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"A tale without love is like beef without mustard: insipid."
~ Anatole France (1844-1924)
Fields of wild yellow mustard flower are striking sights in the spring especially in North America and are a favorite for foragers. Although all parts of the plant are edible, it is the seeds of certain varieties that are prized and cultivated for the spice or condiment. Do you have a favourite mustard? Arran? Mendocino? Tewkesbury? Grey Poupon? Atomic? In the past, mustard was necessarily prepared at home. The seeds were pounded in a mortar and moistened with vinegar or honey and other spices. Some monasteries and royal households even had an official "mustardius," a person whose sole responsibility was to gather the seeds and prepare the condiment! And if you happen to know of someone with the surname Mustard, you may be intrigued to learn this surname is now believed to be associated with Clan Gregor! Mustard appears to be one of the aliases adopted by members of Clan Gregor when the clan name and variations were outlawed by royal decree in the 17th century. The Clan Gregor Society has commissioned a major DNA study to identify genetic MacGregors who currently use any one of a handful of likely non Gregor surnames – Mustard being one. Colonel Mustard, in the Library, with a Claymore! 💛
The brightly coloured mustard plants are any of several plant species of Brassica and Sinapis. The whole, ground, cracked, or bruised mustard seeds are mixed with water, salt, lemon juice, or other liquids, and sometimes other flavorings and spices, to create a paste or sauce ranging in color from bright yellow to dark brown.
A favourite condiment, mustard dates back to the Romans who would combine the seeds with unfermented grape juice to create what they called “burning juice”, or the Latin mustum ardens.
The popularity of mustard grew in Rome and swept into their conquered territories. In the Burgundy region of France, most famous for its wines, the town of Dijon embraced mustard and began making its own variety, substituting the unfermented grape juice with vinegar. To this day, Dijon, France is still known as the mustard capital of the world for its unique and sharp tasting Dijon mustard.
Yellow mustard didn’t come along until the turn of the 20th century. In 1884, two brothers by the name of Robert and George French bought a flour mill in Rochester, New York after their previous mill burned down. In 1904, George began experimenting with “creamy salad mustard”. He added turmeric to the traditional recipe for added presentation and color. Yellow mustard premiered at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 as a condiment for hot dogs and has become a classic pairing ever since.
This official tartan was designed to share the beauty of great expanses of the Wild Mustard flower, a feature of the prairie landscape in South Eastern Wisconsin and Northeastern Illinois.
For more on the many varieties and styles of the condiment, click the field of mustard.