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A history of the square sausage, including a recipe for making your own

Lorne sausage is one of Scotland’s best loved breakfast foods. Fraser Wright discovers its surprisingly rich history and provides a recipe to make your own

Published: March 10, 2016
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Lorne sausage, the vivid pink beef sausage, usually sandwiched inside a morning roll is a firm Scottish favourite. The cheapest of the lot are made of mystery meat, and lots of fat, so they will be exactly half the size they are to begin with after frying.

Brown sauce or ketchup is indispensable for these cheaper versions, whose flavour can leave much to be desired. The best ones are made with the finest Scottish beef, they are well spiced, fatty and dense.

Scotland’s love for Lorne ­sausage is no new thing. On 5 May, 1917, the ubiquitous breakfast favourite was mentioned in a report by The Scotsman on the economies that the military was making in soldiers’ diet.

One of the breakfast items ­they were given was Lorne sausage, served with gravy, made from ­collecting meat rations.

In the past, Scottish ­emigrants have taken Lorne ­sausage with them wherever they go, with Australia’s ‘steakette’ and the North American sausage pattie both ­bearing an uncanny resemblance to the original.

It is also no coincidence that the nation’s favourite sausage is made from beef rather than pork.

Historically, beef has been the more popular meat in Scotland and ­recipes found in old Scottish cookery books show us that beef sausages have always been more prominent ­traditionally.

Christian Isobel Johnstone’s The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826) gives two recipes for beef sausage; one is for Smoked Scotch Sausages (made with salted beef) and the other is simply called Common Beef ­Sausages.

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This recipe is virtually identical to the modern Lorne sausage, expect that it is stuffed into an ox gut rather than shaped in a tin. Though we don’t know who the first butcher was to produce it, or even to call it Lorne, we do know that it is likely the ­sausage as we know it today was developed in the late 19th century.

At this time many advancements were made in metallurgy. This meant that metal tins used for baking and shaping food became cheap to ­produce and readily available, ­making it cheaper and more ­convenient than a natural animal casing.

Besides that, in the second half of the 19th century fresh beef became more readily available too, with refrigerated meat being imported from ­America.

The name Lorne causes a bit of ­contention as we can’t be sure where it originated, although Scots typically refer to it as a square sausage, sliced sausage, square slice, or even flat sausage.

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The popular theory is that it was named after Glasgow comedian Tommy Lorne, as he was supposed to have made jokes about the quality of sausage, likening it to doormats.

You find this story everywhere – on butcher’s web sites, articles on ­Scottish food, as well as in books on the history of Scottish food.

As romantic as this bit of Scottish food mythology is, there is nothing to back it up. In fact, the ­evidence proves quite the contrary.

There are butcher’s advertisements in the Arbroath Herald and Advertiser for the ­Montrose Burghs as ­early as 1896 listing ‘Lorne Sausages, 6d’. Tommy Lorne was only born in 1890 and Lorne sausage was clearly already in common usage, so we can scrap that theory.

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This news regarding Tommy Lorne, I am afraid, will be received with much dismay by the association of Scottish Craft Butchers, as it is the Tommy Lorne theory by which they are campaigning to gain PGI (Protected Geographical Indicator) status for Lorne sausage.

This being the same status carried by such fine and famous foods as Parma ham, Melton Mowbray Pies, Stornoway Black Pudding, and Arbroath smokies.

Other theories

It is also surprising that the other main theory hasn’t been more widely backed – that Lorne sausage is named after the ancient district of Lorne.

Though there is little evidence to prove that it was named after this extinct region (now part of Argyll and Bute), it makes sense when you consider many other famous ­Scottish foods are named after their town or area of origin.

The only other ­plausible theory is that Lorne ­sausage could have been named after the Marquess of Lorne, the courtesy title given to the son of the Duke of Argyll.

The Marquess of Lorne was famous in the 19th century for marrying ­Princess Louise, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, which became a major national event in 1871.

The Marquess was a well known ­figure, being a member of parliament as well as Governor General of Canada, and the practice of naming foods after famous people, especially aristocrats, was very common in this period – so it is possible that an ­enterprising butcher named his ­sausage after the Marquess.

With it being the 19th century, and by his social standing, the Marquess of Lorne had a lot of things named after him. Lorne became a common forename in Canada. There are also several towns called Lorne in Canada, as well as a lake and another town in Victoria, Australia. A popular make of shoe in Britain was also named after him.

To have a beef sausage named after you is perhaps not the most flattering; perhaps the butcher thought it would give the sausage an air of refinement.

Either that, or the butcher had a very dry sense of humour by likening the texture to a Lorne shoe.

Just in case you are tempted to make your own Lorne sausage there is a recipe below, which is based on a butcher’s.

For Lorne Sausage, the fat content is high, what is called in the trade ‘beef trim (70/30 VL)’, i.e. 70 per cent of the meat is ‘visual lean’ and the rest fat. Some even use a ratio of 60/40 VL. This is the closest I can get to the butcher's style, without the addition of preservatives.

Recipe for Homemade Lorne Sausage


Picture: Naomi Vance


• 750g minced beef (30% fat)

• 150g pinhead rusk (You could just use breadcrumbs, which would make a nice sausage, however a butcher would use rusk)

• 200g chilled water

• 2 tsp salt

• 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

• 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander

• 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper


Mix all the spices and salt with the meat in a large bowl. Work in the water to make a sticky mixture. Now work in the rusk until all is thoroughly incorporated.

Pack the mixture tightly into a 23cm x 8cm loaf tin lined with clingfilm. Leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours to set. When the sausage has set take it out of the tin and cut it into 1cm slices. Fry or cook under the grill for 4 - 6 minutes.

• See more of Fraser’s recipes at

Like this see also:

A history of the Selkirk Bannock, including a recipe for making your own

• The great slice vs. square sausage debate – where do you stand?

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Fraser is originally from Glasgow and lives in a wee flat in Edinburgh. He writes the food blog and wants to put Scotland on the map as a place for good food.

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