Marinated with a dash of heresy

Regular readers of my Pitkirtly series of mystery novels may have noticed recurring references to traditional Scottish recipes and delicacies. This is partly an attempt on my part to counterbalance the prevalent urban mythology about the Scottish diet – although I must admit one of my work colleagues swears by deep-fried confectionery to ward off hangovers, and my son, in many respects a bit of a health freak by local standards, drinks quite a lot of Irn Bru.

In the novels it is Jemima Stevenson who is the guardian of tradition and who sometimes attempts to pass on her knowledge to Amaryllis in tablet-making sessions. In my own family I am afraid most of the culinary expertise died with my mother, but I did find a hand-written fudge recipe in one of her kitchen cupboards while I was clearing out her house. I think all my Scottish ancestors would be turning in their graves if they could follow the link I am about to post to a microwave tablet recipe: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/23961/microwave-tablet.aspx . However, as a fairly reluctant cook I hope to give this method a try before long.

Many traditional Scottish recipes involve oatmeal and similar ingredients that were cheap and easily available in rural areas with a subsistence economy. Of course most people, urban or rural, started the day with porridge. My mother, who had lived in England for quite a few years when young but who seemed to become more Scottish as she got older, almost always made it from scratch with proper oatmeal, leaving it to soak in water (with a little salt) overnight so that it wouldn’t take long to heat up in the morning. She used to eat hers with cream.

Pease brose, mentioned in ‘Frozen in Crime’, was a bit like porridge but made with ‘peasemeal’. As far as I can tell (but please feel free to correct me via the comments if I’m wrong) it was more or less the same dish as the southern pease porridge/pottage. Nowadays it seems usually to be made from split peas or even crushed garden peas, although in the latter case it would be more of a pea soup. Follow this link to an Edinburgh wholefoods store for extremely simple instructions: http://www.realfoods.co.uk/recipe/peasemeal-brose .

Another dish that includes oatmeal is cranachan (Gaelic: crannachan), which is served as a luxurious dessert these days in some quite nice restaurants, but which seems to have started out as a simple dish for fruit-pickers, again combining easily available ingredients. It seems that the more expensive ingredients such as whisky are later additions which enhance the Scottish theme. There’s a good recipe here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/cranachan_66101

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