Category Archives: Heritage

Birnam Book Festival

Today the Troubadour and I had a brilliant visit to Birnam and then Dunkeld (joined on, as you cross the Telford bridge) – a cold walk in the town, a bit of culture, a heart-warming book-signing, a very typically Scottish lunch, and a bit of retail therapy. This photo may not be the cheeriest view of the town, but I wanted to capture the way the cloud lay across the valley like a cat with no intention to budge.

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Briefly let me explain my absence from the blogwaves for the last month – I’ve been writing a novel! I signed up to NaNoWriMo, an online challenge which involves writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. So I have become a bit of a hermit. However this morning I reached 43,800 words and am well on course for finishing on time, fingers crossed ; hence taking a day off for a fIMG_0363.JPGun outing.

Birnam, for those of you not local, is well known for its mention in Macbeth – one of the witches assures him of his brilliant future: “Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care/Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are./Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/Shall come against him.”

In other words, never. But alas, Macbeth fell for a dastardly witches’ trick as we find out later in the play. Nowadays, Birnam is a small southern Highland town with lots of pleasant amenities, only about 20 minutes’ drive north of Perth. This weekend they are hosting their first ever book festival, and we managed to get tickets to see Peggy Seeger being interviewed about her book by Fiona Ritchie (Wayfaring Strangers).

IMG_0356.JPGThe title of Seeger’s memoir ‘First Time Ever‘ comes from the song written for her by her long-time life partner Ewan McColl, and made famous by Roberta Flack and a host of others who have covered it over the years. In interview she was open, charming, honest, witty and downright entertaining. Now in her eighties, she informed us that back home in London, she wears a community alarm pendant in case she falls; and yet she clearly had the courage and drive to travel north to a (today at any rate) freezing foggy Highland town, and talk for over an hour then sign books – and tonight she’s on stage, singing. This is a woman with absolutely no claptrap in her veins. She has a strong record as a feminist and environmental campaigner as well as being a key figure in British and Scottish folk song revival. Folk isn’t my first choice of music, but I’d heard her recently on Radio 4 singing her great song about not being allowed to be an engineer, and I was hooked. Even better, she told us all that she had read Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ to prepare herself for writing her memoir – exactly what I did a couple of months ago – so now I feel I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

Fiona Ritchie was an excellent interviewer, and the dialogue flowed like a spirited conversation, with nothing forced and nothing held back. There was time for just two questions from the audience at the end – both of which were inspired, and generously responded to. I’m including them here because they really added to the experience: Q1 was asking her to relate her experience as a child when she met Elizabeth Cotten, the black singer (‘Freight Train’), in a department store; and Q2 was about the place of folk and traditional song in politics. I won’t rehearse her answers here; buy the book!

IMG_0361.JPGI mentioned lunch and retail therapy. Oh dear. I have at last succumbed to the lure of the (I blush to admit it) deep-fried Mars Bar. It was that cheery, scrubbed-face, clever waitress at the Dunkeld Fish Bar who enticed me. And the Troubadour who made me. Well maybe not exactly. We shared it (his half was bigger than my half, honest!) What really worried me was that I’d enjoy it so much that I’d want another one. Well, it was gooey and sweet and I couldn’t honestly say I didn’t enjoy it. But its similarity to a deep-fried sausage in batter was less than prepossessing so I think I have now laid this ghost and it’ll never happen again. Unless we have any more cold Scottish November days, and how likely is that?IMG_0366

Retail therapy involved a browse round a great second-hand book shop where I purchased ‘From Petticoat Tails to Arbroath Smokies: Traditional Foods of Scotland’ by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown. I will review this book further in due course; it fits very well with another historical tome I’ve been working my way through. Further shopping entailed a new wok from Kettles of Dunkeld, a great ironmongery emporium. Also a potato-shaped potato-scrubber (clever), a vinegar bottle, Christmas napkins and one or two other wee delights. The wok needs seasoning so I’m away downstairs now to get on with that. Stir-fried veggies coming up. And wish me well for my final 6,200 words!

 

 

 

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Beekeeping for Beginners

So there we were, last Friday afternoon, the Troubadour and I, out for a wee walk with Sammy, our friend Maggie’s ancient-but-sparky fox-dog. Bright sunshine, trees just beginning to turn yellow and red. On our way back, passing the distillery, we met my colleagues Dougie and Charley. Dougie seemed unusually delighted to see me. ‘Helen!’ he greeted me, ‘want to come and see the bees?’ Of course I’d been pestering him for months to get to see the bees, since they were installed. And on this occasion, Dougie (whom of course I admire and respect unreservedly!) was looking for a chance to nip home early to see to his dogs and ease himself into the weekend. Always glad to oblige, I followed them into the field and the story unfolded thus:IMAG0297

Now I realise I don’t know as much about bees as I thought. In fact, my knowledge is next to nil. But I am aware that if we don’t take action to save the bees, they are in danger of dying out; and that if the bees go, so does all their pollination, hence all of plant life is similarly afflicted.

The sceptical (and, presumably, ignorant) part of me wonders why we don’t have an artificial substitute for bee pollination by now. Is all this fuss just hippy nonsense, or is it true? I choose to believe the latter.

So I was delighted when the distillery decided to bring in the hives. Beekeeping is part of the Abbey’s history after all; and you can still see the beehive corner in the Abbey ruins. Our new hives are sheltered right in their lee.

IMAG0298The Troubadour was, incidentally, fascinated by the shed where the bee-suits are kept. Apparently he used to play his guitar at parties there long ago, when it was just a farm amid the Abbey ruins. If you listened carefully you could hear a ghostly twanging in the eaves. So he and Sammy reminisced while I struggled into the suit.

A beekeeping suit is just a boiler suit, I suppose, but with an emphasis on keeping the outside world at bay. Once you’re all zipped in, the helmet flips over from the back and then zips up from back to front of neck on either side, and there’s a tab to go over the place where the zips meet so that the bees can’t get through to your throat. Then there are gauntlets which come right up your arms so it would be difficult for a bee to crawl right down and sting your hands. I was already wearing thick socks over my leggings, and stout trainers, so my legs were safe. I include all this sartorial information because I am not by nature a poster girl! and wouldn’t be seen dead climbing into an outfit online if it weren’t for the pursuit of enlightenment (yours)!IMAG0299

Charley is a student colleague who is undertaking a Science Baccalaureat at school, and using the introduction of bees at the distillery as her research project. The Baccalaureat provides students with an opportunity to integrate knowledge and skills from across the traditional school science curriculum. Beekeeping incorporates zoology, botany and chemistry; not so much physics but Charley is bringing that into another part of her research so that’s okay. This is surely a great way to approach learning and teaching in schools – doing a project like this will probably last in her memory for life, and provide a good foundation for wherever her brilliant career takes her next. Anyway she also has the opportunity to show the ropes to old fogeys like me, and that’s not something you learn every day!

We headed down the field with a bucket. The plan was to take off some honey, and I’d have been even more excited if I’d realised that this was the first ever honey they’d taken off. As it was, I was entranced by the whole experience.

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Between them, Dougie and Charley talked me through what I had to do. Actually my contribution was miniscule but very exciting. I don’t have the correct vocabulary for all of this, so apologies to all you experts out there; but what we wIMAG0322ere doing was taking screens out of sections of one of the hives – to inspect them, I think – and replacing them in a spare bit of hive which then went back on top. We kept one screen back, from the middle of the set, as it seemed to have the most honey in it. I had to give it a good ‘aerial dump’ – as if I was hitting it down on something but not actually making contact – to try and dislodge the bees. Once most of them were off, we put the screen in the bucket and lidded it; put the hive back together and strapped it up against foxes, mice, or other marauders, and laid a stone slab on top against the wind.

When I say ‘screen’, I’m referring to a section about 14 x 10 inches with a hexagonal honeycomb framework inside. I think, but I’m not sure, that these are provided for the bees to get started – rather than them having to build it all from scratch. Like everything else in life, the more I learn, the more I realise how ignorant I am. What we lifted out had most of the middle cells bulging and dripping with clear, light golden honey. We stuck our fingers in foIMAG0325r a taste and it was absolutely fabulous. Above is the Scientist and the Clumsy Assistant heading back to the kitchen to examine our wares. You can see the big smile on my face through the helmet.

Et voila! The first ever Lindores Abbey Distillery honey; and probably the first honey on this site since the Abbey was sacked about 460 years ago, at the Reformation. Charley was deservedly delighted by the fruits of her labours; Dougie had left the building; and we proudly took a bowl of our amber nectar around for everyone to have a taste.  Afternoon Tea guests may have found it a bit strange to have this little pot of gorgeous golden goo dumped down alongside their dainty teatime treats but hey – how unique could it be?

I have to confess that I buy cheap honey from Lidl – Highgate Fayre, £1.15 (and I like it well enough). Good honey is so expensive, and I’ve never known enough about honey to be convinced that £7.99 (Lidl’s Manuka Honey, much cheaper than elsewhere) is a reasonable price for an artisan product. Again, my inner sceptic comes to the fore and I will organise a blind tasting, comparing the beautiful product of our hives with Lidl’s two offers. Surely, surely, the difference will be obvious. The labour alone makes our own worth the premium. But this is the real world and I want to know for sure. Meantime, the experience was absolutely priceless and I am indebted to Dougie and Charlie for a fabulous afternoon. And to the Troubadour for great photos!

 

 

 

A lot to be thankful for

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Our corner of Fife, bordering onto the Tay, is very fruitful and there’s been a lot of pickling and potting going on. Above is a bowl of windfall pears I was gifted, and made into chutney. More on that later. Meantime, over the weekend, I’ve enjoyed a bunch of events which were set up as fundraisers so here, for the record, are some details:

At work (Lindores Abbey Distillery) we joined in ‘the world’s biggest coffee morning‘ and raised £250 for Macmillan Cancer Support. Lots of people brought in some home baking and our visitors put a wee donation in the box.

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In the TICC (Tayside Institute and Community Centre) there was the usual Saturday coffee morning which on this occasion was to raise funds to fight our cause to have our railway station reopened: and we raised £600. A couple of weekends ago a small group of us also put on a wee music-and-words event, with the support of the artist in residence, and raised £150 for the same cause. It would be brilliant to have the line open again. The picture below is of a hamper put together by small individual donations – just normal day-to-day stuff that makes all the difference.

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And last night the Troubadour and I attended a concert in Dysart, near Kirkcaldy, to support our singing friend Alan.  We were entertained by two great community choirs – Healthy Harmonies, an NHS staff choir; and Capital Voices, from Edinburgh. The minister made a few introductory comments about having attended ‘Food Crisis Summits’ over the last 20 years – her first was in Botswana in 1998; the most recent in Kirkcaldy. I honestly don’t know what to say about people going hungry in this day and age, either in Africa or in Scotland – or anywhere else for that matter. It’s not just about poverty, it’s about politics. We could all be doing far better in sharing out the bounty. Anyway for the record, those two choirs last night raised £1,200 for the Kirkcaldy Food Bank, and that was a brilliant result.

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Finally – here is a beautiful loaf, handformed and baked like a sheaf of wheat – complete with wee mousie having a nibble. It was made by Barry and his staff, of the Wee Bakery, and gifted to the church for Thanksgiving. I’ll use the words of Robert Burns to sign off and wish you always enough food to enjoy and share:

May the moose ne’er leave your girnal wi’ a tear-drap in its e’e’

First shift

Just done my first stint as a tour guide at Lindores Abbey Distillery. It was brought forward because my colleague, John, cracked a hip immediately after delivering some training to me on Thursday afternoon. (I definitely did not push him!). Otherwise I’d have been starting next Saturday. There were to be six people on the tour today, but it was a busy morning and we ended up with seventeen.

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There’s quite a lot to remember – significant points in the history, details of the barley, water and yeast, the equipment, the timescales, the temperatures, the ABV, what the codes on the barrels mean, where the toilets are … on the whole I think I did OK as a first-timer, but I’m looking forward to having a more fluent grasp of the story.

Above is a picture you won’t see very often – it’s the very first cask of new-make spirit, which was filled at the end of last year. Distilling started just before Christmas so there are just a few casks marked 2017, and as you can see, this is Cask 01, with the signatures of the Distillery Manager Gary, the owners Drew and Helen, and one or two others I haven’t identified yet.

The timing of this is both good and bad for me. Good, because my studies are about to end and I need some gainful employment; bad because I’m still writing up my dissertation and could have done with just another week or two of no extra duties. However it’s only a few tours before the magic dissertation hand-in date so I’ll manage. It’s been most timely that my research project is also about distilling – learning for each has reinforced learning for the other. Distillation is such a rich, fascinating field of enquiry however, that the more I learn, the more ignorant I feel! i.e. the more I know that I don’t know … Maybe that’s a good thing and it certainly keeps me on my toes. Here’s a picture of our low wines in the sensory lab at Abertay – after testing these five, we chose the best and gave it a second distillation and another testing. STV came and filmed us on the job last Tuesday; it’s been a week of brass-necking it.

FSCN0356.JPG That’s all for now; back to the chapter on ‘potential for commercialisation’. Only another week and a half and phew, phew, phew, it’ll all be over. And I’ll have time to learn more thoroughly the history, culture and provenance of my new place of work. And John, here’s wishing you a quick recovery!

Surprise Rise!

Tralaaaah! I shouldn’t have been so impatient (‘twaDSCN0198.JPGs 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.

Slow Dough

LAn Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Graceast 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.

oatcakes and baguetteMeantime 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.DSCN0192.JPG 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 DSCN0193other 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!

 

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?

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!

 

EAT YOUR WORDS

Brilliant outing yesterday to the newly -extended Carnegie Library and Galleries, Description: Hard Drive:Users:marthabryce:Desktop:Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 10.15.03.pngDunfermline. 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.

2017-05-23 11.36.10.jpgIn 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

score 0-5

Study space

score 0-5

Staff helpfulness

score 0-5

Refreshments

score 0-5

Ochiltree, 1964-68 2 0 2 0
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.

Fresh and local

Yesterday was my first day without classes for a fortnight and I was definitely in 2017-03-24 10.27.02.jpgholiday 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 2017-03-24 14.44.12.jpgand spinach tarts and lamb souvlaki. Stella also made a batch of tzatziki to go with the kebabs.

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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.2017-03-24 14.58.20.jpg

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 …

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