What Adam Smith Ate: Scotch Broth

subsidies bounties what adam smith ate

Renee Wilmeth for AdamSmithWorks

"Soups were practical because they were the perfect way to cook vegetables with broth even if there was no meat in the house. Barley, oats, or potatoes could make a soup hearty. Cooks could also add fish or meat to go along with the root vegetables plentiful in Scotland." This version can be made with lamb shank, lamb shoulder, bone-in beef shoulder, or oxtail. 
If it seems like the Scots ate lot of soup in Adam Smith’s time, it’s because they did. While meat could be roasted, a rotisserie or grill required a large fireplace. It was much more usual to have pot of porridge or soup hanging over the fire for mealtimes. 

Soups were practical because they were the perfect way to cook vegetables with broth even if there was no meat in the house. Barley, oats, or potatoes could make a soup hearty. Cooks could also add fish or meat to go along with the root vegetables plentiful in Scotland. 

Rustic soups could be stretched to feed a crowd. By adding broth continually over the course of the day, soup could feed hungry children or hardworking adults. By the 18th century, soup was such a part of the culture that elegant, refined soups made up at a course of a formal meal. (When laborers encountered a soup that lacked enough meat and potatoes, it was referred to as “washy stuff.”)

During Smith’s time, the Scots raised a lot of cereal grains like oats and barley. Oats could be used for bread, oatmeal, oat cakes, and even fed as grain to animals. But barley had more limited uses. Barley has to be cooked before it can be consumed which means it must be roasted for buckwheat, germinated and roasted for barley malt, or cooked until it was rich and chewy in soups or stews.  

Barley malt was a staple for beer production and spirits distillation. It was such a staple of daily life that Smith writes about it often in the context of grain prices, subsidies (“bounties”), duties, and other market manipulations common with pricing of cereal grains in Smith’s time.  And as the government worked to control the public’s consumption of spirits and liquors, the pricing of barley and malted barley rose and fell. (It’s no surprise that as the price of barley malt rose, the amount of wheat used in distilled liquors rose, too.)

Today, we think of barley primarily as an ingredient in soup or stew. When cooked, it’s a chewy whole grain that offers a hearty compliment to beef or lamb.  Look for it in your grocery story by the whole grains like millet and farro. Most commonly, you’ll find “pearl barley” which has the hull and bran removed or “hulled barley” which has simply has its husk removed and will be darker in color.  Hulled barley will take longer to cook. 

A traditional Scotch Broth can use lamb shanks or beef. (Some have no meat at all if you use a rich broth.)  Elizabeth Cleland gives us her recipe from A New and Easy Method of Cookery (1755) that simply calls it a Scots Barley Broth with beef bone broth, barley, onions, raisins and an option for greens or leeks.  

Rich with the root vegetables common to Scotland, it’s thickened with barley. Lamb is traditional, but you can use beef shanks or oxtail if they’re handy. You’ll also find it with split peas, potatoes, and even turnips. And I like a little kale in mine, just for color. We’re going to use lamb and let you throw in the raisins if you like. In the old days (and some recipes) just have you throw all of the ingredients together in a pot but we’re taking a more vegetable friendly approach. 

Scotch Broth (serves 6-8)

·         2 lbs lamb shanks (about 2 with bone in)*
·         Salt and pepper
·         Oil for browning
·         1 large onion (about 1 ½ cups chopped)
·         8 cups beef stock 
·         2 carrots (about ¾ cups chopped)
·         2 leeks, white and light green parts (about ¾ cups chopped)
·         1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped
·         1 cup pearl barley
·         2 cups chopped kale
·         ½ cup raisins (optional)

1. Pat the lamb shanks dry, then generously season each with salt and pepper. 

2. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp oil.  Brown each lamb shank on all sides over medium-high heat. Set aside to do each separately if there’s not enough room.  Remove both lamb shanks when finished browning.

3. In the same pot, add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften.  Add 2 cups of the stock, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Once the stock begins to boil, lower the heat to medium and add the remaining stock and the lamb shanks. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the lamb shanks are tender and the meat falls away from the bone (1 ½-2 hours.)

4. When the lamb shank is cooked, remove the meat to a separate plate, remove from the bone, and chop the meat.  Set aside.

5. Skim any fat from the top of the broth. Then add the carrots, leeks, parsnip, and barley. Simmer until the barley is cooked, about 45 minutes. If using hulled barley, cook for at least one hour.  

6. Add the lamb meat and kale to the soup as well as the raisins if using.  Simmer for another 10 minutes until kale is wilted.  Ladle into serving bowls. 

*You can also use lamb shoulder, bone-in beef shoulder or oxtail if you like. Just adjust the cooking time.

More soups Adam Smith (and friends):
Bone Broth (The very first What Adam Smith Ate post!)
Basque Cabbage Soup
Soup a la Reine
Cock-a-leekie Soup

More to read:
"The Wealth of Nations" Reading Guide, Book IV, Chapter 5 "Of Bounties"