Bring Home The Bread

Almost the whole of the UK has had varying amounts of snow, some areas worse than others. It meant shops were getting empty due to both panic-buying and stock deliveries not getting through. In our modern times, we have freezers, long-life cartons as well as the canned and dried products, yet we see frenzied shopping for bread which doesn’t really contain the nutrients needed for survival.recipe-image-legacy-id--2056_12

On the home side, my grandmother’s era not only churned their own butter, but without a fridge, it was kept in a bowl of water to keep it fresher longer.

Milk still had cream on top so that could be used for making butter, cheese or adding to desserts. Milk could be pasturised at home just by heating it to simmering point and letting it cool for a longer lasting milk. Bread was often made by local home bakers and had flavour which is missing from the mass-produced cotton wool bread.

We used to save all our sour milk to go in the scones (soda farls) but with the current pasturised and homogenised milk, all the live bacteria gets killed off and that’s what’s needed, so the best alternative is live yoghurt for a light, fluffy result.

I have a tendency of buying organically when possible and it’s the same with flour, I will buy it straight from the mill if I can. Not so long ago I saw large cartons of organic double cream reduced due to it being near the sell-by date. I bought some, made butter with it and when I made some oven scones, I could sit back and enjoy the home-made scones, home churned butter and home-made jam. Butter is easy to make, I put cream into a Kenwood mixer until it separates. Even the remaining whey can be used in baking but the butter needs to be washed, it’s the whey remaining in it which turns butter rancid. It probably was all done just as quickly as it would have taken to go to the supermarket to buy manufactured products but I had a smug contentment knowing what was in everything as well as every morsel being a tasty bite.

I do take shortcuts, I have made bread the way it should be made but I found it laborious and time-consuming so I succumbed to getting a bread maker. It’s not in use often but with the simple ingredients of flour, yeast, water, dried milk and oil, it’s easy to quickly add the ingredients to let the machine do all the work. So not only do I have an easy way of making bread, having a supply of dried milk is handy if the fresh milk runs out. Of course Irish soda bread is even easier, it doesn’t even need yeast and is absolutely delicious.

There are essentials we do need shops and supermarkets for but I won’t be queuing for bread or milk.

Cooking Up Family History

If you have an interest in family then you will know the super sleuth in you will want to investigate any information regardless of where it came from. Having both my grandmother’s recipe books, I sometimes browse through them and when a local area community hub wanted local history information and recipes, the books came out again.

As it is my paternal grandmother was born about half-a-mile away from where the grandma-grandpa-uncle-wullie-ccommunity hub is located, I selected her recipes. They were handwritten in a notebook which has now seen better days but it also multi-tasked as an address book. I was familiar with one of the names mentioned, a nephew of my grandfather’s who moved to Rhodesia (as it was then) when his wife died. Other names I was not so familiar with and the little flame of  ‘curiosity’ was lit.

Of course it’s much easier with the internet in searching for lost souls and since I am already one of the older generation of the family, there is no-one left to ask except Mr Google. I soon found names in Australia which I was pretty certain were of the family I was looking for. Although they would be descendants, the names matched, but what clinched it was the name of the house, given in the record of a young man, killed in action in WW2, was the same name as our local village. Their family tree had been published on the internet and fortunately so were the contact details of it’s owner.

I had to write in the desire to find out more. Within two days, I had my reply, not a long email but enough to give me the information I needed to find out who my two mystery people were. I know now I share a 4 x great-grandfather with my contact. It showed me one thing, since our grandfathers had been second cousins once removed, they had still been in contact with each other. In the present day, many families are so far apart from each other, they have no contact with even some of their close family. It probably accounts for all the names I have in my family tree I have known about yet I was born after many of them had died.

Let It Snow

There are some years we get off lightly with snow. If we have it one day, it can be almost gone the next. What a difference from my memory of the past of it. Snow meant building snowmen, throwing snowballs and making slides. Slides were lengths of well-polished snow and the more you slid on them, the more the compacted snow had turned to ice until it was a very fast run. A bit like skiing without skis. The school playground was covered in slides of various lengths, depending on how hesitant or brave you were.

Usually by the time we got into classroom, we tried to get mittens, scarves and hats on the radiators. Hands were very painful with the cold and worse when they started to heat up. That didn’t matter in the least because as soon as the pain was gone, we were ready to go back out. It was easier at home though, there would have been some dry clothes to change into and the wet ones put in front of the fire to dry.

My early recollection of heavy snow was opening the back door and being faced with a wall of snow three to four feet deep. My mother was there with the shovel, shifting the snow to make a path outside and even then she would find time to show me how to build a snowman. Over the years the weather seems to have changed quite a bit and there has been less snow or it doesn’t lie for any length of time so today’s children miss out on a lot of fun. It was ‘children playing’ kind of fun, nothing organised for them. We weren’t allowed to throw stones but you could throw snowballs and that seemed to satisfy the rebellion in you without doing any damage other than to leave your hands cold and wet.

It was not a time to rebel at school, it was still the time of the ‘tawse’, the thick leather strap wielded by teachers to the hands of any errant child and if your icy, painful hands were the recipients of the tawse, the stinging result was sure to bring on floods of tears. getting the tawse

We live in a valley so on the rare occasions it does snow, there are plenty of favourite places to go with your sledge. You don’t need a steep hill, sledges are often plastic now and light so can travel fast without having to haul a heavy sledge back up the hill. You seldom see a child looking unhappy when playing in the snow. You just need to Google a few images to see the reaction is the same in every country.

The Time Warp

I have an interest in local history as well as family history and when our local family history society decided to celebrate their 20th anniversary by holding a history fair, I was asked to take a stand at it. Me, because my interest in family history overlaps local history with a small, partly ruined kirk which has it’s own burial ground. To any budding genealogist, it is a little gem, a mine of information on the departed local residents but also giving an insight into social history.340 256 018 032

Since the kirk dates back to 1198 there is a lot to talk about from then until the present day. We are not without myths, legends and ghosts. Not that we are aware of many but some visitors have relayed their own paranormal experiences. We must be the only ancient monument to have a ghost walk without any ghosts but it was well organised and a huge success just proving you don’t need ghosts, to be afraid of the dark!

We’ve also held a Mediaeval Fayre which was a lot of fun. We had to compromise a little bit with venison sausages replacing the spit roasted deer but nobody seemed to mind. Burial grounds at one time were the hub of the community where fairs, weaponry practice and other celebrations were held.

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As churchyards became overcrowded, cemeteries were developed. They were places you could stroll in, relax and enjoy the gardens. It is possible to enjoy life without disrespecting the dead.

The local family history event I attended recently was like walking into a time warp. The display of memorabilia on display on the tables next to the stand I was at, placed me firmly in the middle of one of my blogs!

Scottish Fayre – Stovies and Lorne Sausage

I was looking for something interesting to have for dinner. I’d spent the best part of the day pottering around the garden so was in no mood for cooking. I had already cooked breakfast of bacon, Lorne sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggs and had some Lorne sausage left over, only two slices but that was enough, I was going to make stovies.

First of all Lorne sausage comes with many aliases depending on where ylorne-sausage-block-2ou live but in the West of Scotland, that’s what we know it as. It’s made normally from beef and although it’s often referred to as square sausage, it’s perhaps more like trapezium sausage. It’s made in a long block, generally the bottom is wider than the top. Sliced and fried and perfect to fit between two slices of bread.

Thankfully I prefer not to join the take-away and throw-away societies, so I try to think of innovative ways of using an odd assortment of fridge contents, it’s amazing what you can make out of leftovers with just a little cream and some wine. It turns the most unappetising looking foods into a feast for a king. My two little slices of Lorne sausage had the potential to make a meal for four.

Stovies is a hotpot of meat and vegetables, cooked in a pot, stewed slowly in their own liquid. Any leftover meat can be used but I was going to make good use of the sausage. I cut it into small squares, sliced swede, carrots, onions and potatoes. I put a little oil in the pot to start with, layer the sausage (or other meat) with the vegetables, a little water, salt and pepper (not too much salt), put it on a low heat, cover with a lid and let it stew slowly until the vegetables are cooked. Stir it now and again to ensure even cooking. It doesn’t matter if the potatoes used break up easily, that’s how I like it. It doesn’t even matter what the proportions of ingredients are but potatoes, meat and onions are the essentials.

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More information including the recipe for Lorne Sausage

How Clean Is Your House?

Some years ago, I became a member of a local gym. I felt that sitting in an office for long periods would speed up stiffening of joints as I raced towards retirement age. My idea of going to the gym was purely for exercise, and to lose weight or alter my shape would be a total waste of time unless I was prepared to stick to a rigid diet as well. At first I joined a private health club and paid my annual fee, thinking that it was the cheaper option than a monthly membership. It was a lovely club, quite luxurious although also small and friendly. I used to welcome my short spell on the exercise machines followed by relaxing in the jacuzzi. You felt good after the visit. Looking forward to going home from work and to a dinner of meat and two veg. but on coming out, all you wanted was a nice fresh salad. Unfortunately, I had a minor car accident resulting in a whiplash injury, so my membership came to an abrupt halt.

I always felt more comfortable in joggers and tee shirt and some others obviously felt the same. Although the local, popular gym in town was somewhat different, all lycra and make-up with the would-be Adonises competing to be Mr Universe.

Years ago, gyms were more associated with sports training. With less gadgets in the house, housework was the only exercise you needed. No fitted carpets, so whatever was on the floor had to be cleaned. Scrubbed with soap and water or if you had linoleum (no vinyl then), it had also to polished. Can you believe people pay for the same exercises we did at home for nothing and had the satisfaction of having a clean house as well?

Fitted carpets are notoriously unhygienic but we will tolerate living with the dust, grit and these monsters just for comfort.

The floors would have been covered by rugs, perhaps even one large rug, leaving a varnished wood surround or a linoleum covered one. The rugs were taken out regularly, thrown over a rope or fence and beaten well to get rid of accumulated dust and bugs.carpet-beatersIt’s still reckoned to be the best way to clean rugs, especially handmade or antique ones.

I wonder if anyone realises what modern life is doing to us?

A Little Puff Of Smoke

I found it strange that out of all of his family, only my father and one uncle smoked. My father must have started as a young man but any objections I had to living in a smoke-filled house were met by my mother’s defence of ‘it’s his only pleasure’. That was a really sad statement in my mind.

Dad did have hobbies as a young man, he fished, tied his own flies and had a motor bike and ultimately, a car. Being brought up in a corn milling family, he didn’t have much time for anything else. He started off work in the outside world as an engineer though it was some time after that, he met and married my mother. He had long hours at his work and any spare time he had after that was spent decorating their first home and making furniture for it. Although it was the habit for the family to donate furniture to young married couples, they didn’t always get all they needed. The first piece of furniture my father made was a wooden trolley. I still have it. He also made a sideboard which had added handmade inlaid handles to doors and drawers. The house we lived in was a small terraced cottage and beyond the kitchen, he had a workshop. He started making pokers with decorative, multicoloured handles made of different coloured layers of some sort of plastic which fitted in well with the contemporary colourful decor of the period.capstan

There was nothing my father couldn’t do but I can still see him, whatever he was doing, he had a cigarette. He smoked 20 Capstan Navy Cut cigarettes a day, so it was probably modest compared with some. If he had to nip the cigarette out, it wasn’t thrown away, it was put in his pocket until he had time to smoke it again. Sometimes they were forgotten about and if he ran out of cigarettes, he could rummage through his pockets for the ‘dowts’ (cigarette butts). At that time there were no filters on the cigarettes he smoked.

One of my maternal aunts and some of her family smoked Senior Service. These pasenior-serviceckets were quite decorative and a new craft became popular, sometimes known as ‘prison craft’, it was something prison inmates could keep themselves busy with and they created picture frames and other items out of many cigarette packets. Because of the logo of the front of the packets, they provided an interesting form of art work.

I think now, considering how skilful and how capable my father was to provide us with our home, smoking was his own leisure time and would have been ‘the only pleasure’ in that respect. As work became easier and he did get more time, he added reading to that. I think that is why the smell of engines and tobacco are the ones which remind me mostly of my dad.

 

The Burns Supper

Having been brought up in ‘Burns country’, I have been used to the wide plethora of Burns Suppers celebrated from any time soon after New Year. Although the date should be January 25th, it seems to be acceptable throughout the whole 12 months. However, it does reach it’s crescendo around the 25th when quite honourable, intelligent, well adjusted men exchange that embodiment of self-esteem for some strange alien being, since copious amounts of whisky are the perfect accompaniment to the haggis.

There are certain rituals to the Burns Supper, it is an evening’s entertainment and if you get good entertainers, good speakers and good food, it is an excellent night. The other notable piece of information is if you have a kilt, you wear it.

It is an evening of song, recitation, speeches and tales. There is an order to the programme of course with plenty of pomp and circumstance. The chairman greets the guests and introduces those taking part. This is followed by the ‘Selkirk Grace’;

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Normally everyone would stand while the star attraction gets piped in, a steaming haggis served on a silver platter. It is then addressed by Burns’ recitation “To A Haggis”. Once completed, it gets taken to the kitchens for serving and the meal can begin.

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To A Haggis

Cock-a-leekie soup is a good starter but it can be lentil or Scotch broth or similar after which haggis, neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes) are served. Only a small portion is served as this is followed by a heartier meal, perhaps of steak pie. The dessert can be traditional Cranachan, a delicious dish of whipped cream and toasted oatmeal, whisky and raspberries. but like the other selections on the menu, there can be alternatives such as apple pie and cream etc.

There are two other poems which are part of the celebrations and those taking part will be happy to slip into the part.

the-real-tam-oshanterTam o’ Shanter

holy-willieHoly Willie’s Prayer

The Wild Haggis

Festive Season Reflections

Christmas and New Year is a time of reflection, perhaps the festivities surrounding it make missing loved ones a bit more intense. You can’t help wondering what it would be like to celebrate one more Christmas or New Year with them, losing someone at this time is the most difficult to cope with.

In my family, the loss of my younger sister at the age of four, has given me a lot to think about throughout the years. I can’t help wondering what it would have been like to grow up with a sister.

My mother died suddenly just 11 days after we had been out for a New Year dinner at one of the local restaurants and my father died ten years’ later in November, Christmas has never been the same.        unborn-child

My daughter died at birth and although her twin sister survived, and she has been a fantastic daughter, there is bitter sweetness in being thankful for her and at the same time remembering the loss, that part never goes away for a parent to lose a child.

In my grandfather’s time, death was very formal, the deceased had to be attended to, mainly in the home, funeral cards were sent out and you knew what the envelope contained if you received one, it was edged in black. It was almost always a burial for like funeral parlours, crematoriums were few and far between. A service in the house was followed by a cortége to the burial ground, mainly attended by men, often formally dressed in black and possibly wearing top hats. After the service, it was back to the house for a glass of whisky for the men, sherry for the ladies. Burial grounds are notoriously cold and the mourners needed something to warm them on return.

funeral-cards

One of the pieces of jewellery I have is a gold ring belonging to my grandmother, a hair ring or mourning ring. Though the hair is long gone now, it was popular as a remembrance of someone close. A length of hair was taken from the cadaver, plaited and put in a specially made ring. Over the years, the hair was damaged and finally taken out.

I thought initially that this was quite a macabre practice, then realised I have a lock of my hair in a Bible, happy in the fact, for the time being at least it’s not a mourning relic.

Even more macabre are the postmortem memorial cards, when the deceased was posed, sometimes as if being alive, to have a photograph taken.

Perhaps it’s best just to remember people as the were in life rather than in death, that way, they remain with us in our celebrations.

In Search Of The Black Bun

There are many Scottish traditions for Hogmanay and New Year and one of the common treats was Black Bun, a very rich, dark, fruit cake. Originally eaten on the twelfth night, it soon became a traditional Hogmanay treat, a wee dram and a slice of Black Bun.

Not being a baker, the subject was being discussed about where to buy Black Bun, we turned to a local girl with a coffee shop who made her own cakes. She was up for the challenge although didn’t know what Black Bun was. The cake should be made well in advance to allow the flavours to develop but she didn’t make it until New Year’s Evblack-bun-2e, however I was there to see it come out of the oven. It looked good but when she cut into it, it was too light in colour. The recipe she used was by a well-known English baker and sad to say, although very nice, it was not what our mums and grannies made. Our eager baker wants a report back and although she did follow a recipe, it neither looked nor tasted like the traditional moist, dark cakes we had been used to.

This spurred me on to look through my granny’s handwritten recipe book and this is what I found:

Black Bun

black-bun 1/2 lb flour, pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder and rub in 1/4 lb margarine, make into a firm paste with cold water. Line a tin with the paste leaving enough for the top.

Mix together 1 lb flour, 1/2 lb sugar, 1/4 oz ground ginger, 1/4 oz cinnamon, 1 teaspoon black pepper, teaspoonful each baking soda and cream of tartar. 2 lbs large raisins, 2 lbs sultanas, 1/4 lb almonds, blanched and shredded. 2 oz lemon peel. Moisten all the ingredients with 1/2 pint milk. Mix thoroughly and pack into lined tin, cover neatly with the lid of paste. Moisten the edges and firm carefully, brush over with egg and prick with a fork. Bake in a moderate over for 3 hours.

Paste: pastry

Moderate oven: 325º-350ºF/160º-180ºC/Gas mark 3-4