A Serving Of Scottish Rumbledethumps

Scottish Rumbledethumps

What do you do with your leftovers? Are they lost forever in your freezer? Is there a lovely frozen meal in your work refrigerator right now, just waiting to be eaten for lunch? In Scotland, leftovers don’t have to include zip-top bags, or sodium-saturated (but flavor-deficient!) frozen meals. In comes Rumbledethumps—what a name, for such a dish! Did you know that the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, named Rumbledethumps as his favorite dish? Rumbledethumps is a traditional cabbage and potato dish originally from the Scottish borders, most often made from left over potatoes, cabbage or swede (otherwise known as a turnip). It is even often made using leftovers from a Sunday roast meal.

The name “Rumbledethumps” actually comes from that rumbling noise in the kitchen and in the pot as the dish is being prepared. Think about it—the knocking and thumping of preparing potatoes and cabbage can’t be a silent process! Different countries have their own version of this comfort food, the most popular being England’s Bubble and Squeak, and Ireland’s Colcannon. It is often said that the best thing about Scottish Rumbledethumps is that, even as it can be made from leftovers, it ends up lending itself to many more leftovers as well! It is even a dish that can be made the day before, only to be heated up for lunchtime the next day!

There are a few different ways to prepare Rumbledethumps, and involve variant processes, since the making of the dish necessarily depends on what is left over. However, the traditional baking of this dish involves mixing chopped, boiled cabbage, and mashed potatoes (or “tatties”!) into a buttered frying pan. Cook this mixture gently for a few minutes so that the cabbage and potatoes are softened, but not brown. Sometimes the cabbage can also be fried without the mashed potatoes, only to be combined with the potatoes in the final baking process.

At this point, the mixture is most often covered with a sharp, white, cheddar cheese and placed into a covered, oven-proof dish, to be baked for about thirty minutes in a 350 °F/180°C oven. Sometimes it is simply served as is, without baking.

The different processes can have different end results, as you can imagine. Sometimes it’s more of a stew, and sometimes it’s a pie in itself, similar to Shepherd’s Pie. Either way, you can serve it piping hot, or save it for tomorrow’s lunch at the office, or to feed your hungry family the following night. It can be eaten on its own, as it is quite hearty, but it is also often paired as a side dish with meat, or even with a fried egg on top. Many Scots even pair it with another traditional dish, Haggis! The beauty of Rumbledethumps lies inherently in how simple it is—there are an almost infinite number of variations to the dish, depending on your tastebuds! You can add crispy bacon, leeks, spring onions, or even spices like nutmeg grated on top.  The choice is yours! If you’re in need of a recipe, here is one sure to put the “comfort” in “comfort food”:

Rumbledethumps Ingredients:

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced-about 8 cups

2 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped chives

1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz.)


1. Butter an 8 cup baking dish.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F.

3. Cook cabbage in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes.

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cabbage to a bowl.

5. Return water to a boil and add potatoes.

6. Cook until tender.

7. Drain and return potatoes to the pot.

8. Add butter and mash potatoes.

9. Mix in chives and then cabbage.

10. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

11. Spoon mixture into prepared dish.

12. Sprinkle with cheese.

13. Bake about 35 minutes until cheese bubbles.

Alternatively, a dish called Kailkenny is a form of Rumbledethumps from Aberdeen, that replaces the butter in the recipe with cream. Other potato dishes that are quite similar to the simplicity of Rumbledethumps include Clapshot and Stovies from Scotland, Pyttipanna from Norway (or Pyttipannu in Finland), Trinxat from the Catalonian region of Spain, Roupa Velha from Portugal, or Stoemp from Belgium. As you can tell, pairing potatoes with greens is quite common no matter what country you’re from!

So, the next time you’re in a leftover rut, or can’t think of what to do with all of those mashed potatoes you have left over, make sure to think of Scotland and its simply-designed, family-friendly, variation-happy, Rumbledethumps!