It was immediately evident that lobscouse had a maritime connection. The name lobscouse commonly refers to a stew eaten by sailors throughout northern Europe in the 18th century, a recipe that survives in different forms across northern Europe today. According to Webster's Dictionary the first known use of the term ’lobscouse’ dates to 1706 but, as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) notes, its origin is frustratingly unknown. The OED goes on to compare ‘lobscouse’ to ‘loblolly’ where the latter term is a combination of ‘lob’ referring to the thick, heavy bubbling of cooking porridge, and ‘lolly’ an old British dialect word for ‘broth, soup, or any other food boiled in a pot’. To confuse matters, ‘lobscouse’ may be encountered in contemporary sources written as ‘lopscourse’, ‘lobscourse’, ‘lobskous’, ‘lobscouce’, ‘lap's course’ and in its shortened form of ‘scouse’, more of which later.
‘…peeled, or rather scraped, raw; chopped, and boiled together with a small quantity of meat cut into very small pieces. The whole of this mixture is then formed into a hash, with pepper, salt, onions, etc., and forms a cheap and nutritive dish’ (Pike, 2014, 160).
However, an earlier reference from 1785 reads:
‘LOBS-COUSE, a dish much eaten at sea, composed of salt beef, [ship's] biscuit, and onions, well peppered and stewed together’ (Crowley, 2017, 35).
Clearly being a seaport would explain how scouse, ‘much eaten at sea’, became a favourite in Liverpool and why the inhabitants of the city are often referred to as ‘scousers’.
Ingredientsship’s bread (otherwise known as hard-tack or ship’s biscuit). Beef is traditionally preferred over lamb but where the latter is used, then the result is more akin to an Irish Stew or Lancashire Hotpot, both of which favour lamb or mutton. The proportion of meat to vegetables can vary from equal amounts to a one part meat to five parts potato. Purists may argue that any deviation from beef, potatoes, carrots, onion is not scouse, but remember the recipes are intended to produce cheap, nutritious meals that are eminently practical, easy to make in a small kitchen or indeed a ship’s galley, and adaptable to the season or prevailing circumstances. In the poorest areas of Liverpool, when funds ran too low for the purchase of even the cheapest cuts of meat, then a ‘blind scouse’ using only vegetables would be made.
Variations on a theme
Travelling further North, the good folk of Lancashire make a very similar dish called ‘potato hash’. Also known colloquially as ‘tattie’ash’, ‘tayter’ash’ or ‘potato ‘ash’, this is a classic one pot dish combining minced beef, onions, carrots, potatoes and beef stock. Once again, it is a tasty, simple to make, thrifty and economical family meal.
Lobscouse fit for Pirates
Returning to its nautical roots, 'one pot cooking' would be an ideal way to feed a large crew on board a ship. Our recipe for lobscouse, which has proven extremely popular with visitors to English Heritage’s pirate-themed events, is a variation on a corned beef hash. The recipe below has been slightly updated from the one published in 'A Banquet Fit for Pirates'. However, in the latter post you will also discover a recipe for Ship's Bread which can be added to thicken the dish or more generally bulk out the ingredients. Bon appétit:
Crowley, Tony (2017). The Liverpool English Dictionary: A Record of the Language of Liverpool 1850–2015. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
nordicnibbler.blogspot.com, (2010), ‘Lapskaus: a Hearty Norwegian Stew’, Available online (accessed November 25th, 2023).
Olsens, T.H., (2016), ‘Lobscouse’, nordicdiner.net, Available online (accessed November 25th, 2023).
Pike, E. R., (2014), ‘Human Documents of Adam Smith's Time’, London: Routledge.
Sandvold, Irene O. (2011). Gudrun's Kitchen: Recipes from a Norwegian Family. et al. Wisconsin Historical Society Press. pp. 87–89.
Endnotes:right, (baptised March 19th, 1721 to September 17th, 1771) was a Scottish novelist, surgeon, critic and playwright. He was best known for picaresque novels such as ‘The Adventures of Roderick Random’ (1748), ‘The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle’ (1751) and ‘The Expedition of Humphry Clinker’ (1771), which influenced later novelists, including Charles Dickens.