The Scots have a long and affectionate history with their ‘sweeties’. Some say it was the length of the average Scottish sermon that made it necessary to smuggle into the “kirk” a small bag of something sweet to suck on. The city used to have many sweet manufacturers, but now there are only two, Jenny’s Homemade Sweets in Baronscourt Road, and Ross of Edinburgh on the Pentland Industrial Estate.
Ross’s was started by James Ross working in the back of a shop near the University of Edinburgh in 1880, and Jenny’s by Jenny Paterson in 1961 in Fountainbridge.
Between them they produce distinctive confectionary including:
as well Puff Candy, Berwick Cockles, Rhubarb Rock and Lucky Tatties.
A walk down the Royal Mile from the Tartan Weaving Mill by Edinburgh Castle to the Fudge House near the Palace of Holyrood will take you past a number of sweet shops, some in side streets and some inside the many souvenir outlets selling what is known locally as ‘tartan tat’. This is not one street but five, and it is perhaps the single best introduction to Edinburgh, its history, its spirit and its very sweet tooth.
Located on the approach to Holyrood Palace, the Fudge House at 197 Canongate at the bottom of the Royal Mile is one of the best places to buy tablet in the city. The house itself is a typical five-storey Edinburgh stone structure, erected in 1667.
Generally regarded as the perfect accompaniment to a sweet, lightly peated whisky like Bunnahabhain, tablet is Scotland’s own fudge, a brittle version of traditional British fudge that is made from sugar, condensed milk and butter. It is often flavoured with vanilla or whisky, boiled and then allowed to cool in blocks.
Tablet is almost identical to the Québécoise confection, sucre à la crème. The first record of it occurs in the ledger of the Scottish aristocrat and songwriter Lady Grisell Baillie. Her household books, kept from 1692 to 1733 and published in 1911, are an invaluable record of social life in Scotland in the eighteenth century. It is thanks to Lady Grisell’s meticulous records that we know so much about how the Scots, even those in the servant classes, ate at this time.
Cranachan is a traditional Scots dessert of oats, raspberries and cream. More recently it has been made with whipped cream, and with whisky and honey added to the list of ingredients. You’ll find cranachan on the menu of many Edinburgh restaurants – in the city’s Italian cafés it is the one word never translated into Italian.
Cranachan was traditionally a summer dish eaten around harvest time but it’s now served all year round. Originally each ingredient was brought on a separate dish to the table so everyone assembled their own dessert, but nowadays it's presented fully mixed.
Eat cranachan at Victor & Carina Contini’s Scottish café in the National Gallery, just below the Royal Mile. The Contini family arrived in Scotland in 1914 and has been in catering ever since. There is a strong Italian culinary heritage in Edinburgh, and Victor and Carina’s grandfathers were friends in the Abruzzi Mountains before emigrating. Their grandchildren now run two restaurants in the city as well as this café in the gallery’s garden entrance.
Take a look at the gallery, too, which holds plenty of food-themed art, including Velázquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs (c. 1618) and Jan Weenix’s Landscape with a Huntsman and Dead Game (Allegory of the Sense of Smell) (1607).
Lickety Splits, Edinburgh’s "Merchants of Marvellous Confectionery", sits on Jeffrey Street, a Victorian development running off the Royal Mile. This street was built with huge brick arches to keep the road level as it clung to the cliffs of Castle Rock.
Lickety Splits is painted a festive bright red, and just stepping through the front door feels like going on holiday. Bought from all over the UK, its speciality is the sweets of yesteryear, and there are photos of the owners as children on the wall.
Here you can buy Nerds and Flumps and Jazz Chocolate Discs and liquorice, all sold by weight out of big glass and plastic jars. You can also buy Sugar Mice and lots of Edinburgh delicacies made by Jenny’s Boiled Sweets, the last sweet factory in the city centre. Look out for:
There are tongs and trays provided so that you can make your own selection of penny sweeties – fried eggs, sour cherries, cola bottles – in the old-fashioned way and, remarkably, these one-penny sweets still only cost 1p.
British seaside rock is a famous confection but Edinburgh Castle Soft Rock is something different. This traditional Scottish sweetie is made from sugar, water, cream of tartar and flavourings and then formed into sticks, though it still has a soft and crumbly texture.
Edinburgh Castle Soft Rock was first made in the nineteenth century, by Alexander Ferguson, later known as Sweetie Sandy. Ferguson was born in Perthshire in 1798 and learned the confectionery trade in Glasgow before setting up his own business in Edinburgh. According to local legend Ferguson created Edinburgh rock by accident. One day he came across a tray of sweets that had lain forgotten for months. He tried a piece, found it to be delicious and so set about marketing it. The success of Edinburgh Castle Rock enabled Sweetie Sandy to retire to Perthshire a wealthy man. Buy Edinburgh Castle Scottish Soft Rock at the Tartan Weaving Mill on the Royal Mile and you will actually be standing on Castle Rock itself, with a view of Edinburgh Castle.