I am sending my column this week from Scotland, where we are busy sampling local fare.
Today we were in Stirling where we spent a few very interesting hours at Stirling Castle, a pivotal spot in many Scottish battles throughout history and the home to many well known monarchs. We even got to tour the great kitchens where they prepared the food for the people at the castle, armies and royals. (More about that in future columns.)
It was exciting to envision another time and what it must have been like but I was happy to head to a more modem place for lunch.
We stopped at a pub called Nicky Tams (a Scottish expression denoting your going-out duds, as in “this is a place you could wear your Nicky tams!”). The barman was most gracious and made us feel quite cozy. He recommended a local beer called Bitter and Twisted which was lovely, just like the humour on the label. That really put us in the mood for Scottish fare so it seemed appropriate to have “haggis, neeps & tatties”. For those of you who are not familiar with the Highland brogue, this refers to a traditional blood sausage served with mashed turnips & potatoes. For dessert, we shared a “cranocken”. It was a delightful and whimsical dish that mixed raspberries with a whiskey infused whipped cream and crumbled shortbread, then topped with a few roasted oats. It made me hum 🙂
As I sampled this taste of Scotland and thought about tradition, I remembered as a child eating Mom’s meatloaf with mashed turnips and potatoes. I wondered, was this some modern variation on a theme? And didn’t she make a dessert too, that was about taking strawberry jam and whipped cream with graham biscuits? It seems to me she used to say I was a favourite recipe of my Gran’s (great grandma) – she made it when my Gramps was little.
So are we taking bits of our culinary heritage along whether we like it or not? My Mom’s family, the McMurchys, left Scotland eight generations ago. My Gran was a pioneer, but in Canada, living in a mud house on the prairies when she was a young married woman. It doesn’t seem all that far fetched though, to think that all those generations would have looked to create similar meals if possible, and likely found some comfort in an adaptation of an old favourite.
I felt strangely warmed to know that perhaps I had completed a sort of culinary circle of time. Food is always a wonderful combination of having an adventure and coming home, and I had managed to do all of that. I bet tonight if I concentrate (or perhaps after a glass of good scotch) I may even see an ancestor or two in a back booth.
NOTE: The barman at Nicky Tams said there is an old fellow who haunts one of their back booths; the felllow’s granddaughter (now aged 80) was in the pub one day and mentioned that her grandad had been a regular and had in fact passed away one afternoon right in the middle of drinking his pint. Perhaps the beer is just good enough to make people believe such things… Or perhaps it is the power of the haggis, neeps and tatties 🙂