Scotch Barley Broth

A mutton and barley stew.

The origins of Scotch broth predate the 18th-century Scotch colonization of America by about a century, suggesting it was a fully-formed and well-known recipe by the the time it arrived on our shores. While it pales in comparison to a more famous recipe with a Scotch origin–fried chicken–Scotch broth has been served since we were nation, and continues to be a favorite today.

In earlier recipes, the mutton would be removed and then used for other recipes–sometimes served in croquettes, sometimes in a pilaf sort of preparation, sometimes just sliced and served cold. But such economy measures are generally not taken today, and Scotch broth is served as a meal.

Scotch broth behaves like any stew: slow cooking improves it, and it gets better in the refrigerator overnight. Some additional suggestions on preparation from the July 6, 1883 edition of The Bismarck Weekly Tribune:

“Food for the Sick” was the topic of the Tuesday afternoon talk, and Scotch broth was the first dish made. Miss Parloa said this was excellent for convalescents, being appetizing and nutritious. Among the ingredients was a two-pound piece of the scraggy part of a neck of mutton. This particular cut was employed because the muscles of a sheep’s neck are in such constant use as to make that part of the animal better flavored and more nutrias than those parts through which the blood has run less freely. Miss Parloa cut the meat from the bones and removed all the fat. She cut the meat into small pieces and put it into a soup-kettle, together with two slices of carrot, a slice of turnip, a stalk of celery and an onion–all cut fine, half a cupful of barley and three pints of water; and the broth was allowed to simmer gently for two hours. The bones, with a pint of water added, also were allowed the same amount of time for simmering, and the liquor was strained into a soup kettle. A tablespoonful each of butter and flour were cooked together until perfectly smooth, and then stirred into the broth; after which salt and pepper and a teaspoonful of chopped parsley were added.

The audience was cautioned against rapid cooking as a high temperature hardens the fibbers of the meat, whereas a slow bubbling renders the meat tender and secures a better flavor for the broth. The vegetables should be cut very fine. Mutton is so nutritious and so easily digested as to deserve much attention as a food cooked during convalescence. If it be properly cooked the peculiar flavor that is disagreeable to some people is concealed, though the meat remains palatable.

coverFrom a stapled collection of recipes from my preschool, c. 1982, in University Heights, Ohio.


Scotch Barley Broth

2 lbs. lamb or mutton (cut into small pieces)
1/2 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 leek
3/4 cup chopped carrots
3/4 cup chopped turnip
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 grated carrot
salt — pepper
2 qts. water
1 cup peas; fresh, canned, or frozen
2 Tbsp. parsley

Combine meat, barley, onion, leek, carrots, turnip, celery, grated carrot, salt and pepper and water in a large pot. Simmer at least 1-1/2 hours. Skim. Add peas, parsley and cook until peas are just done. Serves six.

Wendy Foulis

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