Eating the Past: Scotch Eggs
This is Tammy Proctor, and this season on Eating the Past, we have
already seen that defining dumplings can be difficult and a little
contentious. I’m going to add to the dicey history of dumplings today by
exploring a British delicacy, the staple of buffets and church fetes
across the UK – the Scotch egg.
If you’ve never had one, it is a fun food that in the US would probably be
categorized with state fair foods. It is a hard-boiled egg, surrounded by
a layer of sausage, then breaded and fried. You can buy a grocery store
pre-cooked version and heat it in a microwave, but the best way to have
one these days is at a restaurant that makes gourmet versions from
scratch with organic eggs and homemade sausage.
So, I think these probably count as dumplings because they are fried
balls, filled with yummy stuff, and they can be served alone as a snack
or with a sauce on top or for dipping. The real debate comes from the
question of their origins. They are definitely not Scottish! They became
popular nationally in the UK in the 1800s, but there are three possible
origin stories. See which sounds most probable.
First, some people think the Scotch egg originated in Britain’s empire – in
India – with a dish called Nargisi Kofta. This lamb and egg curry probably
became popular during the Mughal empire period in India and it features a
hard-boiled egg wrapped in a layer of ground lamb and spices, then
breaded and deep fried. After that they are usually served in a curry
sauce. These could probably be categorized as either dumplings or
meatballs – hard to say, but some food history experts see this as the
inspiration for the British Scotch egg when it developed. Albeit without
Second, the town of Whitby in Yorkshire on Britain’s east coast also
claims to have created the first version of a Scotch egg at an
establishment called William Scott & Sons. These ‘Scotties’ were hard
boiled eggs wrapped in fish paste, then breaded and fried. Later versions
featured sausage as well.
The last origin story comes from Fortnum & Mason, the luxury
department store and food hall. In this story, Fortnum & Mason created
Scotch eggs for upper-class and wealthy travelers seeking a luxury
snack when they ventured out on trips in the UK or abroad. F&M claim
that they developed the Scotch eggs in 1738 and began marketing them
Regardless of the origins, it is indisputable that these little fried globs
took the country by storm and became ubiquitous in the twentieth
century. The Oxford English dictionary records a real uptick in usage by
1940 and after. I’m assuming their portability made them popular among
those working in war industries in the 1940s and 1950s and their cheap (by
that time) cost also proved irristible to a postwar Britain that
continued rationing into the 1950s.
Today is a particularly good day to talk about Scotch eggs because November
5th is Guy Fawkes Day in Britain, and many a bonfire night spread will include
Are they dumplings? Well, perhaps listeners should decide.
Next week more on the history of dumplings. Join us for Eating
the Past every Sunday at noon, right before The Splendid Table, on your