Support Us
Musings News

What did we eat before baguettes, toasties and Panini?

From Open Jar Collective

Dumfries, in common with most Scottish towns, has a particular lunch time snack – the toasted Panini.  First referenced in a 16th Century Italian cookbook, Panino (which comes from the Italian pane meaning bread) is traditionally a grilled sandwich made with slices of porchetta, that is popular in Central Italy.  Panini became trendy in Milanese bars called Paninoteche in the 1970s and 1980s, and then subsequently in New York.  Paninaro came to mean a fashionable young person who was very image conscious.


Through the dominance of American fast food culture, Panini have become ubiquitous in Scotland, alongside white sliced bread toasties, and french baguettes. All of these breads are made from highly refined strong wheat flours which are very difficult to produce in Scotland.  Due to our shorter growing season, the wheat grown here has a much lower protein content which is fine for baking but lacks the elastic gluten required for conventional bread making. Scotland’s most successful cereal crop is Barley, once used in almost every home to bake bannocks.

According to the NFUScotland, out of the 2 million tonnes of Scottish barley produced in 2013, 55% was used as animal feed, 35% went to Whisky malting, and only a small proportion was sold as pearl barley or milled as flour for us to eat.

Bere (pronounced ‘bear’) is a form of six-row barley which has been grown in Scotland for thousands of years. Bere is quite possibly Britain’s oldest cereal grain still in commercial cultivation and was likely to have been brought here by Viking settlers. It has adapted to growing in soils with low pH and in areas with long daylight hours which makes it particularly suited to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. It grows rapidly, being sown in the spring and harvested in the summer.  Beremeal was one of the earliest flours to be used to make bannocks.


Robert Burns once described southern Scotland as a “land o’ cakes”. He didn’t mean desserts, but oatcakes and barley bannocks that would have been baked on an iron girdle over the fire.

“In Scotland, amongst the rural population generally, the girdle until recent times took the place of the oven, the bannock of the loaf.”  F. Marian McNeil, 1929

In The Scots Kitchen, F. Marian McNeil suggests that the name bannok occurs in 1572, and derives from Latin panicum, probably through the influence of the Church. It may have referred originally to Communion bread.

Bannocks can range from soda breads, scones, or pancakes to a sweet fruity tea loaf in the case of the famous Selkirk bannock, but they usually have some barley meal in them.  After testing numerous recipes, I think the best turned out to be F. Marian McNeil’s “Modern Method” using Beremeal from Barony Mills in Orkney (which is available through Greencity).

Bannocks o’ bear meal, Bannocks o’ barley,
Here’s to the Highlandman’s bannocks o’ barley.

Wha, in a brulzie, will first cry a parley?
 Never the lads wi’ the bannocks o’ barley.

Bannocks o’ bear meal, Bannocks o’ barley,
Here’s to the Highlandman’s bannocks o’ barley.

Wha, in his wae days, were loyal to Charlie?
Wha but the lads wi’ the bannocks o’ barley!

Bannocks o’ bear meal, Bannocks o’ barley,
Here’s to the Highlandman’s bannocks o’ barley.

Robert Burns, 1794
Skip to content