Old Fashioned Scottish Border Sweets

Published on 7 Sep
6 min read

There’s something nostalgic about sweeties. Retro sweeties, as they are affectionately known as, evoke British traditions. You share your sweeties with friends and family. You prized the 20p you got to go buy a pick ‘n’ mix from the corner shop. You savoured the boiled sweets you’re Grandad shared with you when Granny wasn’t looking. Old-fashioned sweets have seen demand surge since the recession, people still want a cheap, sweet luxury as well as a timely reminder of simpler times.

A face made out of sweets; 2 fried eggs for the eyes and a fizzy strawberry lace as a smiley face on a backdrop of hundreds & thousands sprinkles.
The Candy Man is a happy fella.

Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it with dew
Cover it with choc’late and a miracle or two
The Candy Man
Oh, the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can
‘Cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good
The Candy Man Song

Sweet History?

A jar of hard-boiled sweets.
Hard-boiled sweets were one of the first kind of sweets to be made commercially.

Scotland is famous for its unrelenting sweet tooth, with the nation consuming 110 tonnes of sugar a day[1]. The ‘sweet tooth’ has been passed down many generations since Scotland became a powerhouse in the Sugar Trade during the 18th century. Scotland is home to many famous old-fashioned sweets ranging from Edinburgh rock to tablet. The sweet-making industry in Scotland was so big and important as Greenock, the first dock on the Clyde, where sugar was imported to from the West Indies.

The sugar plantations in the West Indies made many Scottish merchants rich. The history of Scotland’s newfound wealth during this time is riddled with cavities. During the late 18th century cities such as Glasgow were home to many extravagant parties, flamboyantly showcasing wealth in get-togethers such as the infamous Pig Club[2]. Adding to this, Scotland was at the forefront of the Three Way Trade, a global trading system where ships sailed from Scotland to Africa to collect slaves and send them to the West Indies to work in the sugar plantations[2].

A glass filled with orange bon-bons.
Want a sweetie from Candy Kate?

Making sweets first became a profession in the 17th century in Scotland[3]. As a result, it was widely accepted that housewives began sweetie making and selling. Known as ‘sweetie wives’, these women were in every Scottish Border town, selling home-made sweets and calling themselves Candy Katy or Sweet Annie among other names.

Scottish Borders Sweets

There are many sweets originating in the Scottish Borders that are still popular today and available worldwide. Here on the foodful blog is a pick ‘n’ mix of the best-known sweets.

Soor Plooms

Soor Plooms are bright green, tangy sweets.
Soor Plooms are easily recognised by their bright green appearance.

Soor Plooms originate from the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. Soor Plooms were made to commemorate a skirmish between a band of locals who discovered a posse of English soldiers gorbing down unripe plums that grew in vast numbers around the area. The local men attacked the English soldiers leaving their bodies alongside the unripe fruit[3].

Resulting from this conflict, the town’s coat of arms and motto portray the importance of this event. The coat of arms shows two foxes reaching to eat plums from a tree and the town motto is ‘Sour Plums’[4].

The sweets themselves resemble an unripe plum, with their sharp sour taste and fluorescent green colour. They are still very much popular today.

Berwick Cockles

A pile of Berwick Cockle sweets.
Berwick Cockles are decorated with fine red stripes.

Originating from the famous walled town of Berwick upon Tweed, Berwick Cockles are a white with red-stripes mint candy. The famous sweets were made on the premises of what is affectionately known as Cockle Cowes. However, the Cowe brothers sadly passed away a few years ago and the buildings have been part of a regeneration scheme within the town, with the legacy of Cockle Cowe’s to stay intact[5].

Berwick Cockles were made on the premises of the famous shop from 1886 for over 200 years till the shops closed its doors in 2010[5]

The original version of the Berwick Cockle was a hard mint sweet, but the modern variety now has a crumbly texture. Berwick Cockles are still available from local sweet shops.

Jethart Snails

Jethart Snails originate from the Scottish Borders town of Jedburgh. Jethart is an early form of the name Jedburgh. The origin story goes that the sweet recipe came from a French prisoner of war who was displaced at Jedburgh jail during the Napoleonic Wars. The sweets are a dark brown toffee with a peppermint flavour and twisted into snail shell shape.

These days Jethart Snails are still made locally and sold at many tourist attractions in and around Jedburgh as well as local markets.

Hawick Balls

Hawick Balls originated in the Scottish Border town of Hawick. Hawick Balls differ in texture to other border sweets, as they have a hard, crunchy texture unlike its border counterparts such as Berwick Cockles whose texture is more crumbly and rock-like. The sweets themselves are similar in taste to mint humbugs; buttery and minty flavours.

The sweets are a bullet-like shape as a reminder of an event close to the town’s heart. This is because, after the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, which was a disastrous loss for the Scottish, the English soldiers carried on North to run amok through several Scottish Border towns, this included Hawick. However, the Hawick locals fought against an English raiding party and eventually defeated them[5]. There is a Common Riding every year to commemorate this victory.

Centuries later, in the 1850s, Hawick Balls were made in the town by a “Sweetie Wife” called Jessie McVittie[6]. Although they are no longer made in the town, Hawick Balls are still in production are still favourites in Scotland.

Coulters Candy

Ally, bally, ally bally bee,
Sittin’ on yer mammy’s knee
Greetin’ for a wee bawbee,
Tae buy some Coulter’s candy.

Extract from Coulter’s Candy by Robert Coultart

The Coulter’s Candy song is recognised as a traditional Scottish song. However, the song was written by Robert Coulter as a jingle to advertise his sweets. Coulter’s Candy was made by a mill worker from Melrose. He made aniseed-flavoured sweets which he sold around various Scottish Border towns including Galashiels[7]. Although the original recipe of Coulter’s Candy no longer exists, there has been modern representations of his sweets including fudge and traditional hard-boiled sweets.

A Sweet Life

Retro-sweets are fun ways to remember your childhood. Most Scottish Border sweets have an interesting history, much longer and dramatic than anticipated. Who would’ve thought that sweets would be made to commemorate the long-running rivalry between Scotland and England?

Tell us your favourite old-fashioned sweetie on foodful and on social media. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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