Burn’s night became Burn’s weekend as various friends came up from London and revelled in a rented cottage, stained a peculiarly attractive shade of what Farrow and Ball call “Charlotte’s locks”, or what we re-named, “burnished pumpkin”:
This cottage was but a medieval stone’s throw from the Rosslyn Chapel, which you may recognise from that pinnacle of cinematic achievement, “The Da Vinci Code”:
If you ever come up this way, I thoroughly recommend a visit, the carvings and masonry within are fairly spectacular:
And the congregation disarmingly genial-we went to the Sunday service and were fed coffee and shortbread amidst numerous exclamations of welcome and interest in our “young selves”. It’s nice to still be thought of as young. I find it helps if you hang around with old people quite a lot, as I do, having lived with my favourite granny for a while. If you ever feel your life is slipping away frighteningly quickly, spend some time with an old person and you’ll witness first hand how time can literally stand still. It’s marvellous.
Anyway, Rosslyn Chapel is beautiful, and the cottage was perfect for our much-anticipated Burn’s night. An enormous oak banqueting table, a spacious open fireplace, a resident cat which materialised at the window on our arrival, and vanished when we packed up to go (I maintain it was a ghost) and plenty of beautiful frayed rugs for us to drop fag-ash onto, and old wooden surfaces for us to stain with the tell-tale rings of red wine and coffee cups. We decided that Saturday Night would be the official Burn’s night, the haggis had already been puchased-I did entertain the notion of making my own but decided against it- three bottles of whisky awaited us, and the boys set about learning the various “toasts” and “addresses” which are necessary for an authentic Burns evening.
The haggis was baked for 2 hours, the neeps (swede) boiled and mashed, as were the tatties. No gravy. The pudding was “authentic”-Cranachan, or whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, honey and whisky. I have to say, it was most definately not the finest meal of my career. The haggis was delicious, the mashed veg fine, but it was a little dry. I think gravy was needed. And the cranachan was a very strange concept. I love creamy puddings but I loathe whisky, and honey is a very strong flavour. Oatmeal is basically the kind of grist I used to pick off the sides of my horse’s trough and nibble because I wanted to feel the sense of companionship and harmony one can only achive through “breaking bread” together, and i felt, as a fairly odd and lonely child, that my horse could be my closest friend. This aside, it was a glorious evening, we toasted, addressed, reeled, drank, sang, smoked and drank our way through the night, the fire blazing, the mysterious metaphysical cat snoozing peacefully in an armchair. A wonderful evening, yes, but a culinary masterpiece, no. And so, I did not take any photos, as the food was, on the whole, what my granny would call “most unfortunate looking”, and the recipes are not really worth me relating. Also I was too busy drinking.
So, instead, i have decided to include some other Scottish delights for you. When it comes to food, I always used to think I was Italian in temperament, but in recent months I have decided I am Italian in Summer, and Scottish-English in winter. When it comes to hearty, wholesome, rustic, highland-tramping, kilt-wearing, bagpipe-blowing, sheep-wielding worthy fare, the Scots know a wee thing or two. Porridge, black-pudding, haggis, tatties- these are the foods of warriors. And the names! Oh, the names. Crabbit, skirlies, cloutie dumpling, smokies, howtowdies, rumblethumps, puggy buns, cullen skink, bannock, brose and my personal favourite: “big peas and lang tatties”. Scottish baked goods are delicious too- but they are rare, oh so rare. Selkirk Bannock (a deliciously soft sultana-filled sweet bread eaten in slices with butter) and Butteries are amongst two of the best, and the most rare. It seems particularly odd that these regional specialities are only available in rubbish service stations on the Borders, where they are sold vac-packed and months old, dry and dull. No more, however, for here is a recipe long-forgotten, for a Butterie: the Scots equivalent of a Croissant. None of your fancy continental frippery here though, this creation uses lard, much-neglected but utterly delicious. It’s called a buttery because you spread it with lots of butter, and perhaps marmalade, another Scottish invention. They are very easy to make, and absolutely delicious, flakey, melting and utterly comforting on a cold february afternoon.
225g stong white bread flour
10g yeast(fresh) or one sachet dried
150 ml warm water
160g lard, or mix of lard and butter if preferred
Mix the lard and salt and leave it to soften on one side.
Make the dough, dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water, leave for a few minutes, then stir in the flour. Knead until smooth and elastic. About 10 mins. Leave in an oiled bowl covered with clingfilm in a warm place to rise for up to an hour, until doubled in size. Afer it has risen, roll it out on a floured work surface, into a long rectangle. Spread a third of the fat mixture over the dough, then fold it in three, bringing the top third down, and folding the bottom thrid up on top of it. Roll out the dough again into a rectangle and repeat the fat spreading, then do once more. So three roll and folds in total, using a third of the fat each time. Cut the dough into rough squares of equal-ish sizes, then squash it flat with your hands to achieve the authentic “butterie” shape (or non-shape). Place on a floured baking sheet, cover with an oiled plastic bag, and leave to rise for another 45-60 mins. Bake at 220 until golden, and eat warm, slathered with butter.
Thank you to all for a wondeful party, and here’s to the next foray into Scottish culinary tradition!