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Scotland's Gift

Scotch isn't just for drinking

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Scotch whisky is Scotland's gift to the world. Unique and inimitable, it needs the Scottish climate, pure water and rich peat, not to mention hundreds of years of experience in the skillful art of distilling.The origins of Scotch whisky are lost in the mists of time. The word whiskey is derived from the Gaelic uisgebeatha -- water of life. As time passed, uisge became usky, then eventually whiskey. The oldest reference to whiskey dates back to 1494 when "eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae" were entered in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls. A "boll" was an old Scottish measure.

The beautiful Scottish Highlands, majestic mountains, heather-clad glens and tranquil lochs were, and indeed still are, home to Scotland's national drink, which was already well established by the 15th century and was the favored drink of royalty.

During the 17th century, the popularity of scotch grew steadily, especially in the Lowlands, where many distilleries sprang up to meet the increasing demand. Highland distilleries were smaller than those of the south and mainly supplied local needs. However, the finest whiskies were those distilled by the Highland chiefs for their own households.

In 1690 came the first mention of a famous Scotch whisky noted for its quality: Ferintosh, which was distilled by Forbes of Culloden. In 1784 the owner was bought out, and Robert Burns immortalized the sad event thus: "Thee Ferintosh! O sadly lost! / Scotland laments frae coast to coast!"

After the union of Parliament in 1707, a tax was imposed on malt whiskey in 1713, to the outrage of Scotland, which strenuously opposed the measure. So began the era of illicit stills and smuggling.

Raids by excise men or augers and their attempts to close down the illegal stills failed, and the defiant Highlanders continued to distill Scotch whisky in huge amounts. This was smuggled into the Lowlands and England by a variety of ingenious methods. One of the greatest smugglers was Helen Cumming, the wife of John Cumming, who founded the Cardhu distillery in Morayshire.

Eventually, Alexander, Duke of Gordon, persuaded the British government to see the folly of its ways, and in 1823 an act was passed permitting legal distilling. Small private stills were still illegal, which ended the practice of whiskey making in the home, but this encouraged the production of Scotch whisky on a large scale, and distilleries were set up in areas where the natural conditions were favorable.

George Smith, a previously illicit distiller and smuggler, opened the first licensed distillery in Glenlivet on Speyside.

Single-malt scotch is still made according to the original basic principles, being made only from malted barley in pot stills. Its popularity is increasing steadily, with Glenfiddich being the world's best-selling malt. Whiskey, especially malt whiskey, is a versatile ingredient, and its special flavor imparts a distinctive yet subtle flavor to all kinds of dishes. Not only does Scotch whisky add a unique flavor, but it also preserves and tenderizes. Many of today's leading Scottish chefs have created magnificent recipes using Scotch whisky as an ingredient.

COCK-A-LEEKIE SOUP

A favorite of King James VI and I, this tasty soup is popular at Burns Suppers and could be called Scotland's national soup.

1-2 lbs. chicken
1 bay leaf
15 3/4 ounces leeks, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 2/5 quarts stock or water
4 1/2 fluid ounces Scotch whisky
1 teaspoon light Muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons rice
3 3/4 ounces dried prunes (soaked overnight)
Salt and pepper

Put the chicken into a large pan with the bay leaf, and pour in the water, Scotch whisky and sugar. Cover and leave overnight. Next day add the leeks, onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer for about two hours, or until the bird is tender. Skim off any fat from the liquid and remove the chicken from the pan. Remove the skin and bones, and cut the meat into pieces before returning to the pan. Add the prunes and rice, and simmer gently 15 to 20 minutes. Serves 8.

SCOTCH WHISKY CREAMED MUSHROOMS

1 3/4 ounces butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped or grated onion
15 3/4 ounces mushrooms, quartered
pint of whipping cream
3 tablespoons Scotch whisky
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a frying pan, and cook the onion until soft and transparent, but not brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft. Stir in the cream and cook gently until thickened. Add the Scotch whisky and thyme, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at once. Serves 4 to 5.

SCOTCH BEEF CASSEROLE WITH DOUGHBOYS

Dumplings were what my Scottish father knew as "doughboys" throughout his childhood, and this dish was one of his favorites.

1 1/2 pounds stewing steak, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
2 onions, chopped
9 fluid ounces beef or vegetable stock
4 1/2 fluid ounces Scotch whisky and water, in any proportion
Bunch of fresh herbs

For the doughboys:
3.85 ounces self-rising flour
1 3/4 ounces shredded suet
Salt and pepper
Cold water to mix

Toss the beef in the flour and seasoning. Heat the oil and brown the meat quickly. Add the onions, followed by the hot stock, and bring to the boil. Add the Scotch whisky and water, and turn into a casserole. Cover and cook two to three hours at 300 degrees until the meat is tender.

For the doughboys: Mix all the ingredients together and stir in just enough cold water to bind. Roll into balls with floured hands and place on top of the stew about 20 minutes before the end of cooking time. Cover and cook until well risen. If you prefer dumplings with a crispy crust, leave uncovered. Serves 4.

CRANACHAN

This luxurious dessert is an ancient Scottish specialty, and is very rich and alcoholic! The raspberries aren't traditional, but they make this sweet extra special.

2 1/2 ounces oatmeal
9 fluid ounces double cream
3 tablespoons honey (heather honey is best)
1 to 2 tablespoons Scotch whisky
6 ounces raspberries (optional)

Toast the oatmeal in a dry frying pan over a high heat until lightly browned. Cool. Whip the cream until thickened but not stiff (the oatmeal will thicken the cream even more), and stir in the oatmeal and honey. Slowly stir in the Scotch whisky and raspberries, and spoon into small serving glasses. Chill until ready to serve.

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