Adam Smith and the Highlanders

what adam smith ate adam smith at oxford outlander jacobites battle of culloden chicken soup leeks

Renee Wilmeth for AdamSmithWorks

The Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbookfeatures a simple Cock-a-leekie soup, a classic chicken soup with vegetables that’s been a Scottish classic since at least the 17th century. The first recipes for a chicken leek soup appeared before it was ever named “Cock-a-Leekie” which didn’t appear until the late 18th century.  
A friend recently confessed that she’s a huge fan of the television show Outlander. Set in Scotland (as well as the US) before, during, and after the 1746 Battle of Culloden, the show tells the story of a time traveling war nurse who walks through a magical stone circle and finds herself in 1740s Scotland. Of course, she falls in love with a handsome Highlander. Based on the popular books by Diana Gabaldon, their romance includes quite a few real-life historical details like their time in the French court with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the horrors of a British prison. 
Watching a few episodes of 18th century life on television, it’s hard to square the rustic scenes with what we think of the wigged, breeches-wearing Adam Smith. Did they really live at the same time? In the same years, even? They did! And we can wonder a young Smith thought of the Jacobite rising of 1745. After all, Charles Edward Stewart’s Highlander army took Edinburgh and made it his headquarters in September of that year. Reports are that exchanges, courts, and businesses shut down and the city was on edge.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the Outlander novels, you know how things ended. The Duke of Cumberland and British Forces dealt a crushing blow to the Jacobite Army at the Battle of Culloden in August of 1746. The rebellion was over, but not before Scotland and its citizens were subjected to a brutal punishment for any who supported the Young Pretender to the throne. 
Smith, who was 22 years old at the time, returned home from Oxford in 1746. (It is unclear exactly when in the summer he returned.) He had been at Oxford for 6 years and some historians believe he’d become disillusioned with his course of study. We don’t know directly what he thought of the turmoil in his home country between 1745 and his return.
While Smith was not in Scotland on the April 16, 1746, the day of the fateful battle, he would be there for the aftermath. It was a difficult time, one that writer William Farina says left “a permanent psychological impression on the Scots national sensibility.” Nicholas Phillipson tells us that the courts and university in Edinburgh reopened in October of 1746 but that organized intellectual life “remained in abeyance” until 1748 or 1749. 
For the next two years, Smith lived with his mother in their modest house in Kirkaldy, most likely reading, studying, and corresponding. (In January 1751, he accepted a professorship at Glasgow.)  However, we can see in many of Smith’s later writings his thoughts on the military complex, feudal economies, and war, some of which were shaped by the failures he saw in the Jacobite uprising. He had time to analyze the clansmen’s economic and political failures firsthand. 
But what would Adam Smith and the Highlanders have eaten in common? Since he lived at Kirkaldy, famous for its harbor, seafood would have been plentiful. We also know of a few early 18th Century Scottish staples like oats. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s final meal at Culloden House included lamb, cheese, cream crowdie, mussels, and good Bordeaux!  
Just for fun, we consulted The Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook by Theresa Carle-Sanders for modern takes on a few highland dishes featured in the Claire and Jaime’s adventures. The book features a simple Cock-a-leekie soup, a classic chicken soup with vegetables that’s been a Scottish classic since at least the 17th century. The first recipes for a chicken leek soup appeared before it was ever named “Cock-a-Leekie” which didn’t appear until the late 18th century.  
This hearty dish combines chicken with leeks and prunes for a soup rich enough to satisfy a bookish future philosopher or a Highland army (supplemented with an oat cake or two). Here’s my own adaptation of the classic.  You can make this one on the stove top or in your slow cooker. Don’t forget the prunes – they are what make the Scottish version unique. (Many modern recipes leave them out.) You can also add 1 cup of chopped kale or carrots to this soup as well. Serves 6-8.
Cock-A-Leekie Soup

·         1 3-4-lb roasting chicken or chicken pieces including thighs and legs
·         1 onion, roughly chopped
·         12 leeks
·         3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
·         1 large bouquet garni with 10 stalks of parsley, 6-7 sprigs of thyme, and 2 bay leaves tied together with a string
·         ½ cup barley 
·         12 prunes
·         Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Wash your leeks well. (They can be sandy.)  Slice the white and light green parts into ½ thick slices. Set aside.  Rewash the dark green tops if needed, then thickly slice. 
2. Add the chicken, dark green leek tops, and onions to the soup pot or slow cooker. Add the celery and the bouquet garni. Fill the soup pot or slow cooker with enough water to cover the chicken and vegetables.
4.  Cover and simmer on the stove top for 1 hour or in a slow cooker, on low for 2-3 hours.  When the chicken is cooked and easily separates from the bone, turn off the heat and let cool.
5. In the meantime, in a small bowl, pour 1 cup of boiling water over the prunes.  Set aside.
6. Using tongs, remove the chicken to a separate plate. Then strain the broth into a large bowl pressing on the vegetables to remove the liquid. Return the liquid to the soup pot or slow cooker.
7. Add the white and light green leek slices and barley to the soup. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and return to a simmer on the stove top for 30 minutes (or slow cooker for 1 hour on low) or until the barley is cooked. In the meantime, remove the cooked chicken from the bones, chop if needed, and set aside. 
8. To finish your soup, taste and re-season the broth, then add the chicken. Add ½ cup of the prune water and re-season if needed to taste. Chop the prunes for serving on top of each portion of soup.