Saturday 22 December 2012

Traditional Scottish Christmas

It’s getting close to Christmas and so I thought it would be nice to sit around the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and learn a little about Scottish Christmases. This isn’t some comprehensive guide by any means; just some little tidbits to amuse you.

First of all, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. Christmas Eve is the 24th and St. Stephen’s Day (also known as Boxing Day) is celebrated on the 26th – commercially, Boxing Day is kind of like Black Friday; lots of sales.

The Christmas Tree gets its origins from Germany (Tannenbaum) and are decorated with different lights and homemade decorations like holly and tartan bows.
Christmas Dinner is filled with many dishes but some musts are (taken from How To Have a Scottish Christmas):



This cake in a crust is the traditional New Year cake in Scotland. Every housewife has her own variations. This one is from a family recipe book
First make a 1lb weight of short crust pastry your usual method. Leave to chill.
Take a springform (if possible) cake tin, and line with baking parchment. Set aside.
Mix together
1teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground ginger, 1/4 fresh grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper.
Weigh into large bowl 10oz plain flour and 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda, mix well. Add 4oz Demerara sugar, then the spices, and weigh in 1lb currants, 1lb raisins, 4oz broken or flaked almonds, 4oz mixed candied peel.
Mix altogether well.
Add two beaten eggs, 5 tablespoons buttermilk (or milk will do) & two or three tablespoons whisky. Mix to a stiff sticky dough.
Roll out 2/3rds of the pastry and line the caketin with this. Press the fruit mixture into the pastry shell so that it is filled densely. Roll out the rest of the pastry to form a lid, and put on top in the usual way, moistening the edges with water to make then stick.
Take a long skewer, and pierce several times, right through the cake till you feel the tip touch the tin bottom. Brush the lid with a mixture of egg and milk, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 325 Fahrenheit; 170 Centigrade for about three hours. Test with skewer, when it is done, the skewer will not have any cake mix sticking to it.
Serve with coffee, or as the Scots do, with a wee dram of whisky!
This cake is popular throughout Britain as an alternative to Christmas Cake. It is less rich, and not so indigestible. But it is originally a Scottish Christmas cake from Dundee.
Line an 8" cake tin with baking parchment. I prefer to use springform tins, as they are easier.. Set aside.
Cream together 8oz butter & 8oz sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with a little flour taken from the total weight of 10oz. This stops the eggs curdling.. Stir in orange rind, finely grated.
Sift together the rest of the flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and a pinch of salt. Use plain flour and baking powder if you can, as it gives a better stability for the heavy fruit.
Fold the flour mix into the creamed mixture and add 2 oz ground almonds, 1lb of mixed dried fruits and 4 oz candied peels.
Spoon into the prepared tin, smooth the surface, hollow it slightly in the middle so that when it rises it will not peak. Arrange whole blanched almonds around the top. Brush all over with beaten egg white. Bake in a pre-heated oven 325 Fahrenheit, 170Centigrade for about three hours. After the first hour, put a sheet of baking parchment on top, to prevent it going too dark and burning. Test with skewer, when it comes out clean the cake is ready.
This biscuit type cake is a modern version of a very ancient cake or Bannock, which was baked in honour of the Sun. Nowadays, we make marks which divide the biscuit into slices or wedges, but these marks originally were symbolic of the rays of the sun. Bannock was the old name which was used to describe a mix baked in a large flat round shape, and generally hardish like biscuit rather than cake texture.
For this recipe you need to line a baking tray with baking parchment. 
Cream together 4oz butter, 3oz caster sugar (very fine). Mix in 8 oz flour& a pinch of salt. This should be a stiff dough, pliable enough to roll our like pastry. If too crumbly, add a tiny drop at a tine of ice cold water (from the fridge). 
Roll out to 1/8 inch thick only. A tip here, I roll it out on a piece of baking parchment, and then lift it onto my baking tray complete with the parchment. It breaks very easily! Define a large circle by cutting around a dinner plate . Remove the bits. Then take a small circular cutter and cut away a centre hole, but not right through, just enough to get the indented shape of a circle (or a sun!). Make eight evenly spaced 'rays' or wedges around the cake. Pierce each wedge three times with a fork.. Bake in a pre heated oven at 350 Fahrenheit, 180 Centigrade for about 20 minutes. It will be softish when you take it out, but will harden as it cools - like cookies.
1 lb.Self-Raising Flour
2 cups of Sugar
small packet Mixed Spice
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ginger
4 oz.Vegetable Suet (e.g."Atore" brand or similar)
2 lbs.Seedless Raisins, Californian
1 grated Apple
1 grated Carrot
Also, Linen Cloth to contain all ingredients while cooking. And a Pot big enough to take it all.
Mix together all dry ingredients then add raisins, suet, grated apple and grated carrot. Mix with cold water to a stiff batter.
Dust Cloth with flour, after rinsing the bottom of Cloth in boiling water. Tie Cloth tightly, but leave space to swell; tied halfway up is about right. Put in Pot.
Fill Pot with boiling water. Keep boiling and simmering for at least three hours.
At the stiff batter stage, we used to put silver threepenny pieces, wrapped in greaseproof paper, into the dumpling for the children to find. You might try the same with your decimal equivalent of the Silver "Thruppny".

          Here is a delightful letter I received:

Dear Maria,
As an afterthought, it struck me that your folks might like some Braes of Atholl Brose to go with their Dumpling. It is not all that popular in my own family since drinking it led to the ensnarement of a relative of ours, Iain-mhor Donald, Lord of the Isles. Since then, the Macinnes´s have been traditionally teetotallers as far as Atholl Brose is concerned (but oddly enough, the Macdonalds have never let it bother them. I suppose they got the taste for it...
The Year was 1745 and Iain Macdonald was leading his clan in Bonnie Prince Charlie's Rising against the Protestant German Hanoverian that the scurrilous English had put on the throne of the Catholic Scottish Stuarts. In those days, people got uptight about that sort of thing and felt that the English should mind their own business. The English thought is was their business since they owned more than half the island and the intransigent Scots kept moving the goalposts where the Border should have been. Anyway, the word got around that our Iain (who was maybe originally a teetotaller himself?) always enjoyed drinking the water in a spring in Killicrankie in the Scottish Highlands. So that traitorous, treacherous scoundrel, the Duke of Atholl (you can see here how partisan feelings can arise, depending on your point of view) ordered that the well should be filled with a concoction of honey and whisky, bound in oatmeal. The noble Lord of the Isles (yes, you can definitely see a trace of residual partisanship creeping in again, even now), very taken with the brew, hung around for a few drams more than was wise and spent the rest of the Rising in the Duke´s dungeons. The Duke of Cumberland subsequently came up the M9 and arrived at Atholl with a permanent cure for Iain Macdonald´s alcoholism...
So if you fancy capturing a Highlander for yourself, here is the recipe for Atholl Brose: First prepare the body from oatmeal. Pour half a pint of oatmeal into a basin (the traditional measure is four sherry glasses full of the stuff) and stir in cold water until you have a thick gooey paste about the same consistency as wallpaper paste. Leave the mix to firm up for half an hour or so then squeeze through a fine strainer, using your hands or a non-metallic implement like a wooden spoon. The idea is to get the creamy extract, to provide a bit of body for the brose. The oatmeal you can throw away, or keep for somebody´s morning porridge, depending on how long you have been hiding in the heather. You don´t need it any more. Pour the extract into a jug and add four dessert spoons of whichever pure honey you prefer Stir it well, using a silver spoon. (If you don´t have a silver spoon, anything that.s handy will do; they´re only being pretentious). Pour the lot into a quart (1 litre) bottle and fill the bottle with malt whisky to your own favourite taste. Shake well before serving at room temperature. The toast is Slainte Mhath! (pronounced Slanjey-va, meaning "Good Health"). The response is Slainte Mhor! (pronounced Slanjey-voe, meaning "Great Health").
Slainte Mhath, a Mhari!
Today, most Scots will have their Turkey like everyone else. But Venison Stew is a rich traditional Scottish dish which would grace any Christmas table. Popular on tables of gentlefolk at Christmastide and New Year in the 18th-19th century.
Cut 1lb lean venison into strips. Cut off the rind from 1lb streaky bacon. Put 1oz butter into a non-stick pan, and brown the two meats briskly. Add salt & pepper to taste. Slice small 1lb carrots, a stick of celery, 1 large onion and grated peel of one orange. Add to meats. Then put in about 3/4 pint milk, just to cover meat, add a spray of thyme, and cover. Simmer for two hours until venison is tender.
Remove meat & vegetables, thicken juices with a little flour, and then add 2 tablespoons whisky and 1/4 pint cream. Heat gently until thick and smooth. Pour over the meat and vegetables in the dish. Grate a little cheese over, and brown in the oven until it bubbles.
Serve with buttered mashed potatoes and buttered mashed swedes or turnips - if you can get them.
And of course what Christmas Party would be without music? You’ve got your basic bands like Dougie Maclean, The Irish Rovers and Jimmy MacLeod and then there’s your traditional carols (though none have their roots directly in Scottish history).  
I hope your Christmas is merry and bright. Happy Holidays everyone!

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