Paisley food blogger Peter Gilchrist is on a mission to answer this question through the lens of his family history, which is deeply rooted in traditional Scottish food.
Via a series of YouTube videos which include family interviews, historic recipe testing and investigations into Scottish culture, Peter wants to uncover what it means for a food to belong to Scotland.
Which, it turns out, is a complicated question to answer.
“The things that we think of as being innately Scottish really aren't. When you start looking at the history of it, 80 per cent of our vegetables were introduced by the Romans.” said Peter, speaking over Zoom.
Peter’s interest in investigating Scottish food was sparked by watching viral cooking videos online; as a food blogger, he wanted to add his own Scottish influence to the recipes.
He shot to internet fame in 2019 with a video recipe of his Irn Bru donuts, which has now had over 5 million views. But Peter is now reconsidering his use of space on social media after it platformed the voices of movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and the ongoing climate crisis.
He is conscientious about adding real value to food discourse, and believes that investigating a culinary expression of cultural identity is more worthwhile than his previous light-hearted exploits, which he self-deprecatingly describes as ‘nonsense’. If only the rest of us were so sage.
“If you're going to put something out onto social media, it has to have fibre. It has to mean something,” he said.
“Me kind of trying out bits and pieces and taking up space; it just felt a bit shallow. So then I looked at developing this series of ‘what is Scottish food?’”
Peter grew up in Paisley in a working class community, as part of a religious family which exemplified traditional gender roles.
In the first episode in the series, Peter explores the differences between his late grandmothers’ scone recipes, and investigates the effects of post-war rationing on the ingredients used.
Both grannies baked endlessly for their communities: one for her fellow mill workers, and one for the church group which she was deeply rooted in.
The women were the main cooks in the household, and many of the upcoming episodes focus on their legacy of delicious baked goods - but Peter is also keen to highlight the relationship with food via the paternal line.
“The third episode is about food for the men in my family. It was really fantastic speaking to my dad about why he cooks and what he loves about cooking - he never felt the kind of responsibility that my mum did, I think.
“His dad was a conscientious objector during the war, and because he worked for the Forestry Commission, he was sent to a prisoner of war camp to teach them how to grow tomatoes.
"Everyone in my dad's family still grows tomatoes. I think it's just one of these things; unpacking that story of how food is still connected to their personal convictions.”
When asked if he had come any closer to answering his initial question, having scripted and researched a whole video series, Peter firstly admits that he now has more questions than answers.
However, he reveals that there is a forgotten language surrounding Scottish food.
“I'm working on some stuff just now trying to create a Scottish food index - Scottish words for food that we don't make any more"Peter Gilchrist
“I'm beginning to realise that there is actually a definable Scottish cuisine. When you talk about French cuisine, there are building blocks. And I think Scotland has that as well.
“I'm working on some stuff just now trying to create a Scottish food index - Scottish words for food that we don't make any more, like a ‘brose’ as an uncooked porridge mixture.
"Then there is the ‘sowans’ which is oats and water, which ferments, and then you can add into baked goods or other foods; ‘skirlie’, which is oats mixed with onions, and spices, which you can then use to add into food or use as the base for black pudding or Lorne sausage.
“So there are building blocks here, and there are words associated with them that we have forgotten. And I think it means we can open up this conversation with everyone; let's bring it back and talk about the building blocks of our food.”
Alongside a video series, one of Peter’s additional goals is to create a cookbook with all of his family’s old recipes and their corresponding stories, coupled with new photographs.
“I'm seeing what I'm doing as far as sort of a present to my relatives. I think it's the whole thing of pulling all these questions from everyone, and trying to present it to them to say, “this is us, this is what our identity is””.
“It’s definitely a labour of love,” he added.
Peter is enthusiastic about investigating the food traditions of other families too.
“I want to hear from other people, their family memories and their family stories. My hope is that perhaps this research and the next suite of seasons I'm working on will really contribute to a dialogue about Scottish food.
“I hope that other people who have had the same upbringings and have the same Scottish grannies, [the project] can make them feel like “oh, this is also me. This is also mine.””
The other upcoming episodes will include shortbread, cakes, breakfast, tea (aka dinner), biscuits and Christmas.
You can email Peter with your own Scottish food stories at firstname.lastname@example.org