MY husband thinks devilled kidneys would make a great hangover cure and the Victorians and Edwardians favoured the dish for getting fired up for a day of hunting, shooting or fishing. In those days, the kidneys were probably stronger-tasting than those we buy today, being mostly from mutton, as opposed to tender, year-old lamb. The "devil" mixture was used to mask the strong flavour and get the day off to a good start.

Like liver and onions, devilled kidneys is a dish of personal taste. I adore both, but then, my generation was brought up on nourishing, inexpensive offal. In the Highlands, venison offal was also used, as was fish liver. Nothing of the beast was wasted and the women who cooked these dishes knew how to prepare them expertly.

Imported hot spices grew in popularity due to our trading connections and colonialism in the Far East and India, in particular. Dishes with a kick, such as curries, were prepared using our own indigenous ingredients such as haddock and lamb, but incorporating the influences of our new, far-flung trading partners across the seas.

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Scottish cooks also made anchovy sauce and mushroom catsup (ketchup) to spice up their cooking. There are references to this in very old cookery books dating back to the 1700s and 1800s, but a bottled version of this old condiment can still be bought in delicatessens. Johnson and Boswell mention devilled dishes in their historic account of their travels through Scotland and the Western Isles. I treasure my own ancient volume of Meg Dod’s Cook And Housewife’s Manual from 1828, in which I found a whole section devoted to "devils", with references to making and using mushroom and anchovy sauces plus curry spices to flavour poultry, meat, fish and egg dishes.

It is fun to conjure up a picture of a Victorian shooting lodge providing breakfast for visiting parties destined for a day’s stalking and a picnic in the hills. I have an upstairs-downstairs vision of an elaborate dining room sideboard laden with silver salvers with domed cloches, keeping dishes such as kippers, kidneys and kedgeree, hot and ready to serve.

The nature of our overseas trade had also created an expanding market for Port, Sherry and Madeira from Portugal and Spain, along with white and red wines from France. Trade with France is particularly historic, dating back to mediaeval times when fine wine was brought to Edinburgh’s shores for onward sale to the Royal Court, the nobility and church. Casks and bottles were stored in the ancient vaults in Leith, close to the dockyard. Located beneath the streets, these cold, dark caves are used by wine merchants to this day.

These ingredients are all part of Scotland’s culinary heritage and I am delighted that food and drink has not been left out of the celebration of this Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and have enjoyed writing and talking about it in a number of relevant ways in my role as an ambassador for the Highlands and Islands.

Scotland may have a misconstrued reputation for serving poor food and having a bad diet, but in reality, the opposite is true and we should take far greater pride in our culinary heritage. There is no excuse for eating badly, if we only give it more thought and plan ahead.

In the past, women were frequently at the centre of the most skilful cooking in our grander houses, as well as extremely capable of providing for their families in the most frugal of homes, making the most of cheaper cuts of meat, simple fresh vegetables and traditions of slow-cooking from scratch.

At next week’s Edinburgh Food Festival in George Square Gardens, fantastic food and drink products will be highlighted. I will take to the stage for an hour on Saturday at 2pm, talking about the fascinating subject of Scotland’s culinary history. I will include anecdotes and personal stories about my working life cooking in Skye with some of the world's finest, fresh ingredients. Marmalade, one of my favourite ingredients, can be used in myriad ways, both sweet and savoury, as described in my wee book, The Marmalade Bible. The origins of this bittersweet orange preserve are difficult to prove, but as a Scot, I like to believe it is a product of bonny Dundee. And what better way to follow up a breakfast dish of devilishly hot kidneys, salty kippers or curried kedgeree, than warm oatcakes and homemade marmalade?

Today's recipe may not be everyone’s brave choice for breakfast, but it makes a great meal at lunchtime too and has been popular with brasserie chefs for years. Once you have prepared the kidneys, it only takes a few minutes to cook and serve and a small portion is very filling. Be a dare-devil and give it a go.

Devilled kidneys with mushrooms and Madeira

(Serves 4)


8 fresh lamb kidneys

6 plump mushrooms or 12 button mushrooms

50g unsalted butter

1 rounded tbsp plain white flour

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

2 tbsp sherry vinegar or traditional mushroom ketchup

2 tsp Worcester sauce

6 drops Tabasco sauce

1 level tsp cayenne pepper or chilli paste

1 level tsp English mustard powder

75ml Madeira wine

150ml fresh double cream

1 heaped tbsp chopped fresh parsley and snipped chives

4 slices thick buttered toast for serving


1. Wash and pat dry the kidneys and mushrooms.

2. Cut each whole kidney in half on the rounded side, through the long length of the half-moon shape. Using a small, sharp, pointed knife or a pair of small, sharp scissors, remove the white core from each side of each kidney. Cut each half in half again, to make smaller, edible pieces.

3. Place the kidneys in a bowl and sieve the flour over them. Season well with salt and pepper and toss the kidneys gently in the flour.

4. Remove the mushroom stalks and discard. If using large mushrooms, cut into quarters. If using button mushrooms, keep whole. Set aside.

5. For the devil mixture, put the sherry vinegar (or mushroom ketchup) Worcester sauce, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper (or chilli paste) and mustard powder into a small bowl and mix well.

6. Measure the Madeira wine and double cream and set aside.

7. Cut the bread ready for toasting and have warm plates at the ready.

8. Place a good-sized frying pan on a medium heat. Add the butter and allow it to melt and warm through until foamy.

9. Add the prepared kidneys, shaking off any residual flour as you place them in the hot butter. Turn in the butter for two minutes until coloured all over.

10. Add the prepared mushrooms. Stir together with the kidneys and continue cooking for another minute or so until there is no outward sign of any blood. You don't want to overcook the kidneys however, as they will quickly become tough and rubbery.

11. Using a slotted spoon, lift the kidneys and mushrooms out of the frying pan and set aside in a warm dish to rest while you complete the sauce.

12. Add the devil mixture to the hot butter and stir well.

13. When all is incorporated, pour in the Madeira wine and stir again, allowing the mixture to thicken slightly and reduce.

14. Add the double cream and stir again. It should be beginning to bubble around the edges of the pan as it thickens.

15. Return the kidneys and mushrooms and coat in the sauce, adding half the chopped parsley and chives.

16. Serve immediately on hot buttered toast. Spoon over any excess sauce and sprinkle remaining parsley and chives on top.

Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-by on the Isle of Skye