The thread about the history of the Lorne Sausage, the Square Sausage, the Slicing Sausage and the Sliced Sausage. (And why they are neither from Lorn or actually square.)

We have looked at Plain Bread. We have delved into the depths of the Macaroni pie. We have examined the origins of Neeps and Haggis. So now we must turn our gaze upon that other stalwart of Scottish cuisine; the Lorne aka Square aka Sliced aka Slicing sausage.

"A Roll on Slice", © Bayne's Family Baker
“A Roll on Slice”, © Bayne’s Family Baker

For the purposes of this thread we’ll just called it a Lorne sausage. So what is this delicacy? In essence it’s a log of mince beef and suet, breadcrumb and some seasoning, moulded in a tin and then cut into slices for frying. You can see from the picture that the cross-section of the “square” sausage is actually trapezoid, as a result of it being formed by pressing in to loaf tins. When it cooks, the perimeter contracts and it takes on a more rounded, irregular shape.

Sliced and Unsliced Lorne, © Ramsay of Carluke)
Sliced and Unsliced Lorne, © Ramsay of Carluke)

The Lorne is a high fat sausage – traditionally 20-25% additional fat is added on top of the fat already in the meat. It sheds much of this when cooked, but the end result is still a very succulent slab of beefy hangover cure, particularly with the addition of brown sauce. This sausage is not so much an invention as an evolution of aspects of traditional Scottish cookery so no precise date can be put on it coming into existence, but by the 1880s it begins to come up in advertising. More on that later, but lets focus on its roots.

I would put the predecessor of the Lorne not in sausagemaking but in another old Scots favourite; the Collop. Collops (from the French Escalope) were thinly sliced meat served akin to veal scalopini; floured and fried and served in a rich, creamy, winey sauce. The Minced Collop was meat first put through the mincer with seasoning and formed into a patty to fry.

"To make Minced Collops", Susannah Maciver's 1773 "Cookery and Pastry" book, one of Scotland's earliest published cookbooks.
“To make Minced Collops”, Susannah Maciver’s 1773 “Cookery and Pastry” book, one of Scotland’s earliest published cookbooks.

While the collop fell out of favour, nearly analogous caseless sausages are quite common in 19th century cookbooks.

Skinless sausage recipe, from "Receipts in Modern Cooking" of 1820 by Alexander Hunter
Skinless sausage recipe, from “Receipts in Modern Cooking” of 1820 by Alexander Hunter

Or in the wonderfully titled “The Cook and Housewife’s Manual; Containing the Most Approved Modern Receipts for Making Soups, Gravies, Sauces, Ragouts, And Made-Dishes; And for Pies Puddings, Pastry, Pickles, and Preserves; …” of 1826 by Margaret Dods of Edinburgh.

Margaret Dods 1826 recipe for a caseless sausage
Margaret Dods 1826 recipe for a caseless sausage

Although any type of meat can go into a sausage, in Scotland they preferred beef, and pork was not a particularly common foodstuff anyway. They also favoured using good meat in sausages, not just the scraps and unmentionables.

In England, the best steaks are cut from the middle of the rump. In Scotland, steaks which are thought more delicate, are cut, like chops, from the sirloin or spare rib, trimming off the superfluous fat and chopping away the bone. This is the piece of meat usually cut up in to steaks in the shops in Edinburgh and Glasgow, rump beef being used for minced collops and beef sausage.

Margaret Dods on steaks for sausages, 1826

But such caseless sausages were not just a Scottish thing. Mrs Beeton gives a recipe in 1861 of something very close to a pork and beef Lorne when not put into skins.

Mrs Beeton's 1861 caseless sausage recipe
Mrs Beeton’s 1861 caseless sausage recipe

So by the 2nd half of the 19th century, caseless, fatty, beefy sausages were nothing particularly new to Scottish cuisine. The earliest references I can turn up specifically to Lorne are butcher adverts in Greenock in 1884 and 1885 as “slice” and “slicing” sausages. Grant’s Stores of Renton can take the award for the earliest mention I can find of the name “Lorne” in reference to this sausage. Clearly sausages were big business in Renton; as the advert says,

Note also that they minced collops for sale, so clearly the Lorne and minced collops are recognised as separate items.

Grant’s of Renton, the first advertised Lorne Sausages? Lennox Herald, 1892

But at this time, the name is much more frequently “sliced” or “slicing” sausage. In 1896 a case came up in Coatbridge where a woman, Ellen McLauchlan, was charged with “throwing a large quantity of sliced sausage on the street”. She was fined 5s or offered 3 days imprisonment.

Coatbridge Express 1896

In 1900 in Motherwell, Edwards’ was selling Slicing Sausages using the slogan “A treat. Try them!” at 8d. The business did not trouble to give its address. So what about the name? As I say, sliced and slicing is much more common in newspaper archive search hits. Lorne comes up much less frequently, and is almost entirely confined to the locality of Kirriemuir and Angus. 173 of 234 (almost 3 quarters) of the search results pre-1950 come from that locality.

There’s something of a legend that the Lorne sausage was invented by – or named after – Glaswegian stage comedian Tommy Lorne. He certainly used jokes about it in his routines. But that’s cobblers, he was only 2 years old when it was first advertised. There’s also the small issue of Tommy Lorne being just a stage name for a man whose real name was Hugh Corcoran

Tommy Lorne, © The Glasgow Story

Alternative theories for the name include some sort of connection to the Marquis of Lorne – but I can’t find any – or to a butcher in the district of Lorn, but there is no evidence from newspaper archives that such a product was being advertised there, it seems to be a product docussed on the central belt and east coast of Scotland.

Interestingly although sliced/slicing/square/Lorne sausages almost never come up in archival English newspapers, the very first recipe I can find for something called Lorne Sausage is from a 1913 issue of the Nottingham and Midland Catholic News.

The first publicly offered recipe for a Lorne Sausage? Instantly recognisable as the same product you can buy today.
The first publicly offered recipe for a Lorne Sausage? Instantly recognisable as the same product you can buy today.

The Lorne sausage went to war in 1917 when – in order to save on imported flour – the military authorities in Scotland ordered that soldiers stationed in the country have a diet with less bread and – amongst other things – more Lorne Sausages.

Scotsman, May 1917, article on military catering economies of the Scottish Command
Scotsman, May 1917, article on military catering economies of the Scottish Command

The Lorne Sausage clearly had a place in military catering; it appears in the 1933 Manual of Military Cooking & Dietary published by the HMSO for army caterers, again it is something almost instantly recognisable as the product we today call a Lorne Sausage.

1933 British Army Lorne Sausage
1933 British Army Lorne Sausage

Wartime restrictions – in place between 1917 and 1920 – caught out at least 1 butcher. Charles McGown appeared before the Sheriff in Glasgow in June 1919 charged with selling “slicing sausage” as “steak sausage“. The defence of “a Lorne sausage isn’t actually a sausage, your honour” failed. Fine – £3.

Scotsman , June 1919
Scotsman , June 1919

Lorne Sausage went to war again in 1939. In 1942 due to the perilous food situation, the Ministry of Food licensed the use of soya flour instead of bread rusk in its production (and also that of Scottish favourites Haggis and black pudding) .

Scotsman, May 1942
Scotsman, May 1942

Later the same year the quality of Lorne again took a hit when Lord Woolton (of Woolton Pie) at the Ministry of Food ordered the meat content of sausages, including specifically “slicing sausage” dropped to between 30 and 43%. The price was fixed at 8d per lb, the same as beef links. These sausages were therefore about 50-60% suet and soya flour rusk… Good news was announced to suffering consumers in 1945 though when the meat content of beef slicing sausage was increased by 10% (at the cost of 1 1/2d more per lb).

Bad news came in 1947 though as the worsening post-war supply situation saw a shortage of dripping and the Ministry of Food ordered that the fat would now be mixed with vegetable fats, and that such fat was now considered part of the meat content. Back to rusky sausages! 4,000 butchers of the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders complained to the government in 1948 that they were being treated unfairly and getting short allocations of meat ration. They alleged that this was the result of the supply calculations being based on English butchery habits, where sausages were typically made in factories and supplied to the butcher, whereas in Scotland the butchers still typically made their own. In a thinly veiled attack on the high rusk sausages they were forced to produce, they stated “Flour confectionery is a poor substitute for the breakfast sausage“.

The Lorne sausage crossed the Atlantic in the 1950s with waves of Scottish emigration from the land of postwar austerity and rusky sausages to the opportunity of the new world. Ontario newspapers are full of adverts at this time.

Ontario Intelligencer, 1953
Ontario Intelligencer, 1953

In more recent times, both Aldi and a company called Cottam Foods from Cheshire have humiliated themselves in public by bringing (pork) square sausages to the market and making wild claims that they have invented them. The Cottam’s Squig looks like it might be a pressed patty, whereas the ALDI “square pork sausage” has a texture more akin to SPAM and looks to be sliced off of a compressed block by a very sharp blade.

Cottam Food’s “Squig”, a “square pork sausage”
ALDI "square pork sausage"
ALDI “square pork sausage”

While beef remains traditional, pork and beef mixes, or pork Lorne have long been available, and the discerning customer can select steak Lorne. A recent innovation is the Blackeye or Blackheart Lorne, with a core of back pudding (📷)

A blackeye Lorne sausage © S. Collin & Sons
A blackeye Lorne sausage © S. Collin & Sons

So let’s hear it for the humble Lorne Sausage, it’s much more than just a hangover cure, it’s the sausage that we don’t know why it is called “Lorne”. And lets hear it for the Square Sausage, the sausage that is definitively trapezoid and not square. At least it is actually sliced.

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These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur


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