This year I recieved numerous tins of shortbread for Christmas (I feel that this ia a sign of age, like presents of socks and jars of nuts), which is fine as I quite like shortbread. One brand of Scottish shortbread that I really like is Walkers of Aberlour. While I like their style of slightly salty, not too sweet and butter shortbread, another thing that I really love about Walkers shortbread is the tins themselves. In a period where the theme seems to be a jaded and cynical world-weariness, there is just something innocent, simple and non-ironic about a shiney tartan clad tin of Scottish shortbread. Prehaps the most famous design for Walkers is their "Flora Macdonald" range which depicts the late 19th century painting "Prince Charles Edward Stuart Bids Farewell to Flora Macdonald Who Aided His Escape" by George William Joy. This historical and romantic style of artwork depicting Scottish (or at least Highland) history on shortbread tins is so well known that any overly sentimental views on Scotland are often described as "Shortbread tin Scotland".
In this particular case the image shows "Bonnie Prince Charlie" (Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of the deposed James II & VII) taking his leave from Flora MacDonald, who aided his escape from Scotland after the Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation in the failed Jacobite Raising of 1745-46. After 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the rest of his life in exile in Europe, finally dying in 1788. During this exile period he became shunned by the courts of Europe and was known as a wife-beater and drunkard. However, such was the interest in period of Scottish and English history, that the image of the young, handsome and charismatic "Bonnie Prince Charlie" has become an icon overly-sentimental Scottishness and many, if not most people, know him as "that chap on the Shortbread tin".
Given the fact that the Prince spent the vast majority of his life outwith Scotland, did he actually have anything to do with shortbread in his life time? As there is a record of his household accounts, during the period in which he stayed in Inverness and Culloden House immediately prior to the Battle of Culloden (16th April, 1746), we can see that in fact the household was ordering quite a bit of "Short bread" from the local pastry shop in Inverness:
From the household account book of James Gib, Master of the Household/Butler of Charles Edward Stuart, as recored by Bishop Robert Forbes (publised as "Jacobite Memoirs of the Rebellion of 1745" in the 19th century).
Merch ye 1st (1746)
To on Herin Passtie
Merch ye 3d.
To 2 Cakes Short Bread .
To on Sallmon Pastie . .
To 13 Tairts of Severall Sorts
Merch ye 5th.
To on Plain Custard .
To Short Bread . .
To on Custard . . .
To on Side Cake . .
To on Custard . .
To Short Bread . .
To on Orange Pudine
To on Orange Pudine
To Short Bread
To on Rice Pudine
To 7 Minched Pyes of Mutton
To on Cusstard
To Short Bread
Merch ye 18th, 1746.
To Short Bread .
To Short Bread, on Caike, & 2 Westells
To on Weilldfoull Passtie .
To on Side Caick
To on Venison Pesstie of Hairs Bonned
March ye 30th, To 2 Kaiks short Bread .
To on Sidekaick
To on Mourffoull Passtie
To 2 Sidkaicks
To ffyring, and attending 80 Dishes
Given that the Jacobite forces had not eaten for two days before the battle of Culloden, it seems that the Princes household in contrast was eating quite well. Certainly there was plenty of "Short bread" being consumed. But what was this short bread like? From the first published Scottish cookbook (Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work”, 1736) we have the following recipe:
To make Short Bread.
Take a peck of Flour, put three lb of Butter in amoung a little water, and let it melt, pout it in amoung your Flour, put in a Mutchkin of good Barm; when it is wrought divide it in three parts, roll out you cakes longer then broad, and gather from the sides with your Finger, cut down the Middle and job it on Top, then send it to the oven.Above: 18th century Scottish Shortbread, based the recipes posted here, whisky and a thistle - very shortbread tin Scottish!.
The second published Scottish cookbook (Elizabeth Cleland's "A New and Easy Method of Cookery", 1755) gives a very similar recipe:
To make Short Bread.
Take a Peck of Flour, make a Hole in the Middle, melt three pounds of good Butter in a Mutchkin of Barm, put Carraway or what dry Sweet-meats you please in the Flour; then pour in your Butter and Barm, work it well with your Hands, and if too dry, put in a little warm Water; when it is well worked, roll it out in Cakes of what Shape you please. Prick with a Fork, and bake it on floured Papers.
Again the third published Scottish cookbook (Susanna MacIver's "Cookery and Pastry, 1773) gives a very similar recipe:
To make Short Bread.
Take a Peck of flour, and four pounds of butter English, or three pounds Scots weight; put the butter on to come a-boil; make a hole in the flour, and pour the boiling butter in it; work the flour and butter a little while together; pour in a mutchkin of good yeast amongst the paste; work it together, but not too much; divide the paste, and roll it out oval; then cut through the middle, and plait it at the ends; keep out a little of the flour to work out the bread; flour gray paper, and fire the bread on it: if you make it sweet, allow a pound of sugar to the peck of flour at least; if you want it very rich, put in citron, orange-peel, and almonds, strew white carvy on the top; be sure to mix the sugar and the fruit with the flour before you wet it; remember to prick it well on top.
After Mrs MacIver's death here business partner, Mrs Fraser published the following recipe (in "The practice of Cookery: Pastry, Confectionary, Pickling, Presering &C", 1795) in the 1820 edition of her work.
Take a peck of flour, keeping out about a pound to work it up; beat and sift a pound of sugar; take orange-peel, citron, and blanched almonds, of each half a pound, cut in pretty long thin pieces: mix these well in the flour; then make a hole in the middle of the flour, put in three pounds of melted butter, with a table-spoonful of good yeast; then work it up, but not too much; divide it into eight cakes, and roll them Out; prickle them on the top, pinch them neatly round the edges, and strew sugar, carraways, peel, and citron, on the top.— Fire it on paper, dusted with flour, in a moderate oven.
As you can see all of these recipe are very similar to each other (in fact it is likely that the latter recipes are based on the original McLintock recipe). This is very likely to be the type of "Short bread" that was being eaten by the Prince's household. In one major way this 18th century "Short bread"' differs a great deal from todays modern style of "shortbread" - the former style is a yeast raised bread, enriched with butter. These types of breads or cakes were common throughout British Isles, in Scotland they where called "Short bread" as they were literally "short" (friable) due to the large amount of butter they contained. So important was the butter content to the character of the short bread that in Aryshire in 1597, it was enacted that "short-bread should not have less than half ano pund of butter to tho peck". While the term "Short bread" is associated with Scotland, at the period very similar enriched breads were being made in England during this period:
TAKE half a peck of flour, a pound and a half of fresh butter, put the butter into a saucepan, with
a pint of new milk, and set it on the fire; take a pound of sugar pounded, half an ounce of all-
spice pounded, and mix them with the flour; when the butter is melted pour the milk and butter in the middle of the flour, and work it up like paste; pour in with the milk and butter half a pint of good ale yeast, let it before the fire to rise before it goes to the oven; put in two ounces of carraway-seeds, put it in a hoop, and bake it in a quick oven.
However, during the early part of the 19th century they use of yeast in Scottish shortbread was abandoned. During this period we find interesting transition recipe which are identical the the earlier yeast raised "Short bread" in all details apart from the use of yeast! From Mrs Margaret Dods' (Isobel Christian Johnston) "The Cook and Housewife's Manual" 1826.
Scottish Shortbread, or Short-cake
To the fourth of a peck of flour, take six ounces of sifted sugar, and of candied citron, orange-peel, and blanched almonds, two ounces each. Cut these in rather long slices, and mix them with the flour. Rub down among the flour a pound of butter in very small bits, melt a half-pound more, and with this work up the flour, &c. The less kneading it gets the more short and crisp the cakes will be. Roll out the paste lightly into a large well-shaped oval cake, about an inch thick, and divide this the narrow way, so as to have two cakes somewhat the shape of a Gothic arch. Pinch the cakes neatly at the edges, and dab them on the top with the instrument, the dabber, used for the purpose, or with a fork. Strew caraway-comfits over the top, and a few strips of citron-peel. Bake on paper, rubbed with flour. The cakes may be squares, or oblong figures.—Ob. Plainer shortbread may be made by using less butter and no candied peel. The whole of the butter may be melted, which makes the process easier. Chopped almonds, and butter, are used in larger quantity for very rich shortbread.
By the mid-19th century, the use of yeast in shortbread recipes had been abandoned and the use of candied fruits, comfits and almonds had also been reduced or abandoned and essentially we have recipes for modern shortbread. It was during this period and the decades shortly after that many of the now well know shortbread producers were founded (Walkers was established in 1898). Bonnie Prince Charlie may now be linked with shortbread, but he more then likely would not have recognised the product that we know see as being typically Scottish.