St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and today, 30th November, is St Andrew’s Day – and I have the perfect guest and the perfect recipe to celebrate!
Lizzie Lamb is a Scottish author and her fiction is set in lovely Scotland. Lizzie’s joined me here today with a recipe for the fabulous sounding Scottish “clootie dumpling”. Welcome, Lizzie – I can’t wait to find out just what this is!
* * *
I only have to unscrew a jar of cinnamon and I’m seven years old again, making my way home from school through the deep snow of a Scottish winter. But I don’t mind the cold because I know that there’s Clootie Dumpling waiting for me. Not Lord Snooty’s Christmas pudding, as dark and round as Guy Fawkes’s bomb – I mean Clootie Dumpling, its bigger, more substantial Scottish cousin, a cross between a Quatermass Experiment and a Desperate Dan pie.
On Clootie Dumpling day (we simply called it dumpling) the kitchen was a blissful warm fug of steam, redolent with the scent of cinnamon and ginger, like some medieval banquet, the clatter of pots and pans and lots of happy chatter. Just the antidote for dark, northern December days. The dumpling would have been mixed by hand (not wooden spoon) earlier by my mother and grandmother in a huge bowl. No weighing of ingredients for them, everything was done by guestimate and experience.
The copper would be fired up, filled with water from the emersion heater and brought to boiling point. (We always had lots of hot water because my grandfather was a coal miner and we had a ton of coal delivered twice a year) Then the dumpling cloth would be brought out – my mother swore by a square of linen sheet she’d bought at the Glasgow Barrows. String would be filched from the large hairy ball of twine my granddad guarded jealously and we were off. From my point of view, the best bit was smacking the dumpling’s bottom – for luck – just before it was wrapped in its wet, flour sprinkled cloth, tied at the neck with string and immersed in the copper for three hours.
Then came the great reveal, the steaming dumpling was taken out of its cloth, rolled onto a large turkey plate and put in front of the coal fire to ‘dry out’ and form a skin. There’s nothing finer on a cold winter’s day than sitting by the fire waiting for the first slice to be ready. We always ate the first slice hot with the top of the milk poured over it. Next day, I’d take a slice to school as my ‘piece’ for break time, wrapped in a ‘loaf paper;’ while the adults ate theirs with a fried egg, and sometimes baked beans. The poor old dumpling never lasted long as slices were given to neighbours – who reciprocated when they made their dumping – but theirs was never as good as my Mammy’s.
When we moved to England in 1962, we left the copper behind and my grandma hit on the idea of boiling the dumpling up in the twin tub. I don’t know how, but the mixture never seeped through the cloth into the water. Too dense I suppose. Then Mammy found a huge catering saucepan [with handles on two sides] on a stall on Leicester market, and we carried home – all the way up London Road. That saucepan became the family dumpling pot.
When we no longer had coal fires, we dried the dumpling in the oven – but that always seemed a poor show, somehow. The making of dumpling and other Scottish treats like tablet, stovies, tatties, sausage and onions, and the traditional peppery steak pie on New Year’s Day passed into folklore when first my grandmother and then my Mammy died. But I only have to unscrew the lid of a Bart’s spice jar to be transported back to those happy childhood days – when dumpling was king.
How to Make a Clootie Dumpling
125g (1/2 cup) suet (lard / shortening in US)
250g (8oz / 2 cups) plain flour
125g (4oz / 1cup) oatmeal OR breadcrumbs
250g (8oz / 1 1/4 cups) mixed sultanas and currants
1 tablespoon of golden syrup (corn syrup)
75g (2-3oz / 1/3 cup) soft brown sugar
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
1 teaspoon each of ginger, cinnamon & nutmeg
1 teaspoon of baking powder
4 tablespoons of milk (enough to soften the mix)
3 tablespoons of flour for the cloth
- 1. Rub the suet into the flour and add oatmeal, baking powder, sugar, sultanas and currants and the ginger and cinnamon. Blend together and add the eggs and syrup. Stir well and add just enough milk to firm.
- 2. If you are using a cloth (cloot), put it into boiling water first then spread onto your table and sprinkle a liberal amount of flour over the inside. Put the mixture into the middle and tie up, leaving space for the mixture to expand.
- 3. Place an upside-down saucer at the bottom of a deep pan and put the tied cloot in and cover with boiling water and hard simmer for about 3 to 4 hours.
- 4. Remove from pan and dip into bowl of cold water to halt the cooking process. You can dry and heat in the oven (medium hot) if you plan to eat it straight away. Alternatively, store in the fridge until its needed and then microwave it to reheat. It cuts easily into slices.
To use the traditional cloth (cloot) method, cut up and use an old white pillow case, preferably linen. You can wash and reuse the cloth for another clootie dumpling making session.
Scotch on the Rocks
SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS
Where the men are men and the women are glad of it!
ISHABEL STUART is at the crossroads of her life.
Her wealthy industrialist father has died unexpectedly, leaving her a half-share in a ruined whisky distillery and the task of scattering his ashes on a Munro. After discovering her fiancé playing away from home, she cancels their lavish Christmas wedding at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh and heads for the only place she feels safe – Eilean na Sgairbh, a windswept island on Scotland’s west coast -where the cormorants outnumber the inhabitants, ten to one.
When she arrives at her family home – now a bed and breakfast managed by her left-wing, firebrand Aunt Esme, she finds a guest in situ – BRODIE. Issy longs for peace and the chance to lick her wounds, but gorgeous, sexy American, Brodie, turns her world upside down.
In spite of her vow to steer clear of men, she grows to rely on Brodie. However, she suspects him of having an ulterior motive for staying at her aunt’s B&B on remote Cormorant Island. Having been let down twice by the men in her life, will it be third time lucky for Issy? Is it wise to trust a man she knows nothing about – a man who presents her with more questions than answers?
As for Aunt Esme, she has secrets of her own . . .
* * *
Lizzie, what absolutely wonderful memories. Your story brought back so many memories for me, too – sitting by the coal fire on a snowy day, and the twin tub in the kitchen. Your story of boiling the clootie in the twin tub made me laugh out loud. Somehow that just wouldn’t be the same in these days of automatic washing-machines :) And I love the premise behind Scotch on the Rocks!
I hope you enjoyed Lizzie’s wonderful walk down a snowy memory lane in Scotland. If you loved her post as much as I did, or if you have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!