Mrs Susanna MacIver ran a cooking school in the 18th century Edinburgh for "..instructing young Ladies in this necessary branch of female education..". I have found little in the way of personal history, although she has been described by Florence White in "Good Things in England" as the daughter of an inpoverished Highland laird. Her cooking school was located in the Old Town of Edinburgh, although strictly speaking this is anachronistic as the New Town was constructed from the 1770's onwards. The period in which she was active at her cooking school corresponds to a period in which the Old Town was chronically over crowded with people from all levels of Edinburgh society being crammed into the same tenement buildings. Wealthy families took the middle levels, while poorer families lived in basement, bottom and the very top levels.
Above: Multi-level tenements at the bottom of West Bow Street. Although this is now one of the most attractive streets in the Edinburgh Old Town, it was at the heart of some of the worst slums in the city.
I was very lucky to find a copy of MacIver's cookbook in an Edinburgh junk shop. Published in 1773, this book is quite wonderful. Mrs MacIver writes with authority on the food of upper class Edinburgh during one of the city's most interesting periods. The recipes represents regional Scottish cooking for the upper-middle classes (with all it's international influences) and are distinctive in that they lack the pan-British flavour of cookbooks produced from the begining of the 19th century onwards. The recipes are detailed, well explained and more importantly are still of interest to modern readers. Recipes for very early modern trifle, orange marmalade, Scots Haggis and Rum Shrub ( sort of an early Rum cocktail mix) are a sample of what a well heeled Scottish lady is expected to know how to prepare in the 18th century.
The haggis recipe is of particular interest. Few people seem to realise that it was only relatively recently that the haggis become so strongly associated with Scotland. Prior to the late 18th century various recipes for haggis and related puddings such as Lakelands Hackin Pudding were found in England also. Mrs MacIver's "Haggie" is often refered to as the archetype of all modern Scottish haggis, which prehaps will surprise many given the inclusion of beef as a main componant. Thr truth is that there will be as many recipes for haggis as there are people that make them during this period. MacIver's just happens to be the first Scottish Haggis recipe in print.
A Good Scotch Haggies
Make the haggis-bag perfectly clean, parboil the draught ; boil the liver very well, so as it will grate ; dry the meal before the fire ; mince the draught and a pretty large piece of beef very small ; grate about half of the liver ; mince plenty of the suet and some onions small ; mix all these materials very well together, with a handful or two of the dried meal ; spread them on the table, and season them properly with salt and mixed spices ; take any of the scraps of beef that are left from mincing, and some of the water that boiled the draught, and make about a choppin of good stock of it ; then put all the haggis meat into the bag, and that broth in it ; then sew up the bag : but be sure to put out all the wind before you sew it quite close. If you think the bag is thin, you may put it in a cloth. If it is a large haggis, it will take at least two hours' boiling.
"Sir Robert Walpole's Dumplings" are a very tasty variation of suet puddings. As they are made from breadcrumbs and whipped eggs they are one of the very lightest in texture of this class of pudding and definately deserve to be made more often.
Ingredients:500 gm shredded suet 400 gm fresh bread crumbs 400 gm dried currants 50 gm candied orange peel, shredded 50 gm candied citron peel, shredded six eggs, seperated in to yolks and whites 50 gm sugar 1 tspn cinnamon 1 tspn salt 25 ml whisky
Mix dry ingredients. Whip 6 egg yolks and 3 egg whites very well and add along with the whisky to the dry ingredients, mix well. Place this mixture in a well floured pudding cloth, tie the pudding and boil for two hours. MacIver suggests you serve this with a wine and butter sauce, but custard is also ideal.