I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of Scotland is minimal. So when I received my first-ever invitation to a Robbie Burns Night, I conjured up all the usual stereotypes: kilts, bagpipes, mythical lake-dwelling monsters. While lesser-known on this side of the pond, Robbie Burns Night is just short of a national holiday in Scotland and celebrated throughout the United Kingdom. It happens on January 25th to mark the birth of poet Robert Burns back in 1759. Burns is Scotland’s most famous bard and his biggest claim to fame is the poem-cum-New Year’s Eve tune Auld Lang Syne. I envisaged myself toasting with tumblers of whisky, dressed in all the plaid I possessed in my wardrobe. I wasn’t up for haggis, but I thought about other delights, like shortbread and Scotch eggs, to name a few.
Until a British friend quickly brought me back to reality. “Scotch eggs aren’t actually Scottish,” she told me. Wait, what?
If you’re not familiar with the Scotch egg, let’s start with the basics. This traditional pub snack consists of a boiled egg covered in sausage, then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried to a delightful crisp. If you’re following Jamie Oliver’s Scotch egg recipe, “you want the pork cooked through, the outside golden and crispy and the inside hot and runny. That’s when you know you’ve got yourself a good Scotch egg.” It can be a tricky feat to get it right, but when executed properly, it’s utterly delicious.
As with many classic food items, there are a few competing origin stories for how the Scotch egg came to be. According to The Guardian, the technique of wrapping boiled eggs in meat began in North Africa and made its way to Britain via France during the 1500s.
The London-based luxury department store Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented what we know as the Scotch egg in 1738. “Portable snacks were of the essence—so, in the days before sushi boxes, enterprising staff at the shop came up with the idea of the easy-to-hold treat that is the Scotch egg,” The Telegraph’s Leah Hyslop writes.
The British county of Yorkshire has also staked its claim to this proteinaceous parcel, stating that its initial iteration from the late 19th century was covered in fish paste before being fried. “Their name in those days was 'Scotties,' allegedly because they were made at an eatery by the name of William J Scott & Sons close to the seafront,” writes Guardian reader Robert Egan of Hertfordshire.
I was disappointed to learn that Scotch eggs weren’t quite a part of the Burns Night celebration. But copious amount of whisky is a worthwhile consolation prize. The traditional Burns Night agenda consists of no less than four speeches and eight poems, and after each, your glass shouldn’t be raised without a fine variety of single malt in it. And herein lays a connection between eggs and Burns that might just rationalize one’s Scotch egg consumption on January 25.
It turns out that Tommy Dewar, the son of Scottish whisky-maker John Dewar, was quite fond of chickens. A Newcastle Morning Herald article published in 1930 says that the distiller’s son was a “great lover of animals, especially horses and dogs and poultry.” Dewar’s chickens won countless prizes at competitions and the younger Dewar later went on to sponsor his own poultry prize, Lord Dewar’s Cup.
Dewar’s Whisky now hosts Scotch Egg Clubs around the globe to honour Tommy Dewar’s poultry persuasion. “The Scotch Egg Club, which will take place in cities across North America, is designed to celebrate two of Tommy Dewar’s great passions: whisky and chickens,” Dewar’s states. “In addition to producing the finest whisky, Tommy Dewar and his sons raised a collection of pedigree chickens which laid some of the best eggs. This was the origin of the relationship between scotch eggs and whisky.”
That’s all the evidence I need. Excuse me while I get cracking...