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How the griddle-baked bannock helped to build the British Empire

The humble shortbread, the homely tattie scone and teeth-shattering tablet may not rank high in the pantheon of great cuisine but the principles and traditions of Scottish baking continue to shape food around the world.

According to food writer Sue Lawrence, the homespun puddings and baked treats carried to the four corners of the Earth by emigrant Scots not only sustained the foundation of the British Empire but also established a culinary legacy.

Scotland's contribution is one built around simplicity, comfort and old fashioned hospitality - the original comfort food, in other words.

"In many ways, bannocks built the British Empire. They are the comforting treats that emigrants prepared to remind them of home, and the people they shared them with adopted them as their own," said Lawrence, speaking to the Sunday Herald ahead of her appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday.

Around the former Empire, traditional Scots recipes took on a new colonial flavour using locally available replacement ingredients. In Canada they have the Homestead Pie, like Ecclefechan Tart, except with pecans in place of walnuts. South Africans bake a clootie dumpling - Cape Brandy Pudding - made with dates, while on Grenada and St Lucia they have used coconut to give the tablet a Caribbean twist.

"A huge part of the success of Scots baking is that it's so simple. You don't need much - just the most basic ingredients - to create homely, deeply satisfying cakes and puddings," Lawrence said.

The origins often lie at the foot of noble medieval tables, when the peasant classes made palatable the lordly off cuts available to them. It is in these humble beginnings that Lawrence believes we can find another compelling explanation for Scottish baking's appeal.

"It is food that poor people can afford. That's why it emerged from Scotland and is certainly a big part of why it has been adopted throughout the world," she said.

"Our dependency on the griddle means that to this day we have a plethora of oatcakes and scones and pancakes baked upon what was once one of the only pieces of equipment in a rural Scottish kitchen."

According to Lawrence, however, the culinary cultural exchange has continually flowed in both directions, with Scotland's international connections providing a bridge for new traditions to enter its cookery canon.

Traditional dishes such as haggis are finding their way into curries, pizzas and pakora.

"Food is very much a living art, and I would expect Scottish cooking and baking to continue to evolve as it encounters new flavours and cultural influences." Sue Lawrence was speaking about her book - Scottish Baking - at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of the Empire Cafe series of events.

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