Tralaaaah! I shouldn’t have been so impatient (‘twas always thus). It’s less risen than the bread I usually make, using dried instant yeast, and the crust is thinner. The crumb is moister. The flavour is intriguing – a slightly sour tang to it, behind a savoury freshness. I imagine that as I practice, it might get better still; but even if it stays the same it’ll definitely be worth making regularly. So the starter has been replenished and next weekend I’ll be at it again. Very pleased with this result. Thank you again, Jim.
Last year at a little independent bookshop in Cupar, I picked up an intriguing paperback which was far too expensive for the quality of the paper it was printed on, but which nevertheless called out my name. Tamar Adler’s book, ‘An Everlasting Meal: cooking with economy and grace’ has a foreword by Alice Waters, who set up the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in California. I say ‘famous’ meaning, ‘even here across the oceans; even when there is no international chain of Chez Panisse restaurants; and even with completely different food traditions.’ And personally, even though I’ve never been to California and more than likely never will (but one can dream). Waters says Adler is not just teaching people how to cook, ‘but how to love to cook’.
Tamar Adler apparently drifted into Chez Panisse one day and stayed for many years. Her book title completely reflects what she offers – a beautiful, kind, committed lesson on how to make nice food every day and be kind to your pocket as well as the planet. Just what I want. So I’ve read and re-read her book, and learned loads. Most valuable of all is her rejection of the ‘tyranny’ of the idea that veg must always be cooked to order and served hot. Under her guidance, I now cook most of my veg when I buy it, at the weekend, and store it in the fridge. It’s then so quick and easy to put something nice and tasty and healthy on the table at tea-time, when I’m hungry but can’t be bothered peeling and chopping.
However she acknowledges that sometimes other people do things better than she can. Here’s what she has to say about bread making: ‘If you’re going to choose a food not to make at home, choosing bread represents a judicious division of labour. Bakers are devout and singular people, with firm beliefs in the secret lives of the yeast starters they tend. Their ovens are hot, and they can smell when bread is nearly done, then done. I am not devout and singular enough … ‘
Well I think that probably also applies to me; but every so often I take a notion to bake bread. And this year I’d been wondering about sourdough, as our research project at Uni involved fermentation of waste bakery products. So I bought another expensive book, this time by Sandor Katz, on the art of fermentation. And what does he tell me? ‘You can’t learn about fermentation by reading a book’… He reckons you need to get your hands dirty.
Meantime I had the joy of an invitation to meet with Eric Milne, the owner and director of the marvellous Fisher and Donaldson’s bakery in Cupar. Fisher and Donaldson’s is one of those oralgasm sort of bakeries, you know the sort. Five generations in the same family and causing mayhem in the female population ever since. The (secondary) purpose of my visit was to discuss bakery waste for my aforementioned research project, and it was great to see round the factory and marvel at the dinkiness of the wee round Highlander shortbreads, no bigger than a 10p piece; and the modest symmetry of the pie shells, all queueing up shyly for their share of the juicy fillings. As I was leaving, Eric gave me a bag of broken oatcakes and a sourdough baguette, to take to Uni for our discussions. I will tell you more about the research project in future posts – it will probably be taking over my life to a large extent, any time now. However I’m just explaining to you the way that sourdough has begun to ooze its way into my life, more or less unbidden.
So – yesterday morning I was gifted a tub of sourdough starter, neatly labelled ‘Jimbo: Oct 2014 to Feb 2018’. I think the giver of Jimbo probably meets Tamar Adler’s description of ‘singular and devout’. He is a craftsman in wood, and last week gave us a lovely housewarming gift – a beautiful door wedge, which is far too tactile to be allowed to lie on the floor holding a door open. He told me I had to leave Jimbo out all day, to start the breadmaking process at night. And this is what I’ve been doing. The picture shows it after its first slow rise, with a nice puddle of rapeseed oil and a dose of nuts and seeds ready to be stirred in. The Troubadour bought some strong flour for me at the Co-Op, and I think this may be a bit of a come-down for Jimbo who is used to the finest organic flours from the Pillars of Hercules. But I wasn’t going anywhere near Falkland and as usual was in too much of a hurry (Tamar Adler would say my bread is doomed).
So … the dough is now sitting in bread tins for its final rise but I have a little problem regarding the timing of the baking. In other words, I’m going out at just the time the bread should be going in the oven. So I’m going back downstairs now to have a poke at it and decide how to handle this crust crisis. I will report back faithfully and am ready to eat humble pie as there is a fair risk that poor old Jimbo’s first outing is going to end in disappointment!
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, all 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.
Apparently 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. I halved the amount of sugar – partly 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 rewarding, 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?
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), breadcrumbs, 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!
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 to 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 him 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 glad 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!
[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!
Brilliant outing yesterday to the newly -extended Carnegie Library and Galleries, Dunfermline. Award-winning architecture, opening up huge new vistas over the Abbey and Abbot’s House to the west, and the Forth bridges to the south. And a hugely engaging collection of artefacts representing many of the trades and townspeople of past and present. The actual library section is mercifully preserved pretty much as was. When Captain Wunderkind was a baby I used to push the pram up St Margaret’s Street and get lost in the aisles of books, shoogling the pram with one hand and balancing the books with the other, trying to devour a whole chapter before the WK woke up and wailed.
In those days there was no tea or coffee to be had in the library – the very idea! Now however there’s a spanking new café with an outside terrace and leafy views through the treetops. The café contract was awarded to a (relatively) local food business, ‘Heaven Scent’ of Milnathort – a nice change from the corporate Costas that seem to take over. Not that I have anything against Costa – except for the global creep which makes it so hard for the local food story to survive. We arrived at lunchtime and I had a creamy, soothing pitcher of lentil soup with a nice crunchy salad with roasted vegetables, and a pair of seeded mini-rolls. The menu was a notch above predictable, with lots of familiar lunch-type options, livened up with little quirks. Pity that, at 12.30 in the day, they’d already run out of cream of mushroom – but since they only opened last Thursday, I guess it takes a while to bed in. The queue never went down throughout our visit so clearly it’s going down well.
I’ve always been a big library fan, and fortunate always to have access to some good ones. Right now, I’m in the AK Bell library in Perth – on the spacious and silent upper floor, tapping away. Great study space, good book collection in my field (food and drink, mainly), friendly and helpful staff, and a nice, but slightly pricy, café.
My first library was in what had once been someone’s front room at the top end of the Main Street in Ochiltree – a few doors beyond the House with the Green Shutters. I finished the single shelf of children’s books in a matter of months, so my mother and the librarian conspired to find things from the adult shelves that they considered ‘suitable’. Of course they occasionally got it wrong! And thank goodness for that, as my sex education was badly in need of augmentation.
I won’t go on at length about all my libraries but have decided to do a scoresheet, with points out of 5 on the above features, for all you other booknerds out there:
|Name and location of library, and the dates I used it||Book collection
|Carnegie library, Ayr, 1974||3.5||3||3||0|
|Glasgow University Library, 1974-77||5 (but all so BORING!)||3||1||0|
|Langside Library, Glasgow, 1977-86||3.5||1||2||0|
|Public library, Stonetown, Zanzibar, 2010||3 – but eccentric!||3||2||0|
|Carnegie Library, Dunfermline – opened 1883, closed for renovations 2015||4||4||4||0|
|Duloch Community Library, Dunfermline||4||2||4||2|
|Laing Library, Newburgh, Fife||4 but specialist – local and family history||1||4||0|
|AK Bell Library, Perth||4||4||4||3|
|Carnegie Library and Galleries, Dunfermline – reopened 18th May 2017||4||4||4||4|
So the top scorer is …. drum roll … Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries! Go as soon as you can, it’s a brilliant visit and does the townspeople proud.
Yesterday was my first day without classes for a fortnight and I was definitely in holiday mood. The Troubadour and I started the day with a trip to Ingin Brae – translates as Onion Hill! but I don’t want to go all Parliamo Glasgow on you – to collect some wild garlic which is just coming alive. Great pungent aroma in the car on the way home. Then I attended a workshop organised by Local Food Works, at the beautiful Falkland Estate, and led by Stella Colleluori, a local chef, caterer and food event sytlist. The workshop, ‘Spring Larder’, was about using whatever’s fresh in the immediate area right now; and we proceeded to make cheese and spinach tarts and lamb souvlaki. Stella also made a batch of tzatziki to go with the kebabs.
Local Food Works is a Climate Challenge funded programme, and they run monthly workshops on the use of local products, as well as a food market and community meals. Their aim is to support the growth of local food producers and also to reduce our carbon footprint by making good food more locally available. Certainly we’re blessed with some great artisan food producers in Fife, and for our tarts we had locally milled flour, local butter, milk, cheese and cream, local spinach and garlic … and even local smoked sea salt. There’s a lot of inventiveness going on and as you can imagine it was a pleasure to work with these lovely ingredients.
For the souvlaki we had lamb from Minick’s, a local butcher, lean and tasty. We threaded up the skewers with red and yellow beetroot slices, and leaves of onion; all marinated in Scottish rapeseed oil and cider vinegar, with thyme, rosemary, and a little mint that had just poked its head through the soil that morning. The beetroot, Stella confessed, was an experiment in the interests of keeping the whole dish local. She hadn’t tried them on skewers before. I got the job of slicing them and although I kept them as thin as I could, I’d say they would have been better at least parboiled first. But hey, you have to try these things! The colours were beautiful so that’s half the battle. Stella was an inspiring and encouraging presenter and we were left with a great feeling for buying and cooking local – and not bothering too much about the calories!
On the topic of artisan food, I was delighted to hear via Twitter last night that Errington cheese is back on the market. I’ve been trying to check out the full story and it looks as if the legal challenge isn’t yet over; but all power to Humphrey Errington’s elbow for the fight he has had on his hands, and for sticking with it.
Finally, leaving you with a view of some of the spectators at Ingin Brae yesterday morning …
When I was at High School we put on a show one year – ‘Christmas Strawberries’. I can’t actually remember anything at all about it … which doesn’t say much for the excellence of the production – except that I couldn’t understand the title. Strawberries only grow in the summer (a challenge in Scotland, as according to Billy Connolly, we only have two seasons – June and Winter!)
There’s a great berry tradition here in Tayside – raspberries, most famously, but other berries too – and a rich tradition of whole families decamping to the Carse of Gowrie for a week in the summer, to work on the berry fields and earn a bit, have some fun, get some sun and meet up with old friends. Nowadays however, the bulk of the picking is done by Eastern European citizens on short-term contracts – hard, messy work which keeps so many of our industries going.
The current BREXIT discussions have made things very uncertain for these fellow citizens however. The politicians haven’t done anything to reassure them they can stay, now or in the future, even though many of them have been here for years. For farming, this is a huge worry, and many farmers are forecasting that they will be unable to recruit enough workers if this situation is not resolved. It has been said that our very berry tradition may be at risk.
So I was very happy to read in the Courier the other day of an Angus-based farmer who has developed a strain of strawberry with a growing season extended by three whole months. Abbey Fruits in Arbroath uses a biomass heating system with a wood-fired oven to warm the water and air in their polytunnels. This will give Scottish berries a better chance of competing with those from further afield. Apparently the first crop has already been harvested (and the weather outside tonight is very chilly, definitely not strawberry-season weather) and sold to Waitrose.
We don’t have a Waitrose anywhere near here but I wanted a photo of strawberries to illustrate this post, and went to Lidl at lunchtime. Their strawberries were from Spain – and I know Spain has had a weather-related poor harvest this year – £1.69 for 400g, pretty reasonable. They tasted better than I expected. Unfortunately my camera battery ran out at the crucial moment and I have now scoffed the strawberries! So no photo …
Crossing fingers that in our ongoing political turbulence, there’s room for someone to make a sensible gesture and confirm that our European workforce can stay among us.
from … guess what? Here it is in its early stages:
Not from girders, although it could be … here’s a clue … its main use is for one day of the year only, and that was yesterday. It used to be a standard, and much-loved, emblem of that day, but has lately been increasingly overshadowed by its American cousins. And it’s a pain in the you-know-what to create. That’s right – you’ve guessed it – here it is, complete:
So we had a bit of fun at work yesterday with our memories of turnip lanterns of yesteryear. There was a bit of badinage in the ether last week about the way pumpkins have taken over the lantern world so I thought it would be a good idea to do a turnip one; and the Troubadour kindly took up the challenge. Hence the power tools. One of the articles I read last week announced: ‘Survey reveals horror story of 1.1 million uneaten Hallowe’en pumpkins’, which is clearly a disaster in a hungry world. So I wondered about keeping the innards of the neep for a pot of soup. But … behold … this is what the innards of a neep look like after they’ve been gouged out with a power drill. Spiralised? You got it. Maybe it’s a terrible waste, making lanterns out of perfectly good veggies for one night’s mucking about in the dark. But hey. Turnips aren’t expensive. Pumpkins maybe a little moreso. I’ll put a bit extra in the Food Bank this month to salve my conscience.
Tonight, however, it’s farewell Mr Tumshie-Heid because, frankly, he is mingin. Happy All Souls and Saints Days, everybody. I hope your lanterns and masks keep all the evil beasties at bay for another year.
Went with the Troubadour to the above on Saturday morning and were entertained by the Singing Kiwis … very talented (Kee)wee band with a song for every fruit you could think of …
Our old buddies Cairn O’Mhor were there with their stall, and in honour of the season I purchased a bottle of their dryer cider. There was also a stall featuring ‘fruit leathers’, something I’d read about but never seen. A batch of samples was on offer, and the apple leather was red and, yes, leathery looking! Just like my shoes in fact. What you have to do is boil up the pulp and skins, spread the mush thinly on greaseproof paper, and dry it slowly (over a couple of days at 35 degrees C). Then you can cut it up into little squares, peel it off the backing paper, and chew it as a healthy snack. I must say it was delicious, sweet and surprise surprise, appley! And then to our delight we discovered it had been made by Alison of the Newburgh Orchard Group – she who grew my recent Pink Fir Apple potatoes. Small world.
Apple conservation is very much in the news. Radio 4’s Food Programme on Sunday explored the world of apple growing, and how apples make themselves at home wherever they grow in the world. The focus of that programme was English apples but at Perth we had a tableful of just some of the many varieties grown in Scotland. We were reminded that if we don’t enjoy, try, share the many varieties available, we’ll lose them because it won’t be worth growing them. How do you choose your apples? I have to confess I don’t look first at the variety but at the country of origin, the way it looks, and the price. But I’m going to be a bit more adventurous in future.
Moving on from apples – I also bought some pears and have made a Chocolate and Pear Cake this morning, to take to friends tonight. The original recipe came from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘Fruit’ book, but I amended it in various ways … will give further feedback in next post, no point going on about it if my experiments didn’t work! But I have high hopes. The cake is in honour of my friend who was buried this morning. Among her many other magnificent attributes, she was a cake lover …
This was the scene at the river at 8am today. Calm, sunny, and above all, DRY. Alas this wasn’t the scene yesterday when the Coble Boat Race was scheduled. The first race was due to start at 4pm and we rushed back from Perth to get there on time. The tide wasn’t in; the beer tent was open; there was this mad, break-your-ankle-for-sure tightrope thingie strung up from the trees and, believe it or not, apparently sane adults were whiling away the time jiggling back and forth between the branches. I’m just jealous; I can hardly keep my balance walking along a straight road never mind on a tightrope, and it’s a lovely thing to see someone with a bit of poise – or at least, flamboyance – shimmying along.
Anyway I digress. The point is, it started to rain while we were waiting for the tide to come in. And the rain got harder. The more graceful – or flamboyant – of the tightrope walkers approached us with a huge box and asked if we’d like to buy a raffle ticket to boost the funds for the upkeep of the skateboarding park, a pound a strip. And the rain was getting harder. So we bought some raffle tickets and squelched a hasty retreat, promising to come back later to watch the race. But of course we didn’t.
The sun came out, we went out for a walk, and when we came back there was this huge, familiar box sitting on the doorstep. We’d won the cake, and here it is: a perfect replica in fondant and ribbon of Newburgh’s skateboard park. How clever is that? Thank you Gloria. I don’t know you, but I believe you are the creator of this work of art, which is even now filling the bellies of the faithful. Good luck to the skateboarders, and here’s to perfect balance. Mind how you go …