Meagre Diet
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Meagre Diet In the Isolated Fermtoun

Sir, as a resident of London, one of the great commercial and gastronomic centres of Europe, you must have certain expectations as to your cocktail and dinner menu. Was your palate pleased when you stopped at "Chez Fermtoun" outside Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire?

15th April, 1704 -- I sett out from Hamilton early in the morning, having no good usage there, and came for Lesmaga: but before I reached that village, my horse tired, and I could not get him nearer than within a mile of Lesmaga; so, seeing a small village at a small distance, I halted to it, and inquired for some beer. The woman there pointed to another woman, and told me that goodwife would help me to it, for I was very dry myself, and thought beer would refresh my horse too; but that gudewife acquainted me that there was neither beer or ale in the town (besides beer in which is meal and barley), or any meat; but that the people there drank water, and got a sort of pancakes (some of which she showed me) made of pease and barley together; and she said that they eat no (butcher) meat, nor drink anything but water, all the year round; and the common people go without shoes or stockings, especially the women. I pitied their poverty, but observed the people were fresh and lusty, and did not seem to be under any uneasiness about their way of living.(1)

My gosh! Let me try to put this together with some of the other evidence I’ve heard... Perhaps the limited diet had something to do with the fact that the fermtoun or "farm village" operated somewhat as its own cooperative mini-economy with relatively little interaction with other people. "Subsistence" and basic survival were the operating principles in the fermtoun. While the fermtoun economy was almost self-sufficient during the years of relative plenty, many suffered when the crops were poor. Was the fare any better at the Lesmahagow Inn?

(1) Greenshields, Annals of Lesmahagow, p. 274-5. 

From When the Ground Fails -- An Economic Watershed (SHR V9#6)