We Scots have a very sweet tooth – that is no secret. It was tricky to come up with a soft drink sweeter (and more popular) than Coca Cola, but Scotland managed it. Is your fudge just not tooth-melting enough? Try some tablet!
Whilst the world-famous deep-fried Mars bar is really just a tale told to tourists and the vast majority of the Scottish population have never seen one, never mind tried one; Scotland supposedly consumes the most confectionery per person in the world, with the Swiss coming a close second (and who could blame them when their chocolate is nearly as delicious as ours?😉).
There are a few theories attempting to explain our love of sweeties. The first is that Scotland benefited so heavily from the early sugar trade that we had access to it at far lower prices than our neighbouring countries, and simply acquired a taste for it. The second is our climate – it’s far easier to boil sugar or temper chocolate in cold weather, and we certainly have that in abundance. Our bitter weather is at the root of another theory too – that the body craves sugar and comfort in bad weather in a bid to stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder. Regardless of the cause, it’s a fact that we’re partial to a wee sweetie, and we’re very good at making them too!
Traditionally, Scottish sweeties have been simple in their premise and a great many of them have stood the test of time! So, in case you’re taking a hankering, here’s some old, nostalgic sweeties you can still find today.
1. Lucky Tatties
A Lucky Tattie is an old sweetie which hit its peak popularity in the 60’s. A round, solid, cassia flavoured white fondant, steamed and coated in (often unrelentingly strong) cinnamon powder, it does actually resemble a wee tattie. The ‘lucky’ element was traditionally a small plastic toy hidden inside – an ill-considered feature to say the least. The hidden toy aspect has since been scrapped for glaringly obvious safety reasons and now the ‘lucky’ bit is that you’re far less likely to choke.
Lucky Tatties have made a bit of a resurgence recently and you can pick them up at a few Scottish sweet shops, including here.
2. McCowan’s Highland Toffee Bar
Originally a Highland cow farmer from Perthshire, Andrew McCowan opened a sweetie shop in 1900 and started selling his own toffee in the form of a long, thin bar in the 1920s with his beloved Highland cow front and centre on the wrapper.
A firm favourite of children up and down Scotland, Highland Toffee is delicious, but it is just about the chewiest substance known to man. Seemingly hell-bent on gluing all of our jaws together, McCowan’s later introduced Wham and Irn Bru bars to the market. When McCowan’s went into administration in 2011, Tangerine Confectionery bought the rights to Highland Toffee and Wham bars. Alas, McCowan’s original Irn Bru bars have been lost forever, but Oor Wullie’s come up with an alternative which you can find here. Highland Toffee bars can also be found here.
3. Coulter’s Candy
Now, this is a real throwback. So much so that none of us would actually have been alive when the original sweetie was around. Nevertheless, we probably all know about it!
Coulter’s Candy was created in the 1840’s in Galashiels by Robert Coultart who wrote the infamous ‘Coulter’s Candy’ song as an advertisement for his sweeties which he sold at markets around the Borders. We know from the song – passed down by grannies for generations – that the sweets cost a sixpence:
Greetin’ for a wee bawbee (a word for a Scottish sixpence)
tae buy some Coulter’s Candy
and that they were cooked or boiled:
Coulter he’s an affa funny man,
He makes his candy in a pan
but besides that, very little is actually known about the recipe. That said, Ally Bally Bee’s has returned Coulter’s Candy to the shelves! If, like us, you’ve been wondering what it would taste like since you were wee, you can grab some here.
4. Edinburgh Rock
A different kettle of fish from the solid, minty stick of rock of Millport and Blackpool, Edinburgh Rock is softer, fruitier, crumblier and chalkier (in a nice way). Legend has it that confectioner Alexander Ferguson a.k.a ‘Sweetie Sandy’ invented Edinburgh Rock by accident after rediscovering a tray of old, forgotten sweets that had gone a bit bad and realising that they were actually delicious! Edinburgh Rock is still very much on the go, particularly in shops selling ‘See You Jimmy’ hats and 25 varieties of Nessie fridge magnets. Find some here.
Edinburgh Rock is actually one of our favourite old sweeties. So much so, in fact, that we've dedicated a whole chocolate bar to it! It goes incredibly well with our sweet and creamy white chocolate and adds a really fun fruity crunch. Check it out here!
5. Coconut Ice
As pretty as it is simple, Coconut Ice is a timeless classic and has the added benefit of being super easy to make at home with some condensed milk, sugar, desiccated coconut and red food colouring for that iconic pink colour. Beautiful! You can see a detailed recipe here.
We've also created a Coconut Ice chocolate bar! This one is paired with indulgent dark chocolate and puts a whole new twist on an old classic. Check it out!
6. Soor Plooms
Funnily enough, Soor Plooms also originated in Galashiels. Supposedly, in 1337 some local men came across and killed a group of raiding English soldiers who were eating unripened plums from the trees, leaving their bodies scattered across the ground surrounded by the sour plums and the sweeties were created in commemoration – appetising, right?
Following their victory, the local men went on to call themselves the ‘soor plooms of Galashiels’ and a song was written in their honour of the same name, the lyrics to which are long forgotten, though the tune remains. The Galashiels coat of arms features a plum tree with two foxes under it, with the shield inscribed with the words ‘sour plums’ – more likely a tribute to the men than the sweets.
For those of you fortunate enough to never have received acid burns on the roof of your mouth from a Soor Ploom, it’s a luminous green, hard boiled sweetie; fruit flavoured and intensely sour as the name suggests. They’re still available in sweetie shops countrywide, including in the oldest sweet shop in Scotland.