Monthly Archives: January 2018

A Jarful of Sunshine

Woohoo! that’s the first Seville marmalade of the season made! For a few hours last night the whole house smelt of oranges, a happy scent that makes me feel like summer – even though the orange harvest takes place in winter. It makes me want to visit Seville, but I don’t know when would be best – blossom time or fruit time? How to choose? I once had a lovely new years’ holiday in Majorca and we took the little wooden railway over the mountain from Palma to Soller. Along the route were orchard-loads of orange trees, allImage result for soller train drooping like they were festooned with Chinese lanterns. You could have reached out and plucked them. The scene was so soporific that perversely, I was inspired to think up a plot for a murder novel, with a body being heaved off the rattling guards-van in the middle of a tunnel. I scribbled away at it for a while but plotting has never been my strength, and the energy fizzled out like flat tonic in gin. I should have stuck with a short story. Maybe I’ll revisit it now that I’ve reinspired myself with my marmalade.

DSCN0170.JPGApparently of course, Soller oranges are not the same as Sevilles, and their marmalade is a sweeter cousin. Sevilles are bitter, and so is my marmalade, in a thoroughly enticing and nuanced way. I used Shirley Spear’s method, from her ‘Marmalade Bible‘ – one of a series of pocket-sized books on various aspects of Scottish cooking, published by Birlinn and illustrated handsomely by cartoonist Bob Dewar.

I deviated a little from the recipe – she suggests adding a couple of lemons to your kilo of Sevilles, but I didn’t have any, so pressed on regardless.DSCN0165.JPG I halved the amount of sugar – DSCN0167.JPGpartly because I didn’t have enough white sugar and thought brown might discolour or cloud the finished result; and partly because, well as we all know, sugar – teeth – obesity. I can’t do it. Even so, it was a kilo of sugar to the kilo of fruit so it’s hardly a low-sugar option. To counteract this I didn’t top up the juice after boiling, so that the volume was lower. However I still used all the peel, thinly sliced by hand. So the result is three large jars of marmalade, bitter as it should be, packed with softly chewy slivers of peel. We love it.

A word about the book’s author. Shirley Spear is my idea of a really helpful food writer – traditional and to the point but clear in her instructions. Unlike some Scottish food writers, she doesn’t rhapsodise endlessly about pheasant and scallops when most Scots never see these things – although she does give the luxury end of things a good airing from time to time, and is well placed to do so. She reminds us of simple pleasures and traditions which are at risk of dying out. Recently for example she wrote about liver, and posed the question, ‘when did we all get so squeamish about offal?’  I was saddened the other week to read her swansong in the Sunday Herald; although I applaud her life choice. Her career has no doubt been exciting and rewardinDSCN0171g, but you can have enough of a good thing and grandweans are to be treasured. Shirley Spear, I salute you and wish you well; but I’m missing you already!

Bob Dewar‘s cartoons are clear and informative and a little quirky. They complement the recipes beautifully and turn these wee Birlinn books into a total pleasure. Most of us have more recipes than we will ever need; it’s good that some of the space is given up to really clever, neat and apposite illustrations. More lavish cookbooks have endless gorgeous photos of course, and I do like them too, up to a point. But these wee books  are somehow a bit special. I also have the ones on Berries (Sue Lawrence) and Arbroath Smokies (Iain Spink), and I’m sure I’ll accumulate more as I come across them. They’re practical and also pretty; what more do you want for a fiver?

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Best-laid plans gang aft agley

We had a very stressed time just before Christmas, what with moving house, ceiling falling down, exams due and stuff like that. It’s just about bearable now to look back on it – what a difference a month makes. I have to confess that at the best of times, I’m not really a systems woman. I like to describe myself, rather, as spontaneous and creative. But a month ago, spontaneity and creativity didn’t serve me very well and it’s all thanks to the Troubadour and one or two others, notably our local butcher, that we came through it all in one piece.

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Picture the scene: we’ve moved in but not unpacked, and we haven’t given up the keys for the old place yet. My guilt is curdling up my insides because I have to go to Dundee and prepare for an exam, leaving the Troub and other good friends dealing with stuff which I ought to do myself. Grotty stuff, like cleaning the kitchen and bathroom of the old place. My mother would turn in her grave, I suspect. Most annoying of all, I can’t find my mascara … I know, I know. Pathetic.

Anyway I accept the Troubadour’s suggestion and drive off down the street, stopping at the chemist to buy a new mascara before inflicting my pink eyes on the rest of the unsuspecting world. They don’t sell mascara! I stagger out into the street and bump into another friend and in response to her simple ‘how are you?’ careen off onto my tale of woe. And as I do so, realise I’ve forgotten to put my contact lenses in, and am not wearing my specs. Blind to my own blindness! So I stagger back home, collect my specs (marginally more essential than mascara), explain to the Troub, and head off back down the street to pick up the car. By now my mind has leapt ahead to the forthcoming exam. I have to do a presentation on the processes involved in meat pie production. I’ve done the powerpoint with the all-important diagram, showing the HACCP critical control points, but I’m not entirely confident I’ve got it right.

meat pie process diagram

Next door to the chemist is the local butcher’s shop. It’s an excellent shop but I’ve used it only rarely because of the Troub’s eschewal of all things meat. I peek in the door; it’s quiet. I wonder if he could help me figure out my CCPs but I’m a bit shy. Anyway the day has been so chaotic so far that it could only get better. I enter swiftly and accost the poor man with a hysterical account of what I’m trying to do. He looks at me with great kindness, stretches out a hand, and pulls a folder from a cupboard. He opens it up to the right page and calmly pulls out three pages, showing his CCP diagram for meat pies. It’s beautifully clear and logical, and what’s more, it’s pretty much what I was expecting to see – in other words, theory appears to be matching up with practice. I could cry.

I’m back in the car and speeding off to Dundee, thanking the gods that be for logicality and systems, those calm delights which have eluded me all my life. And I get to thinking what the process map for my brain would be like if I tried to put it down in a diagram. Here is the edited version:

mindmap

 

Let us all give thanks for butchers. And buy their hallowed products. And wonder at the near-miraculous B+ I got for my presentation. Yes, there is a God!

 

Ne’er shed a clootie …

No point in making a clootie dumpling unless you have friends coming round. So today was the day, and I’d left the recipe book open at the right page so that I could rise sharpish this morning and get straight onto the job. It was a most enjoyable experience and well induged by all, with doggie bag provided, so here are the highlights… If you want to cut to the chase and just get the recipe as provided in the book, it’s at the end of this post. Otherwise, join me on the journey.

First on the left we have a close-up of the dry ingredients in the bowl – flour, suet (I chose veggie), breadcrumDSCN0108bs, fruit – then panning back to the table. I’m not just being self-absorbed here – it’s just that I don’t think many people make clootie dumplings nowadays, and the method is quite easy but if you’ve never seen it done, you might not want to try. I think you should!

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So you’ll see on the left-hand side of the panned-back photo a white cloth. What you have to do is scald a tea-towel in boiling water, drain it, spread it out and sprinkle it all over with flour. This is what forms the skin around the dumpling. Then you get on with the mixture, which is easy.  [I should add that in the past, any mother or granny making a clootie dumpling would have wrapped up silver sixpences and added them at this stage. Nowadays these little charms are known as Choking Hazards. This wouldn’t have put me off if I’d remembered on time, and little 5p pieces would have been authentic. If a little dangerous.]

Next photo is the mixture, dumped onto the cloth prior to tying up … remind you of anything at this stage? Not trying to be gross here, but my recent brush with norovirus suggests itself persuasively. Don’t let me put you off! Just proceed tDSCN0110.JPGo tie up the corners of your cloth, and lower it into a large pan of boiling water with an upside down plate on the bottom (acting as a trivet, to keep your pudding from sticking to the pot). Here’s what it looked like at this stage (below):

[If you have an occasional kitchen helper who wanders in and gets proprietorial about the tea-towel you are using for the job, claiming certain attachments and prior rights, I suggest you remind hiDSCN0114.JPGm how honoured this flippin piece of kit is to be chosen to hold your special pudding.]

Now the recipe I was using is from Maw Broon’s cookbook – I’ll give the details below – and Delia Smith it ain’t. That is to say, the instructions are somewhat sparse. ‘Cook for 3-4 hours’ is in fact what we are told. You’d think that would be quite a wide margin of error, wouldn’t you? This gives pause for thought as there’s no way of checking to see whether or not it’s done. I suppose you could stick in a skewer and see if it comes out clean, but you’d be puncturing the skin and who knows how nasty that might turn out to be. So I just erred on the side of caution and gave mine about 3 hours and 45 mins.

Getting it out of the pot when you think it’s cooked serves double duty as a party game and I’m glaDSCN0138d to say Jan was more than willing to get in there. It requires a bit of hoisting, catching in plate, and unwrapping; and then I decided it would look better if we turned it upside down to hide the knot-shaped indentations in the skin. Here it is, with demerara being shaken over prior to 30 mins or so in oven to dry out(again, my choice of time as opposed to Maw Broon’s recommendation). If I’d consulted the recipe at this point (note to self) I’d have appreciated the instruction to dip the pudding in cold water before unwrapping …

You may think all this sounds like a bit of a faff, but you have to remember that you have 3-4 hours in between with nothing to do but get your gladrags on, pour yourself a nice drink, and join the party. I recommend it. You get a huge big dumpling, which I may say is very tasty, entertainment for the troops, and massive kudos for reviving a tradition which is in danger of dying out. And should you fancy it, you can have a slice fried up with tomorrow’s ham and eggs for a substantial breakfast. Here’s the final shot, and underneath, the recipe. Fair fa’ yer honest sonsie face!

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[As per the book, all quantities are given in imperial measure]

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, and scald a large cloth. Drain it of excess water and lay it out on your work surface; sprinkle generously with flour. Then:

4 oz suet, 8 oz SR flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 4 oz breadcrumbs, 3 oz brown sugar, and a tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and nutmeg – mix all of these together in a large bowl. Add a grated apple and 8 oz of mixed currants and sultanas.

In a small bowl, whisk together a tbsp of golden syrup with 2 eggs; and mix thoroughly into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. If you feel it’s a bit too stiff you can add some milk. Dump it all onto your floured cloth, tie up the corners as well as  you can, and lower into the pan of simmering water. Make sure it doesn’t dry out, keeping the water level topped up if necessary to 3/4 of the way up the dumpling. Simmer for 3-4 hours.

Dip in cold water, unwrap, put it on a large ovenproof plate and dry out in a warm oven (I set it to 180C). Sprinkle the top with sugar and serve with cream or custard.

Source: Maw Broon’s Cookbook for every day and special days pp 106-107. This is an absolutely beautifully produced book which is a joy to flick through if you grew up with the Broons. Although I can’t find the credits buried in the content, I know it’s published by DC Thomson of Dundee – who else? The recipe is on p107; on p106 there’s a full-page story about Maw’s dumpling being switched by the bairn for grand-paw’s bundle of washing … eeek! health and safety! health and safety! oh for those unregulated days!