of fruit growing in Scotland – strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.

Increasingly in recent decades many vegetables are sown in the field then covered with a protective fleece to encourage early growth and   to distance them from pests. Similarly, most soft fruit growing today is under the protection of polytunnels, where again the environment is less severe in winter and pests can be regulated.

Strathmore, Angus and Fife showing approx. locations of fields growing vegetables in one year.

The fertile soils and maritime climate here were of strategic importance to the iron age communities who built their many hill forts along the Sidlaw Hills that form a barrier between Strathmore and the estuary and coast to the south. The famous Dunsinane, or Dunsinnan as it is referred to on old local maps, is one of them [4]. One of the photographs shown below was taken from Dunsinnan, north across Strathmore.

Later the Romans invaded, moving north from the region of Hadrian’s Wall, not finding much of a welcome it seems, and erecting forts and watchtowers along the Gask Ridge and in a line just within but near the northern extremity of the cloud of coloured dots in the image above [5].

The Romans’ massive Legionary Fortress at Inchtuthil, within the northern boundary of the strath (see map above), was built and deserted in the 1st Century AD, and was probably sited to guard the passes north along what is today’s A9. The fortress and marching soldiers would have needed constant supplies of food, and probably achieved this by access to the rich land of Strathmore.

From Dunsinnan Hill north across Strathmore (top), the Isla in flood at the the last sunset of the year (lower r) and winter sky above polytunnel frames (www.livingfield.co.uk)

The image at the top of the three above was taken from Dunsinnan early in year, looking across Strathmore. The nearest fields are still in stubble after last year’s harvest; the intermediate ones, showing rich brown soil, have been ploughed; and the green ones just beneath the low cloud were sown the previous autumn with winter cereals or oilseeds. The Roman line stretched this side of the hills.

Centuries later, the Picts made this productive region integral to their southern kingdom in the 7th and 8th centuries. Many symbol stones and ‘pit- ‘ place names survive here from that time [6]. Some of the crops grown here today would not be known then – potato, for example, was yet to cross the Atlantic, and the other ‘root’ crops – turnip and swede – were probably unknown.

Yet Strathmore, Angus and Fife would have offered enough agricultural land to feed this civilisation with its basic grain and protein. You can see it was a prize that other peoples would want to take for their own – the Scots moving across from Ireland would have found little land of comparable quality on the west coast.

The Black Isle, Moray, Tarbat, Cromarty

A hundred miles directly north of Inchtuthil Fortress, across today’s passes of Drumochter and Slochd, the land falls to the coast and becomes productive again. The area (map below) grows fewer types of vegetable today than Strathmore, but grain and tuber yields remain high.

The coloured dots show that seed and ware potato were the commonest vegetables in this region, but interestingly carrot is also prevalent. Go back to the 1780s and the farmer/traveller Andrew Wight had this to relate when riding along the northern side of the Cromarty Firth [7]:

“….. that Robert Hall, the farm manager of Fowlis  ‘introduced a crop, rare in Scotland and an absolute novelty in the north, which is carrot. ….. The farm-horses are fed on carrots instead of corn; and they are always in good condition.”
Andrew Wight visited the area as part of his survey of the Improvements in the late 1700s, but the rich coastal land here has a historical legacy stretching back centuries.

The map above shows the area around the Cromarty and Moray Firths, the Moray coast stretching to the right and the Black Isle left of centre.

The northern Picts established their ‘elite’ farm and monastery at Portmahomack on the northern tip of the Tarbat peninsula. Their massive carved stones, at Nigg, Cadboll and Shandwick, were major contributions to European art. They arose within a civilisation based on the stability afforded by this good agricultural land [6].

As for Strathmore, the rich soil around the Dornoch and Cromarty Firths must have been eyed by the Scots from the west and the Norse from the east. Pictish civilisation, with its distinctive art and craft, did not survive.

Lines in the earth, Tarbat, including rapeseed drilled directly into cereal stubble (top left), then clockwise, the Storehouse of Foulis built in the 1700s; the Picts’ Shandwick Stone; site of the Tarbat Discovery Centre; and coastal grazing looking from Tarbat across the Dornoch Firth (www.livingfield.co.uk)

Opportunities

The maps derived from IACS data show the extent of vegetable growing today. Vegetables and fruit could be grown over a much wider area and a much higher density if the demand was there.

For example, the pulses – beans and peas – plants that fix their own nitrogen and so save on mineral fertiliser, have been reduced to a minor crop. The IACS map shows concentrations of peas and beans in the Borders, but overall  the pulses cover less than 5% of the arable land. This is low by global standards. Countries that have transformed their agriculture in recent years now assign a quarter of their land to nitrogen-fixing crops.

Developments towards greater veg and fruit production and nitrogen fixing pulses will not be just though existing growers expanding their production. There are many local initiatives, some in areas considered inhospitable for vegetables. There is great scope therefore for increasing production but the demand for quality local produce has to be there from consumers.

Future posts on this web site will look at the value of fruit and veg to health, the degree to which Scotland depends (and it depends a lot) on imports for its fruit and veg, the new vegetable products that are appearing on the market (including beer and bread from beans), the increasing local initiatives in veg production and the possibilities for growing much more fruit and veg and making it available to those who need it.

For more on vegetables on the Living Field web site…

Next up –Veg at Bangkok markets, Thailand and Minerals and vitamins from vegetables and fruit. 

For the Living Field’s experiences with veg growing, see Vegetables in the Living Field Garden. For some health benefits, see Cornbread, peas and back molasses and 2 veg to pellagra. For random posts on pulses (peas and beans), see Feel the pulsePeanuts to pellagra and Scofu: the quest for an indigenous Scottish tofu.

From Dunsinnan, across Strathmore, early in the year 2017

Sources, links

[1] Nourish Scotland: The Vegetable Summit was held on 24 October 2017. For background see Peas Please – the Veg Project.

[2] What would Boyd Orr do? Nourish Scotland Magazine, Issue 6, January 2017. The link is to a pdf file. The article by Pete Ritchie explains John Boyd Orr’s contribution and his continuing relevance today. Other articles cover diet, food poverty, vegetables  and right to food.

[3] IACS and map construction. Information of the Integrated Administration and Control System IACS scheme can be found at the web pages of the European Commission and the Scottish Government. Examples of a major exercise in mapping based on IACS data are given in a CAP Greening Review carried out by the James Hutton Institute for Scottish Government, published 2017: for links to the multi-part documentation, see CAP Greening Review on the SG web site; the section on mapping is Part 3 – Maps by David Miller, Doug Wardell-Johnson and Keith Matthews. Maps of vegetable growing produced in the present article were prepared by Nora Quesada.

[4] Dunsinnan hill fort. The Canmore site gives a detailed description.  A string of Iron Age ‘forts’ along the Sidlaw Hills south of Strathmore and just north of the flat, reclaimed coastal plain of the Carse of Gowrie, can be seen on the OS map of the area. Search for hill ‘forts’ by name. (Ps. Shakespeare promoted a different pronunciation – Dunsinane.)

[5] The exhibition Roman Empire – Power and People in 2015 at the McManus in Dundee was an invaluable introduction to life at the northern limits of the Roman Empire. The LF article Feeding the Romans gives some background on the land use around the line of fortifications along Strathmore. For comprehensive coverage of this northern Roman frontier: Woolliscroft, DJ, Hoffmann, B 2006. Rome’s first frontier – the Flavian occupation of Northern Scotland. The History Press (reprinted 2011).

[6]  Carver, Martin (2016) Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts. Edinburgh University Press. (2nd edition). Excavations of the farm and monastery are described. The Picts, flourishing between the 600s and 900s were part of a wider European culture . In their travels, they most likely imported various plants for use as food and medicinals, yet very little other than remnants of grain have survived. Maps in the book show the location of pit- place names.

[7] For Andrew Wight’s note on the innovative growing of carrots  by the Cromarty Firth in  the 1780s, see Great Quantities of Aquavitae II on this web site.

Contact

Text and background: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Mapping: nora.quesadapizarro@hutton.ac.uk

[Updated 2 December 2017  with revised main map.]

SoScotchBonnet

Indigenous crops; Scotch Bonnet; wool, woad and indigo; Tam o’Shanter, Burns supper; staple food of the north Atlantic seaboard; tatties, neeps, oat and barley; the grey cat!

In its undying search for the truly indigenous crop, the Living Field investigated the ‘Scotch Bonnet’, to find it was nothing local at all, but a hot little capsicum, now grown in the West Indies and other tropical places and used to give some spicy heat to food.

Why then is it called the Scotch Bonnet? It seems because it looks like one. Unlike many varieties of the chillies, this one bulges and sometimes flops when it leaves the stem: to some, with imagination, it resembles a Scotch Bonnet, on a head.

The Scotch Bonnet

Now the Living Field is well disposed to the headgear named Scotch Bonnet, originally made of local fibre, usually wool, and dyed blue with woad Isatis tinctoria, which was once grown as a crop in these islands, or with the deeper indigo Indigofera tinctoria, which is imported and replaced woad. Such skill and craft go into making this one little hat: you have to rear the sheep and shear them, then wash, spin and weave the fibre, grow and harvest the woad or indigo, extract the dyestuff, dye the cloth, then form it into a shape that would fit on a head – and it was all done before electricity.

But we see the Scotch Bonnet (headgear) is also called the Tam o’Shanter, and this is, it seems, because Tam in the poem by Burns wears a blue bonnet – it’s mentioned only once, but there it is – ‘Tam’s blue bonnet’.

Sheep being sheared of its wool (top right), wool dyed with woad (bottom right) and indigo, and photograph of scene from Gourdie's Tam O'Shanter showing Tam's blue bonnet in hand (Living Field / details of book below)
Sheep being sheared of its wool (top right), wool dyed with woad (bottom right) and indigo, and photograph of scene from Gourdie’s Tam O’Shanter showing Tam’s blue bonnet in hand (Living Field / details of book below)

Tam o’Shanter

Now these three words do not define what sort of bonnet it is, yet those who have depicted the bonnet in drawings and paintings of the epic give it the character and shape of a Scotch Bonnet, and those such as Alexander Goudie (1933-2004) who have painted in colour give it the colour blue – woad-blue or indigo-blue.

In Goudie’s fabulous paintings, the blue bonnet is there in almost every picture. It grows in significance. Even when chased by Cutty Sark and the other infernals, the blue bonnet stays on. Even when, with diminishing sark, she grabs Maggie’s (Tam’s mare’s) tail, pulls it and leaves just a stump of hair … the bonnet stays on. Considering the state of Tam, and the number and aggression of the infernals .. you wonder how the man and mare escaped? Was there something in these blue-bearing plants that somehow made Tam and his mare go faster or the infernals slower. Doesn’t matter, because if they had caught him, there would be no recitations of the poem and much less fun at Burns Night.

Burns Night

The poem Tam o’Shanter is very much associated with the festivities of the Burns Supper, and through the medium of the Supper, visitors can sample some of the great staple food and drink of the north Atlantic seaboard – oat, swede, potato and barley. Together, and with offal, including lungs, and other fleshly stuff from sheep, they make the traditional meal of haggis, neeps and tatties, the barley going not so much into the haggis as into the dram for those who partake (though, on the Night, the dram can sometimes … well … go into the haggis).

Haggis, neeps and tatties (top), whole swede and sliced swede (Living Field)

Would Burns have known the main crops that now form his Supper – he was a farmer for a few years? Sheep of course he would have known. Of the three main vegetable constituents, only oat has been here for a long time and that for thousands of years. He would have known oat. The neeps, usually swede rather than the (white) turnip, and tatties (potato) are relative newcomers, arriving perhaps a few decades before Burns was born. Burns probably knew about swede and potato but might not have grown them. Barley is older than oat here and he would have known barley and certainly known its products.

So while Burns (1759-1796) is now celebrated around the world, the world reciprocated before he was born by offering the vegetable constituents of his commemorative supper – oat and barley from west Asia, swede from (probably, though it’s not certain) east Europe or west Asia and potato from Central America. What a generous world!

Sources at the bottom of the page give links to his poems and song and to the Scots Dictionary. The image of haggis, neeps and tatties (above) was taken at a Burns ‘lunch’ at the Hutton staff restaurant.  For those who want to know more about the crops, below is something more on swede, potato, oat and barley.

The crops

Tatties

The tatties’ tale is well told elsewhere. Briefly, potato Solanum tuberosum arrived in Britain from the other side of the Atlantic in the late 1500s, but gained little interest other than a garden curiosity until …..

“To Thomas Prentice, a common day-labourer, who lived near Kilsyth, is the honour due of bringing this useful esculent into general notice in Scotland [so wrote Lawson and Son in 1836 only 40 years after Burns’ death … and read on … ] He procured, in 1728, some “sets” from Lancashire, and bestowed considerable care in their propagation; and as their value became known, they were eagerly sought after by his immediate neighbours. By continuing the cultivation he, in a few years, saved upwards of £200, with which he purchased a small annuity, on which he lived independently to an old age, dying at Edinburgh in the year 1792.”

So Thomas got his tattie tubers from Lancashire well before Burns was born and he died only a few years before Burns did. Burns was probably familiar with the potato, but only just. His parents’ generation probably did not know it and his grandparents’ would not have known it. Yet what an explosion of genetic resources there was after that, because little over a hundred years later there were 175 recognised types of potato known to Lawson and Son (1836, 1850) and today there are great collections of genetic resources such as the one at the Hutton Institute.

Neeps

In their list of 1852, Lawson and Son, seedsmen from Edinburgh, write “in modern times the turnip seems to have been re-introduced to this country from Flanders about two-hundred years ago” which is the 1650s or thereabouts, but they also state that the time of introduction and the degree of cultivation of the swede or Swedish turnip is less certain though probably later (let’s approximate to around 1700). By Burns’ time the turnip had become a commercial farm crop in some areas of Scotland. Today the turnip has the botanical name Brassica rapa and the swede Brassica napus.

Both types of turnip were used to feed horses and cattle, but also people. The swede, the same species as oilseed rape, has leaf that is less coarse and hairy than the turnip, bluey-green rather than bright green and generally a yellow-orange flesh rather than white, which colour remains when cooked and mashed. So the neeps that are eaten these days with haggis and tatties are mostly swedes. An excellent vegetable, rich, smooth and distinctive to the taste, one of the very finest of the cabbages.

The corn

Oat Avena sativa and barley Hordeum vulgare had been the staple cereals of the north atlantic seaboard for a very long time. Charred grain of barley has been found in the earliest farming settlements. Their relative popularity has risen and fallen but in Burns’ time, oat was by far the most common, and it is the meal ground from oat grains that binds the animal constituents of the haggis. Today it’s the other way round, barley is the commoner crop, though oat is the one still used in haggis. More on oat and barley can be found on this site at Garden/Cereals and in the series of articles on landraces, e.g. The bere line – rhymes with hairline.

The grey cat?

She says “Arrived, invited, for a SoSCOtchBOnnet photoshoot posing in nothing but a Scotch Bonnet – and what a bonnet! Fine wool, indigo-dyed, cost me the earth … credit card maxed out … but the editor says ‘no nudity on the Living Field web site’ and I had to keep my fur on … no fun in that. Name’s Meggie by the way, like Tam’s horse Maggie but with an ‘e’. I do photoshoots. Call me.”

The grey cat, enigmatic with natural dye strips (from top) hazel catkins, indigo, dock, rhubarb and (vertical) madder (Living Field)

Sources

Burns poetry. Best get a book of it – there are several – and read it by a fireside on a winter’s night or in a field of corn and poppies in midsummer.

Burns is accessible online, e.g. http://www.robertburns.org and http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/biography.shtml

Tam o’Shanter, a tale by Robert Burns, illustrated by Alexander Goudie. 2011. Berlinn, Edinburgh. More on the artist at http://www.alexandergoudie.org.uk at which – check under ‘paintings’ and ‘Tam o’Shanter’. 

A Scot’s dictionary is handy if you are not familiar, e.g. The Concise Scots Dictionary (The Scots language in one volume from the first records to the present day). Editor in Chief: Mairi Robinson, 1985. Aberdeen University Press. 

Online Scots http://www.scots-online.org and http://www.dsl.ac.uk.

Lawson and Son’s exhibitions and lists of 1836 and 1852 are described on this site at Bere in Lawsons’ Synopsis 1852.