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European Peasant Cookery
by Elisabeth Luard

The great Dr Samuel Johnson, a demanding gourmet, enjoyed this most traditional of Scotland's dishes on his way to the Hebrides in the 1780s. His biographer Boswell recorded the event- "At dinner Dr Johnson ate several plates full of Scotch broth, - with barley and peas in it, and seemed very fond of the dish. I said, 'You never ate it before.' Johnson: 'No, sir; but I don't care how soon I eat it again.'"  As a one-pot dish, it's simple enough Ingredients are as variable as the season, though mutton or lamb and barley should always be present.
Quantity: Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as soup
Time: Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking: 1½ hours


    • 1 kg (2 lb) mutton or stewing lamb (neck for preference)
    • 125 g (4 oz) barley (pearl or pot)
    • 2 litres (4 pints) water
    • 1 kg (2 lb) root vegetables (leeks or onions, carrots, yellow turnips)
    • Peppercorns
    • Salt
    • 2 bay leaves
    • Sprigs of parsley
    • Parsley to finish
    Utensils: A large stew pot and a perforated spoon


Have the meat cut into convenient pieces. Put into a large pot with the barley. Cover with the cold water, bring to the boil, skim and simmer for half an hour. Meanwhile peel and chop or chunk the vegetables as appropriate. Add them at the end of the first half hour, together with a few peppercorns, 2 teaspoons of salt, bay leaves and few sprigs of parsley.

Bring all back to the boil and simmer for another hour. Sprinkle on a generous handful of chopped parsley and a few fine-sliced circles of sliced raw leek.

Serve with girdle scones, butter and a cup of hot milky tea in which you can slip a dram of Scotch whisky. A slice of rich dark gingerbread will complete the feast.


Include a handful of dried peas, soaked overnight and added at the beginning of the cooking. If you would like to use fresh or frozen peas, add them 5-10 minutes before the end. Some households like to include cabbage or potatoes — there are no strict rules.

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