It might be obvious to most Scots that crannachan is a Scots Gaelic word, but what does it actually mean and why do we call the dessert crannachan? Gaelic crannachan can be translated in two different ways: either as a ‘kind of churn’ or ‘beaten milk, a Hallowe’en treat into which a ring is put’. There’s a surprising lack of references to the context in which the Gaelic harvest-treat with the ring in it would be eaten, and even after having spoken to several fluent Gaelic speakers (thanks to Alasdair Whyte and Aonghas MacCoinnich for their thoughts on the subject) I wasn’t sure of its exact nature. However, in DASG (the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic https://dasg.ac.uk/en), although most entries refer to crannachan as a churn, one passage from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica asserts that ‘crannachan Samhna = Hallowmas crowdie, ordinarily fuarag’. If we look at Gaelic fuarag, we’re on slightly firmer ground and according to South Uist folklore: ‘At Hallowe'en oatmeal is mixed in a basin of thick or beaten cream and the thimble, sixpence, button and ring put in. The guests sit around the basin, each with a spoon, and eat it until a reward is found in a mouthful.’ This does indeed seem to closely parallel the dessert described above, and it seems that Gaelic fuarag and crannachan refer to similar dishes. The question is, how and when did it turn into the dessert we know today, and is it derived from the churn or the harvest dessert? It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it started being thought of as a typically Scottish dessert, but it seems likely that one of the first references of it as such is to be found in Marian McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen where she writes that: ‘This is a very old dish, commonly served in farmhouses on festive occasions. In the Scottish National Museum of Antiquities, there is to be seen, in the section of domestic articles, one of the old fro’ing sticks, having a wooden cross surrounded with a ring of cow’s hair at one end, formerly used for beating cream and whey.’ So, we return to the churn once again and it seems plausible that the name primarily stems from its meaning as a churn used to beat milk or cream, with an awareness that it’s also the name of a dessert in Gaelic, but that the initial usage of the name in Scots is not a direct reference to the Gaelic harvest-dessert described above.
Interestingly, although the addition of raspberries is mentioned as an option, there is nothing about this which defines the dish itself, and I don’t see any reason to view raspberries as inherently superior to other fruits and berries. Besides, in her later recipe collections, McNeill does actually write: ‘Throw in a few handfuls of fresh ripe berries – blueberries, raspberries, or brambles, or others’. In fact, if we view crannachan as being in any way related to harvest activities and Hallows’ Eve, it seems to me that brambles are a far more suitable option since they’re found later in the season than raspberries, and lasts well into the autumn. Whatever the exact nature of its adoption into Scots to be viewed as a traditional Scottish dessert, it seems like similar dishes, essentially consisting of some type of creamy oats, have been around in both Gaelic and Scots speaking areas long before it was ‘standardised’ into what we know as crannachan today. However, I think it’s worth keeping in mind that it wouldn’t be culinary blasphemy to add other fruits than raspberries to a crannachan!
When reading about crannachan I came across the addition of crowdie (a type of Scottish fresh cheese) in some recipes. Funnily enough it seems the addition of the soft cheese crowdie is actually a confusion resulting from the fact that the word crowdie also has a different meaning, referring to ‘A mixture of oatmeal and cold water, etc. eaten raw. Sometimes also used of porridge or brose and hence of food in general’, which makes cream-crowdie a logical name for crannachan!
 Dwelly, E. 1901-11. The Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary. < http://www.dwelly.info/>
 ‘crannachan’, text 59006, Corpas na Gàidhlig, <https://dasg.ac.uk/index.php>
 ‘fuarag’, text 49, Corpas na Gàidhlig, <https://dasg.ac.uk/index.php>
 MacNeill, M., The Scots Kitchen (1974 ), 266-7.
 McNeill, M., Recipes From Scotland (1994 ), 79.
 CROWDIE, Crowdy, Croudie, Croodie, n. A kind of soft cheese. Scottish National Dictionary (1700-)
 CROWDIE, CROWDY, Croudy, n. Scottish National Dictionary (1700-)