Hairst Bree – Hotch Potch Soup
Hairst bree is Gaelic Scottish for ‘harvest broth’ and is also known as hotch potch. It is traditionally made with mutton or lamb neck, although you can use lamb shanks if you prefer. The vegetables in this soup tend to be anything which is in season locally. Hairst bree is a hearty, substantial dish, and it would have been filling and comforting for outdoor workers after a cold day in the highlands. This chunky dish is part soup and part stew, or ‘stoup’ if you like. Lamb is a natural choice in a country where sheep are numerous and often fare better in the harsh climate than cattle, thanks to their warm wool.
We are using swede (rutabaga), carrots, spring onions, beans, peas, cauliflower, and lettuce to make this, although you may substitute any other vegetables depending what is in season and available locally. Consider broccoli instead of the cauliflower, or potatoes instead of the carrots. Fresh mint and parsley also go into the dish, and both of those combine beautifully with the hearty lamb flavour, and suit the dish well.
A lot of Scottish cooks will keep this simmering away for a large part of the day, but you might prefer to cook it until the vegetables are ‘just’ tender rather than until they are only just holding together. Ladle generous servings of this hairst bree into mugs or bowls and serve piping hot. This is a robust soup which is filling enough to pass for an evening meal, rather than a mere appetiser or snack. Consider serving some crusty rustic bread on the side which can be used to sop up every last drop of this flavour-packed soup.
- 900g (2 lbs) lamb meat and bones
- 2 peeled, chopped small swedes (rutabagas)
- 4 peeled, chopped carrots
- 6 chopped spring onions (green onions) including the green tops
- Handful of fresh broad beans or uncooked pearl barley
- 2 handfuls of fresh green peas
- 1 cauliflower, in florets
- 1 shredded small lettuce (something hearty like Little Gem)
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Put the lamb meat and bones in a big pot.
- Pour in water to cover by 2½ cm (1 inch) and add a pinch of salt.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, skimming the scum off the top whenever needed.
- Turn the heat down, cover the pot, and simmer for 1 hour.
- Take out the lamb and discard the bones and gristle.
- Chop the lamb meat and reserve.
- Now bring the liquid back to a boil.
- Add the swedes, onions, carrots, beans or barley, and half the peas.
- Simmer covered for 1½ hours.
- Add the lettuce, remaining peas, mint, reserved lamb, sugar, salt, and black pepper.
- Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Stir in the fresh parsley, and serve right away.
This Scottish hairst bree soup is a simple combination of lamb, vegetables and fresh mint, so you are sure to be surprised when you taste its magnificent flavour. We are making this harvest soup using seasonal vegetables along with neck or shanks of lamb. Also known as hotch potch because you can throw just about anything into it, this warming soup is energy-giving because of the naturally fatty meat, and also nutritious thanks to all those fresh vegetables. The fresh mint goes beautifully with the overall flavour, so if you like mint sauce with your lamb, you should enjoy the mint flavour here.
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