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The Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) tells us that this word originates from the Gaelic for “a kind of churn” and that it was “a milk-based dish traditionally eaten at harvest-time or Halloween”. Nowadays we know it as “a dessert of whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, fruit etc.”. DSL cites an example from Catherine Brown’s Scottish Cookery (1985), where cranachan is given as an alternative name of the dessert cream crowdie:


“Unique Scottish flavours — whisky, heather honey and oatmeal combine with cream and soft fruits in this versatile creation... The ritual eating was originally a celebration of 'harvest home' when brambles and blaeberries would most likely have been used”.



Although earlier examples of cranachan the dessert have proved elusive, there is an interesting variation in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of December 1968:


“Cranachan, 2 ounces oatmeal, 2 tablespoons whisky, 1 ounce stem ginger, chopped, 1 ounce castor sugar, salt, ½ pint of double cream”.


Interesting that in the dead of winter preserved ginger is substituted for the more traditional soft fruits. However, the following substitution is given in the Belfast Telegraph of November 1978:


“Cranachan, 2 ounces coarse oatmeal, 2 tablespoons whiskey...1 tin of raspberries”.


Raspberries are now most commonly used in cranachan.


In this month comes the celebration of Robert Burns with feasting on oceans of cock-a-leekie soup, ashets full of haggis, neeps and tatties, followed in more modern times by cranachan sometimes served with shortbread on the side. Surely a lighter way to end a Burns Supper than with clootie dumplings and custard.


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at