It was Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns, who wrote "O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!" Or, to put it another way, "Oh would some Power the small gift give us, To see ourselves as others see us!"
Now we can. "Scotland: Celebrations & Soul Food" by Jean Muir provides a fascinating insight into Scotland and the Scots, as seen through the eyes, and the camera, of an American who fell in love with the country. This book is described by the publishers as "her love letter to the culture, festivals and culinary riches of Scotland", and you can see where they are coming from. The book itself is beautifully produced and presented, and has an impressive "coffee table" presence.
Between the covers, the content is divided into sections covering the four quarters of the year. Within each are about half a dozen chapters. Each of these discusses one of Scotland's traditional festivals in text and excellent, often strikingly large, photographs, and follows it up with a recipe created by the author that is inspired by the location, season or nature of each event. There are national festivals you would expect to be included, such as Hogmanay; Burns Night (complete with a recipe for Haggis Pie with Whisky Marmalade Sauce); Beltane (with a recipe for Salmon on an Ash Plank); St Andrews Day (with a Leg of Lamb feast); and Christmas (Pheasant Bridies with Bacon and Port). Other festivals are more local in nature, such as Shetland's Up Helly Aa; the Kirkwall Ba' Game; the Border Ridings; the Burry Man of South Queensferry; and Galloway's Wickerman Music and Art Festival. Again each comes with a recipe. Also included are a number of festivals that have become Scottish institutions, such as the Edinburgh Tattoo; the Edinburgh Fringe; and the Royal Highland Show (this last with a recipe for Lamb Burgers with Rosemary, Feta and Lemon).
The result is a book that is both highly informative and great fun to browse. Those of us who spend our time travelling around and photographing Scotland can become a little blasé about what the country has to offer, and for us the true tests of a book like this are the answers to the following questions. Did it tell us anything we didn't already know? And, did it inspire us to want to do something we've not done before? The answer to both questions is "yes".