A large number of post-medieval sites in Perth and Kinross were in some way connected with the processing, storage or sale of food. Traditionally, most of the food and drink consumed in Perth and Kinross was produced and processed relatively locally. The post-medieval period saw more imported ingredients in people’s diets and a shift to larger-scale food processing. However, even in the early 20th century a significant proportion of local residents’ food originated in the region.
During the post-medieval period, large amounts of grain were processed in Perth and Kinross. Grain was usually ground in local watermills, with 54 watermills listed in the Historic Environment Record, although few of these sites have been studied. The watermills recorded in Canmore and on early Ordnance Survey maps have been mapped in a digital project by Iara Calton and the National Library of Scotland. However, it is likely that many more medieval and early modern watermills in fact existed, and interdisciplinary research to identify their locations should be a priority to create a more accurate and reliable picture. At least two 17th-century windmills are also recorded in the region, at Dunkeld (MPK5446) and in the grounds of Dunbarney House (MPK3164). Again, there may well have been more of these structures than are at present recognised. Further work, including the analysis of written records and visual sources, to clarify the history of windmills in the region would be helpful. Although the topography and plentiful water of Perth and Kinross might suggest that watermills predominated over windmills in this region.
For much of the 17th and 18th centuries, most grain mills appear to have been relatively small. However, the 19th century saw the development of larger mill complexes. These were probably often on the site of earlier, smaller mills, as is the case with City Mills in Perth (MPK3452 and MPK12707). The 19th century also seems to have seen the transport of grain over longer distances and the storage of larger quantities. Several sizeable granaries were constructed in the region at this time, sometimes sited near to railways, as at Blairgowrie (MPK8159) and Methven Station (MPK10503). More research into the storage and transport of grain in the region, both in the 19th century and earlier could prove illuminating.
Bread was almost certainly a staple food for many post-medieval communities in Perth and Kinross, although we should also note the likely popularity of bannocks, which were often cooked on griddles over open fires in the home. Few private or commercial bakeries and bakehouses have been identified or archaeologically investigated, with only three probable post-medieval bakeries listed in the Historic Environment Record for the region. This is despite the fact that there is extensive written evidence for their existence. Research into the probable locations of bakeries and the possible physical evidence they might leave behind should be a priority.
Grain, and in particular barley, was of course also utilised in the production of beer and whisky. The early modern period saw brewing shift from being a relatively domestic activity often undertaken by women, to being a largely (but not exclusively) male-dominated industrial process (Ewan 1999). However, the associated activity of malting was usually a masculine occupation throughout the medieval to modern periods. Further study of brewing and malting in Perth and Kinross during the 17th century would be desirable.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, brewing became an increasingly large-scale commercial activity. By the 19th century, significant commercial breweries existed in a number of places in Perth and Kinross, including Blairgowrie (MPK9841), Gleneagles (MPK7006) and Perth (MPK8653). Some recording of the premises of these slightly larger breweries has been undertaken. The significance of Blackford as a centre for brewing should also be noted. There is evidence for commercial brewing in Blackford as early as 1610, and in the 19th century the village had no fewer than three major breweries (Gibb and Sangster 2015).
Perth and Kinross has an extensive history of whisky distilling. Some research into the history of some notable distilleries such as Dewar’s (MPK6011) has been undertaken. However, study of the development of distilling in Perth and Kinross has been relatively restricted in comparison to the attention paid to this industry in some parts of the Highlands and Western Isles (Seargeant 2011). Yet Perth and Kinross has the potential to play a significant role in our understanding of the transition of whisky production from a small-scale mainly farm-based, and sometimes illicit, operation into an international industry. Among other sites, the region is home to Edradour Distillery (MPK1602), perhaps ‘the last of the small farm distilleries’ (Hay and Stell 1986). Research into smaller distillery sites in the region could be of considerable interest.
Animal products formed an important part of the diet of post-medieval residents of Perth and Kinross. Yet only one abattoir, namely Perth Slaughterhouse (MPK13399), is currently noted in the Historic Environment Record for the region. Three post-medieval butcher’s shops are also listed in the HER. This is clearly a major under-representation of the sites associated with the slaughtering of animals and the sale of meat. Written evidence shows that the fleshers, or butchers, were one of the historic trades in the burgh of Perth, whilst 19th-century directories record numerous butchers in Perthshire. Recent decades have seen the closure of several smaller slaughterhouses and it is likely that many of these sites will see significant alterations and development – perhaps providing opportunities for archaeological intervention.
The contribution cheese-making and other dairy products made to the diet and economy of Perth and Kinross should also be noted. Butter and cheese are frequently mentioned in written records for upland and lowland areas, and during the 17th and 18th centuries rents and fines were sometimes paid in cheese (Mills et al 2013; Atkinson 2016, 104). There is evidence for dairying taking place at shielings and some flat stones excavated during the Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project were tentatively interpreted as cheese-weights (Atkinson 2016, 238–9). More study of the sites and artefacts associated with the processing of dairy products throughout the post-medieval period would be beneficial.
Finally, much more research into the shops which sold food would be desirable. By the late 19th century, shops were where most residents of Perth and Kinross obtained the bulk of their foodstuffs. In recent decades, the archaeology of shopping has attracted increasing scholarly attention (Cook et al 1996). However, little detailed archaeological research has been undertaken regarding food shops in post-medieval Perth and Kinross, although an interdisciplinary project exploring written records and standing building has been carried out (Lennie 2008). Evidence from excavation could bring greater understanding of the new approaches to trade and consumption which emerged during the post-medieval period.