British Studies Web Pages

Myths, Legends, Fantasy...


Legendary Recipes

Click to enlarge

Perhaps one of the most famous recipes in English literature comes from a play about a legendary king of Scotland, Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. The witches on the heath cooked up a rather sinister soup, referred to as a ‘broth’, a word still used to describe soup. We do not recommend this particular Scotch broth though, for reasons you will appreciate when you read some of the ingredients which were thrown into the cauldron (pot).

Second Witch:

Fillet of a fenny snake
In the cauldron boil and bake
Eye of newt and toad of frog
Wool of bat and tongue of dog
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell broth boil and bubble

All Three witches:

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble

The other witches add ingredients such as ‘tooth of wolf’, ‘scale of dragon’, and ‘baboon’s blood.’ Visitors to Scotland will be pleased to hear that Scottish cuisine has improved a lot since then.

Myths and legends too are full of references to food. In Irish mythology there were nuts of knowledge, probably hazel nuts.  Some of these nuts found there way into the Shannon river and were eaten by a salmon which was then caught and cooked by Finn MacCunaill who burnt his thumb on the grilling fish.  On sucking his thumb the wisdom of the nuts was transferred to one of his teeth, which became his tooth of knowledge which allowed him to predict the truthfulness of any person and helped him to become the most celebrated of Irish mythical heroes.

You can find out more about Irish myths and legends in two articles featured in this edition:

Irish Myths and Legends

An Other World

Fruit, especially apples, have played a role in many legends.  Tradition has it that the serpent in the Garden of Eden gave Eve the apple that caused man’s fall, while in Norse mythology Iduna guarded the sacred apples of youth that kept the gods forever young.

Fairy tales contain many references to food.  Snow White was given a poisoned apple by her wicked step-mother.  The witches’ house in Hansel and Gretel was made of delicious sweets and Goldilocks tried three bowls of porridge before finding one that she liked.

Porridge is a food traditional to Scotland.  No Scot worth his salt would be seen setting out on a cold Scottish morning without his bowl of Scots oats.  Not for the hardy Scots a bowl of sweetened porridge such as baby bear and Goldilocks would have liked.  The true Scotsman and Scotswoman would only eat Papa Bear’s porridge, that is one flavoured with salt.  Here is a traditional Scottish porridge which will warm the cockles of your heart on any cold and misty morn.

Papa Bear’s Scottish Porridge Recipe

Take a double saucepan and fill the bottom saucepan with water
Put an equal number of cups of oats and water in the top saucepan
Add half a teaspoon of salt per cup
Bring to the boil
Cook on a low flame for several hours ( the Scots would cook it overnight! )
Eat with salt and a little milk, or if you are not a true Scot, with plenty of milk and sugar

Another potent dish is ‘nail soup’.  The story behind the invention of this mineral-rich soup is as follows.

Once upon a time there was a very hungry gypsy who was sitting by his boiling pot of water.  Along came a woman who asked what he was doing.  He replied he was cooking nail soup.  This intrigued the woman who asked if she could try it.  He said certainly if she could help him add some seasoning to the dish and he would supply the main ingredient.  First, he asked for some diced potatoes, then some sliced assorted vegetables, a leg of mutton, some herbs and some seasoning.  All these the woman supplied before he added the magic staple, an old rusty nail.  All these were boiled up and left to simmer.  Thus the gypsy got a good meal for the price of an nail.

by Agnieszka Weinberg from £ódŸ

Perhaps one of the nicer sweets of the witch’s house was gingerbread.  Gingerbread is also an ingredient of the story about the Gingerbread Man.  Here is Agnieszka Weinberg’s recipe for traditional gingerbread.

Traditional Polish Gingerbread

Take 1 glass of sugar and 1 glass of honey
Melt in a saucepan
Add 1 glass of milk, 2 eggs , 40 decagrams of flour, 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, 1 tablespoon of ginger cake powder, and a pinch of salt
Mix thoroughly with a masher or in a food processor
Add half a glass of chopped walnuts, and 2 tablespoons of orange rind
Leave for up to 3 days in a cool place
Fill a baking try half full of the mixture
Bake it at a temperature of about 170 C for 1 hour
Test it with a wooden stick.  When the stick is dry the cake is ready to eat

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2004. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.