Scotland Fruit and Vegetables
Scotland is famous for a whole range of food and drink but unlike most of them the soft fruit industry has a long history where families have taken part in and being part of Scottish farming history.
Soft fruit farming has supported families for well over 100 years with its own folklore, traditions, poems and songs.
In the summer months families would come from all over Scotland to the fertile
fields of the east of Scotland especially, Perthshire & Angus. Blairgowrie also known as 'The Berrie Toon' whose population would increase by around 1500 people. After a few problems with some of the ‘Berry Squads’, fighting and drinking, theft and complaints by local residents, the farms started to employ ‘Berry Bosses’ who would find more 'respectable' workers and made sure that the drills where picked clean. Not far from Blairgowrie a scheme was set up in around 1905 to allow women and children and some men to come to the 'Tin Toon' stone buildings with corrugated metal roofs, they were fitted out with basic bunk beds and straw filled mattresses having somewhere for the workers to stay as well as free food increased production and brought people out from sleeping under canvas or even in ditches.
The berry seasons saved many families from the Work House and kept the families through the winter months, as well as
Blairgowrie, Forfar, Kirriemuir, Arbroath in Angus and as far up as Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire had berry fields as far as the eye could see, life in the fruit fields seemed never-ending as the workers were divided to work in drills the long narrow lanes for picking the raspberries some of the berry bushes were higher than a person’s head and you either picked into buckets which would be sold for jam, or into baskets which would be sold in the local shops and the fruit markets. Depending on which farm a worker picked depended on how they got paid, some farms paid at the end of the day by keeping a tally of what each person picked, or a picker was paid at every weigh in, the Berry Bosses had a sharp eye and could spot the old tricks like putting stones in the baskets or water into the buckets, if a picker was caught doing that they were put off the field and banned from picking there again.
Many traveller families would pitch tents or park horse drawn caravans for the summer and worked through, as long as you 'Picked Clean' you were welcome and if you were a quick clean picker a picker could make a good pocket full of money.
During WWII children where sent from the large cities as a precaution to the bombing but also to keep the rural economy, Scotland was kept going on the children berry pickers as many adults where helping the war effort either keeping the home fires burning by working in the factories or on the land while the men were fighting. At the height of the berry picking seasons more than 40,000 people would be employed in the fields, during the 'Trades Fortnight’ where local tradesmen had their summer break whole families would come berry picking for extra money for the coming winter. A large number of the pickers were school children. Mothers would send them to pick enough to buy their school uniform and get themselves something new. It was a tradition. It is what low income families did in the summer holidays in Scotland
In the late 1980's saw a decline in farms growing berries due to cheaper imports from abroad, but in the last 10 years has seen a rise in the growing of softfruit with the use of popular poly tunnels to give an early crop earlier than the berries on the continent and gives employment to the surround towns as well as people from the Eastern European countries, who are adding their own story to the history of berry picking in Scotland. With the middle of the raspberry season the Strawberries where coming in and the story of the strawberries began, many raspberry pickers would move onto the strawberries many soft fruit farms did both, some preferred the Raspberries and some preferred both either way the history of soft fruit farming in Perthshire and Angus will always be part of Scotland’s history……..As a post 1940 thought, that you ask any berry picker one memory and they will tell you of the 'Berry Bus' a old buses which stopped 'aboot the toon' at 7:30am and 8:30am picking up folk with their pieces(sandwiches) and a flask of tea. There are still Berry Buses going about but now they are museum displays and you find them are Motor Show - One the best in Scotland you will find at Glamis Castle.
That covers the fruit side of Scotland but another tradition which even in the 21st century affects how many families live in the East of Scotland and that is the humble potato or the Tattie. Scotland started growing potatoes in the 17th century many were put off because it wasn’t mentioned in the bible so it wasn’t seen as a Godly food, small holding grew the crop selling some and keeping some back for themselves, the potato blight that hit Ireland in the 1800’s also hit Scotland and like many of the Irish many of the Scots headed for the New World of the Americas.
The those who stayed survived and went on to build up the crop, like the soft fruits many farms employed groups of men and women to do the back breaking work of tattie picking, until it was mechanical a large fork was used to lift the tatties out the ground and women would pick them into a hessian sack tied around their waist and tipped it into a trailer which was pulled by the horse. Along came the tractor or the use of steam power to lift the potatoes and the tatties were picked into baskets and a man would tip the baskets into the trailer, as well as the women children would also help pick the potatoes, the potato harvest became so important to Scotland that children were given two weeks off school and it is still in place for over 100 years and known as the ‘Tattie Holidays’ of course today all the tattie picking is done by mechanical means and very few people work on the tattie fields now, there are still jobs that cannot be done by machine and that’s ‘dressing the tattie’ making sure they are in good order, no green, frosted areas. This is all done before being either stored away for the summer months or sent to the supermarkets.
Carrots, Broccoli and of course the turnip/Swede (neep) all has to be dealt with by hand, many still pay piece work, the faster you work the more you get paid, they had working men and women will be there in the coldness of the barn or in the field making sure Scotland produces the best products and sorted by hand. So next time you buy Scottish you know that you’re getting history as well as a great product.