SCOTLAND unquestionably has a flavor of its own.
A visitor to this country could do a lot worse than spend a fair proportion of his time getting a ''taste'' of the place - literally. As with many other things, Scotland over the centuries has proved itself resourceful, inventive, and various with its cuisine. This is hardly suggested by the typical image of a land flowing largely with haggis-and-neeps and porridge and shortbread and Dundee marmalade.
Not that a single one of these profoundly Scottish concoctions, properly made and served, is in any way to be scoffed at. A moist, rich haggis is a delicious savory experience, and mashed buttered turnips (''neeps'') the perfect foil for it. Porridge, without doubt, must be eaten the Scottish way, that is, with a bowl of cold milk or cream. Into this, each spoonful of piping hot porridge (which must be made correctly, with oatmeal, not rolled oats) is dipped. Marmalade does not have to come from Dundee, but it ought to be strong, rather bitter, with plenty of thick rind in it. None of your sweet, slippery jellies. And shortbread -- ah, shortbread. . .
The tourist in search of Scottish dishes is in for some fun with their names: often unusual to the palette, they are frequently even stranger to the ear. One word of warning: restaurant menus which boast such things as ''steak Balmoral,'' ''Breast of chicken Robbie Burns,'' or Entrecote Bonnie Prince Charlie'' may well be offering excellent food, but there is little about it that is authentically Scottish, not even the fanciful titles.
Real Scottish dishes have names you would scarcely believe: things like mixtie-maxtie, inky-pinky, glessie, gundy, whim-whams, crowdie-howtowdie, cullen skink, cock-a-leekie, and clootie dumpling.
And we mustn't forget rumbledethumps and clapshot.
Intriguingly, quite a number of the names that sound most Scottish are derived from the French. This is significant because one of the golden threads running through the history of Scottish cooking stems from French cuisine. ''Hotch-potch,'' for instance, which is a lamb- or beef-stock soup crammed with an astonishing selection of vegetables, gets its name from the French ''hochepot.'' In a country that excels in soups to the point of genius, the Scottish hotch-potch is just one splendid kind. Also thought to be French in origin is ''howtowdie,'' which is a pullet cooked in a casserole -- the French word for pullet being ''hutaudeau.''
Even ''stovies'' -- about which my own Scottish brother-in-law has enthused since a child -- owe their nickname to ''etuver,'' the French word meaning to steam, stew, or braise.
The way to make ''stovies,'' like many Scottish recipes, seems on paper so utterly simple that it is difficult for the foreigner to guess what makes them so special - until, of course, they are tasted. Here is the method given in an old-time cookbook, ''The Scots Kitchen.'' (This classic, written by F. Marian McNeil, was first published in 1929 and is still in print.) Stovies (Stoved potatoes)
(Lady Clark of Tillypronie's recipe)
Choose potatoes of a good quality and put them into a pot with very little water (dash), just enough to cover the bottom and prevent burning. Sprinkle with salt, and add tiny bits of butter here and there. Cover closely, and simmer very gently till soft and melted.
A similarly breathtaking simplicity attaches itself to most of the uses to which Scots put oatmeal. They are many. The great Scottish historian Carlyle could think of no better way to praise his English contemporary, Macaulay, than by saying he was ''an honest, good sort of fellow, made out of oatmeal.'' And there is something ''honest and good'' about porridge and gruel, oatcakes and bannocks, crowdie-mowdie, oatmeal soup, skirlie, and haggis (every one of which contains oatmeal as a prominent ingredient). Oatmeal is an excellent thing to roll trout in before it is fried in butter. And it is the decisive factor in a Scottish dessert we made at home the other day which is delicious out of all proportion to the speed and ease of its making. Depending on which part of Scotland it is made in, this sweet (which is just mouthfuls of tradition, having been served for centuries in farmhouses on festive occasions) is variously called cranachan, stapag, pram, or cream-crowdie.
It is made of oatmeal lightly toasted under a grill, mixed into cream whipped until it is just frothy, sweetened and flavored with vanilla. It can be served with fruit, but it is supreme by itself. It is paradoxically insubstantial and satisfying, with a unique nutty feel and taste.
Today, there is a fresh attempt to revive in restaurants and hotels in Scotland something of the true Scottish cookery. From Arbroath smokies (pleasantly toothsome smoked haddock) to pheasant, from herring to prime Scottish beef steak, from cultivated Clyde Valley strawberries and raspberries to such wild fruit as cranberries, cherries, and blaeberries, the land still produces what one Scottish chef calls ''the finest raw materials in the world.''
This is chef Dick Quinn. Highland born, and clearly with the art and craft of Scottish cuisine in his blood, Chef Quinn is at present working at the Lorne Hotel in Glasgow. Those in search of meals suggestive of the laird or the crofter need go no further. (The visitor to Scotland may still find it fairly problematic tracing down genuine Scottish food. The country's tourist board is trying to help with an annual brochure, called ''A Taste of Scotland.''
The quality of the establishments that pay to advertise in it is extremely variable, however, and some offer hardly a single genuine national dish. So the visitor should take this exercise in public relations, sadly, not too seriously.
The Lorne Hotel's Scottish ''eatery,'' which is called the ''Ceilidh Place,'' is not listed in ''The Taste of Scotland'' booklet. It is so new (opening only last fall) that the hotel's management has decided not to advertise much yet. But samplings we have made of its modest but changing menu hint at considerable promise.
Dan McCrudden, general manager at the Lorne, told me that considerable thought had gone into the menus. ''The aim is that they should be ''couthie'': down to earth, earthy.'' He and Chef Quinn (who comes out of the kitchen sometimes to chat with customers) have found that some Scots, even, have no idea what some of the dishes are.
It is like a reintroduction of Scottish food. They give away a lot of the menus. There is the occasional concession to cosmopolitan prejudice -- ''tam's pie,'' for instance, is actually quiche Lorraine -- but the Ceilidh Place makes a bolder stab at traditional Scots cooking than anywhere else we know. ''Braised pheasant an' breid sauce'' (bread sauce, incidentally, is a Scottish invention) rubs shoulders with ''baker salmon frae the miller's wheel,'' and ''Scotch collops in the pan'' with ''broon trout wae scaulded almonds.''
My wife and I felt the appetizers were best of all. Her own way (as a Scot) with soups seems to have the inevitable success of born instinct, so her thorough approval of the Ceilidh Place's ''winter hare soup'' is not to be sniffed at.
Hare soup, by tradition, is understood only in Scotland. My own favorite starter was a remarkable dish of hard-boiled (''biled'') eggs in a sauce. It may not sound spectacular, but it floats happily in the memory.
It was here, also, that I had my first taste of ''clootie dumpling,'' and (as with my first bit of the much-maligned haggis) I was surprised. In essence this is a steamed fruit pudding (still favored as a birthday treat by some sturdy young Scots I know). It is rich, moist, fruity, and not nearly as heavy as you might expect.
Only Scottish ingredients are used at the Ceilidh Place. At the beginning of a meal in this restaurant there is Orkney butter with the bread rolls, and to close, the best shortbread imaginable. It is made at home by Dan McCrudden's mother-in-law. It is no exaggeration when the menu describes it as ''butter shortie tae melt in the mooth.'' A nice touch. Beats a neatly wrapped after-dinner mint any day o' the week.