Imprecision Rules, Och Aye!

Today’s recipe is one of my favourite foods of all time – the smell alone warms me up on a cold day, and I find the preparation of the vegetables relaxing.  The trouble is, I learned to make this through watching Grandma and I know that I make it thicker than she did, because of course I make it how I want to eat it.  So I can’t give you quantities, just pointers. This really isn’t a problem because you will make it how you want to eat it, and that’s how it should be.  Be warned, however, that I always make it the day before, and no-one will ever convince me that it tastes as good eaten on the day that it is made.

Today’s recipe is Scotch Broth (Barley Broth in Scotland), one of the best soups ever created – nourishing, warming and sticks to your ribs in cold weather.  I don’t think that any two people will make this in the same way.  Traditionalists will argue it should be made with beef, as indeed it was before the Clearances; but as it is over 200 years since those started, I think it’s fine to make it with lamb or mutton.

Scotch Broth – Ingredients

  • Half a shoulder of lamb*
  • Salt
  • 4 tablespoons of pearl barley
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 1 medium turnip/swede (the orange one, Tom), diced
  • 2 leeks, diced


Put the lamb in the Big White Le Creuset** and cover with water and add a tablespoon of salt.  Bring to the boil.  Scum will form so remove with a spoon.  This may take up to ten minutes.

Add the pearl barley.  Check again for scum.

Add the onion, carrots, and turnip/swede.

Bring to the boil and then simmer.  Simmer until the meat is cooked through which is probably about an hour.  Check every so often and add water if necessary.  Turn off the heat and remove the meat.

Shred the meat, removing cartilege, bone and as much fat as possible.  The size of the meat chunks is up to you.

Add meat to pot.  When cool, put in the fridge and leave overnight.

The next day, take the pot out of the fridge and remove the cold fat from the top of the soup.  Add the leeks and bring to the boil.  Check seasoning.  Cook for about ten minutes and serve.  I like to add Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, and eat with warm bread.

* I am convinced that Grandma added more meat than necessary to allow for nibbling when shredding the lamb.  I do the same.  Boiled lamb is one of life’s great treats!

** Big White Le Creuset won’t mean anything to people who don’t know my kitchen.  This is a very large pot – which holds at least 10 quarts, possibly 14.  It’s on a different continent from me so I can’t check.  I was cooking for six or seven people most of the time, and always made extra to put in the freezer.  Grandma used to use a large aluminium pan and put three lamb chops in and half the vegetables I have written.

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