Black bun and other Scottish New Year delicacies

You would be looking at traditional Scottish food a long time before you thought of describing it as "delicate" or "subtle". If Scots cuisine emphasises the hearty, stodgy and occasionally terrifying end of British cuisine, this tendency is redoubled at New Year, Hogmanay in Scotland, when the food has to perform the important task of soaking up the prodigious alcohol intake. Hogmanay is treated like a military campaign in Scotland, and the army marches on a stomach well loaded with ballast.

It’s no surprise that many households in Scotland invest in a massive steak pie, sufficient to feed the hordes of first-footers who drop in for a dram and a bite after the midnight bells. In the last days of December, Scottish butchers’ shops are laden with mighty pies, some of them probably requiring a trailer to get home. Those households that aspire to a few vestiges of aristocratic class might try to impress the neighbours with a venison pie instead, but it’s a rarity.

For the sweet-toothed, shortbread is a Hogmanay must, improved, connoisseurs suggest, with a little dip in whisky. Probably the most alarming Hogmanay culinary concoction though is the dreaded black bun, often carried by first-footers as a New Year gift.

For the uninitiated, the best description of black bun might be a dense lump of Christmas pudding wrapped in pastry. Certain members of the older generation find it delicious, although there are those who believe it should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Eat a little in the early hours of New Year’s Day and you are excused from touching it again for another 365 days.

When you wake up with that New Year hangover, it’s acceptable to blame it on the pie or the black bun, before reaching for the traditional remedy, a large bottle of Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru.

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