homemade scotch browth

Scotch Broth

I may own the last three cans of Campbell’s Scotch Broth in the known universe.

The Salty, Golden Perfection of Campbell’s Scotch Broth

Other than Mom’s homemade chicken soup, Scotch Broth is the best comfort soup for cold, wet days.  It features a golden broth studded with heaps of barley, little cubes of carrots and potatoes and tiny little shreds of lamb.  My daughter loves it too, especially the barley.

label of Campbell's Scotch Broth


I like Scotch Broth enough that I actually came back from Scotland with a can of it in my suitcase.   I wanted to see if it was different.  It was, surprisingly so.  The Scottish Scotch Broth was bland in comparison to the Canadian variety.  That taste test comparison was when I realized just how salty Campbell’s Soup really is.  It finally dawned on me that the salt might be part of the reason why I liked Campbell’s Soup so much.

I actually started making homemade soup after that, mostly vegetarian, in a concerted effort to try and cut down the amount of salt, fat and meat I was consuming. A multi-vegetable soup became my basic weekday lunch at work, and I have dozens of wonderful veg soup recipes.  Even so, I always kept a soft place in my heart for a can of Scotch Broth on a cold day.  It’s just so . . . perfect.  It ranks up there with grilled cheese sandwiches made with white bread and a slice of processed cheese.

Scotch Broth Discontinued

It’s been getting harder and harder to find Scotch Broth over the years.  The grocery shelf space devoted to Campbell’s canned soup has been dwindling steadily.  The Loblaws at the Leaside Bridge was the last place where I could reliably get Scotch Broth.  When I saw it I would clean out all 8 or 10 cans they had on the shelf, in fear that I would never see it again. Then, a few months later it would reappear.  Finally, it disappeared altogether.  I called Campbell’s and was advised that the flavour has been discontinued.

I checked Campbell’s in the US to see if I could just pick it up on a trip to Buffalo.  Nope.  According to the Internet, Scotch Broth disappeared first in the US somewhere around 2010.  Seems our American friends had been importing it from Canada since then.  They were distraught that their source of illicit Campbell’s soup from north of the border had now disappeared.  There are a couple of Reddit boards on this topic.  The prevailing Internet  theory (completely unconfirmed) is that lamb had become too expensive as an ingredient, so Campbell’s dropped the flavour as a cost cutting measure.  Customer service folks from Campbell’s weighed in a couple of times with a message that they were always glad to hear about customer favourites, but sometimes the shelves had to make way for new products.

Scotch Broth and The Lunchbox Lottery

It was time to figure out how to make Scotch Broth myself.  In my continuing quest to find stuff that my daughter will eat for lunch, I asked her if she would consider homemade Scotch Broth as a thermos lunchbox item.  She agreed and established three markers I had to hit if homemade Scotch Broth was going to make the list:

  1. “No stew. Your homemade soups never have enough soup.  It needs to have a lot of soup.  I hate stew.”
  2. “Lots and lots of barley. I love barley.  Lots of barley.”
  3. “It needs carrots and potatoes. And little bits of meat. But no slipping any funny stuff in there like turnips.  And don’t add green stuff.  You always stick green stuff in soups.  Green stuff doesn’t belong in Scotch Broth.”

Well, the orders were clear.  Now that she can articulate what she likes and doesn’t like it actually makes things a lot easier.  I would also point out that if she is old enough to be that specific, she is also probably old enough to learn how to cook it herself.  Next time.  And she did smoke me out on the turnips.  I had been planning to cut some turnips up into little cubes and toss them in, masquerading as potatoes.  It seems that I am as predictable as she is.

Homemade Scotch Broth

This is such a homey, traditional recipe that I turned to the Joy of Cooking.  It gave me a good starting point, but I was going to have to change it.  Their recipe calls for cooking the barley right in the soup water, but I knew that was going to fail Lily’s Rule #1.   Barley is a dried grain, and it is extremely absorbent.  It will absorb a lot of water and keep on expanding even after it’s packed into a container in the fridge.  That’s how you get a soup that turns into a stew.  I was going to have to cook the barley separately and then add it when it was already cooked.  This would leave enough broth even after the barley kept absorbing.  In the end, not only did I pre-cook the barley separately, but I added 2 extra cups of water to the proportions in the Joy of Cooking.  That worked out fine.

Lamb soup bones are not an every day item at the grocery store, so I went to Fresh From the Farm.  It’s a small, independent grocery on Donlands near O’Connor that sells hormone-free, drug-free meat from local Amish and Mennonite farms.  Sure enough, they had bags of lamb soup bones in the freezer for $5.  The bones made a lovely soup broth and afterwards there was just the right amount of meat to pick off the bones to shred for the soup itself.

I didn’t use turnips, but I did toss some green stuff into the broth as it simmered in a net bag, and fished it out.  I am hoping that some of the nutrients leached into the broth.  I have been imprecise about this in the recipe below, because it’s really a question of tossing in whatever scraps you have in your vegetable bin.  This is the place to use trimmed carrot leaves, celery leaves and the leftovers from that bunch of parsley after you made the tabbouli and now you don’t know what to do with it.  If you don’t have any, it will be fine.

Scotch Broth Wins the Lunchbox Lottery!

Homemade Scotch Broth was a big success.  Homey, satisfying, lots of barley without sacrificing lots of broth.  The colour isn’t as golden as Campbell’s, but I’m willing to bet they got a boost from food colouring.  The Joy of Cooking’s recipe called for a dash of curry, which I nixed due to the kid factor. However, the turmeric from the mixed curry powder might be just the thing to add a hint of gold to the broth.  Next time.

Saturday lunch:  Lily went back for two bowls, and slurped it up with her head down near soup bowl height.  Terrible table manners but . . . we have a hit!  She agreed that it passed the Lunchbox Test.  The day I packed it for lunch, the thermos came back empty.

I still have three cans of Campbell’s Scotch Broth left in the basement.  I think I will open one per year on my next three birthdays as a special birthday treat.  Once they are gone, I console myself that I will still be able to get my Scotch Broth fix.



Scotch Broth

A hearty lamb broth studded with barley, potato, carrots and little shreds of meat.  This is perfect comfort food for a blustery autumn lunch, and makes a great lunch packed into a Thermos.

  • 1/2 cup pot barley
  • 2 pounds lamb soup bones, with bits of meat on them
  • 1 carrot (shredded)
  • 1 large potato (in small cubes)
  • 1 onion (rinsed and quartered, with peel attached for colour)
  • scraps of greens such as carrot leaves, celery leaves, kale stalks, bits of parsley that you don't need (optional; perhaps 2 or 3 cups)
  • 11/2 tbsp salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  1. 1. Rinse and then pre-soak barley in 2 cups of water, the longer the better.  If you can do it overnight in the fridge, awesome.  If you only have an hour, we’ll make it work.  Just keep in mind that the longer you can pre-soak, the more liquid the barley will already have absorbed before it hits your soup stock.

  2. Cover lamb bones in 12 cups of water.  If you have a cheesecloth bag, tie the bones in one cheesecloth bag so they can be removed more easily.  Put the onion and green vegetable scraps (if you are using them) in another cheesecloth bag so they can be removed.  Bring to a boil.  Skim the scum off the top of the water as it rises.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

  3. While soup is simmering, drain the barley.  Place in a Corning or other microwave safe covered cooking dish with 4 cups of water.  Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes.  Note that all microwave are different; mine is 1200 watts and can double as a rocket launcher.  You may need to adjust the time for a less powerful microwave.

  4. After the soup has simmered for 1 1/2 hours, remove the cloth bag of vegetable scraps (if you used it).  Add the carrots, potato cubes and barley together with the barley cooking water.  Simmer for another half hour.

  5. Season with salt to taste and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  I started with 2 teaspoons of salt, but based on family feedback we finished at about 5 teaspoons of salt (1 1/2 tablespoons) before people were satisfied. This will be a question of personal preference.

  6. Remove the bones.  Strip the little bits of meat, shred, and return the meat to the soup.

The most common types of barley available on the grocery shelf are pot barley and pearl (or “pearled” barley).  Both are considered whole grains, although both have been “polished” through a pearling machine that removes part of the husk.  Pot barley has been marginally less processed than pearl barley, so I tend to use it, but they can be used interchangeably.

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