If asked to paint a mental picture of Scotland's Food Heritage, it’s likely that most would gravitate towards the ubiquitous haggis, neeps and tatties washed down with a dram of strong single malt.

While our national dish and drink undoubtedly play an important role in our culinary culture, calls have this week been made for further investment into exploring ‘why we eat what we eat’, and the stories this could uncover.

Hoping to capture public interest on Friday, April 12 with a Scottish Food Heritage Symposium event at Paisley Town Hall is Dr Lindsay Middleton of the University of Glasgow’s Arts and Humanities Partnership Food Catalyst.

The Scottish Farmer: Pictured: Dr Lindsay Middleton, literary food historian and knowledge exchange associate at the University of GlasgowPictured: Dr Lindsay Middleton, literary food historian and knowledge exchange associate at the University of Glasgow (Image: Supplied)

She said: “The international scope of the ingredients and recipes in some of the oldest cookbooks printed in Scotland is really surprising.

“We’re talking around the 1750s, but even at that point, there were instructions for how to boil lobsters the Italian way or poach things the Polish way.

“One of my favourite examples of this is recipes which call for mangoes, even though the fruit was not found in Scotland at the time.

“The technique of pickling had been picked up in the West Indies or India, where mangoes grow, and the word was used to mean that instead.

“The international influences that come from our ancestors who travelled around the world before returning to Scotland or came to the country as immigrants are so traceable and so important.”

While Middleton developed a passion for Food History by studying 19th-century recipes and technologies to secure her PhD, sectoral catalyst and event partner Peter Gilchrist of Tenement Kitchen found inspiration much closer to home.

The Scottish Farmer: Pictured: Peter Gilchrist of Tenement KitchenPictured: Peter Gilchrist of Tenement Kitchen (Image: Abi King)

“My entry to Scottish Food History came when I lost my grandmother in 2018,” he said.

“I inherited her cookbook and read it side by side with that of my other late grandmother only to find they had the same recipes for shortbread.

“Starting to appreciate that they were making these biscuits in the same way that their parents had, and then their parents before them helped me to understand its place as a cultural institution.

“Shortbread is not just something you find in an M&S tin at Christmas.

“Scottish women and men have passed down the act of rubbing butter sugar and flour together while standing over a bowl down through generations and people have a reverence for that.

“There was no going back for me after that.”

The Scottish Farmer: Pictured: Both Middleton and Gilchrist have studied historical Scottish cookery books extensivelyPictured: Both Middleton and Gilchrist have studied historical Scottish cookery books extensively (Image: Supplied)

Gilchrist, who grew up in Paisley and is now a food tourism ambassador for Scotland Food & Drink, argues that these vital connections risk being overlooked if we’re not willing to journey far enough into the past.

He continued: "Particularly in the west of Scotland, we have very short memories that might only stretch back to our great-grandparents who lived through wars in deprived areas and had access to mince, potatoes or onions.

“Just a few generations before there was a lot more variety in what was available to plant in your garden or find at the grocer.

“The Glasgow Cookery Book was made for the School of Domestic Science and people coming into working kitchens with massive influences from Italy and France.

“Then if you look to Edinburgh, people were being trained to work in fine restaurants to cook things like lobster or lemon sole.

“Even our Scottish high street bakers have a massive French influence because many people were trained in France and passed those traditions on.

“It’s part of our job now to see where the leads are and bring our researchers together to illustrate these stories of variety and world-class food.”

The Scottish Farmer: Pictured: Social media and TV such as the Great British Bake Off have created a surge in interest surrounding Food HistoryPictured: Social media and TV such as the Great British Bake Off have created a surge in interest surrounding Food History (Image: Abi King)

There is work still to be done, with today’s event marking the first real step in the search for investors.

Middleton is hopeful, however, that a surge in interest from social media users and budding bakers will help to see them on their way.

She said: “Peter and I both sit here as food researchers with a vested interest in its history.

“But in the last five years, we’ve seen it start to become a bit of a cultural phenomenon.

“Programmes like the Great British Bake Off will often shoehorn in a section about the history of a bake and with the rise of TikTok there are so many great educational content creators out there.

“Even factors such as the pandemic or Brexit have made us question the strength of our supply chains causing more people to consider local food systems or self-sufficiency.

“Food taps into so many themes, from Scotland’s cultural heritage and sustainability to tourism and our health.”

In preparation for the symposium, Gilchrist and Middleton have sourced a wide range of guest speakers including fellow researchers, food writers, and historians to offer an introduction to how Food History relates to many of these themes.

The sold-out event will also provide a platform for local producers with tasting sessions and discussions.

Asked what they hope to have achieved by the end of the final activity, Gilchrist said: “A big part of the day will be dedicated to storytelling and demonstrating the power of food, but it is also about asking what the next step is for all of us and whether we’re building towards something more.

“What we’re looking for is investment from organisations like Scotland Food & Drink, the Scottish Government or local authorities that can be directed towards research or funding events like this.”

“The narratives are all there, now it's just about putting it on people’s plates and showing them Food History is worth paying attention to,” Middleton concluded.

The Scottish Food Heritage Symposium is funded by Renfrewshire Council Culture, Heritage and Events Fund, and delivered by Tenement Kitchen and the University of Glasgow's Arts & Humanities Partnership Food Catalyst.