Monday, June 25, 2012

Best of British: Scotland

The region for this month's Best of British blog challenge is Scotland. My very first full time job was cooking at a shooting lodge up in the Highlands of Scotland near Tomintoul so this challenge felt quite a personal one.

I have chosen two dishes to represent this region. The first is an oatmeal dish called Skirlie which is pictured below served with roast partridge, broad beans and crab apple jelly and the second is a fruited bread called Selkirk Bannock.

 Both recipes have been taken from the wonderful book below which I bought at a library remainder sale. The book was in perfect condition and why libraries rid themselves of such excellent books is a puzzle. Here is a little bit about Catherine Brown the author.

When I went up to Scotland I had just left cookery school and had found the job by regularly scouring the Lady magazine for cooking posts. I had replied to an advert for a cooks post at Kylnadrochit Lodge, Tomintoul and had been accepted following little more than a letter and a phone conversation. I was soon on the train out of London and it was a very long, very slow train journey. I was collected from the rail station by one of the game keepers and as we drove slowly back to the lodge I was left speechless by the beauty of the scenery.

I still have some of the old postcards I bought while up there and the two below show part of the centre of Tomintoul and one of the roads we drove along when transporting picnic lunches to the shooting parties.

If you have not been up to this area do take a look at some of the images on the Welcome to Tomintoul website.

The produce of the area was quite special and I was soon preparing salmon that had been caught in the stream that ran through the lodge grounds, venison from the estate and later grouse. It was quite a rural baptism for an 18 year old girl from the home counties. I had never before experienced total night darkness and was completely caught out when I walked down to the local call box just after dinner service and stayed on the phone to my family as it turned dark. When I opened the telephone box door I realised I could not see where I was going. Street lights? I don't think so.

The skirlie is a dish I was introduced to by another Scottish cook and shamefully I  remember being a bit sniffy when told it was just oatmeal and onion. I was fresh out of cordon bleu style training and had lost sight of the total importance of ingredients and flavour before appearances. Needless to say as soon as I tasted the dish I had to be humble and agree it was very good.

Despite knowing how good this can taste I do not think I have made it in over 20 years so it was really time to put that right.

The base recipe that Catherine Brown gives is:

50g suet
1-2 medium onions
175g medium oatmeal.

In the recipe notes she explains that sometimes water is added, and that a variety of fats can be used.

As I was making this as a stuffing dish for the partridge I did add some water to the meal and I used goose fat as I had some in need of using up.

I fried the finely chopped onion in the fat but only to a light brown and not to the recipes instruction to brown well. I then stirred in the oatmeal and cooked a little longer before seasoning and turning out into a pottery baking  dish.

I then added water to just come up to the level of the oats and onions and then sat the partridge on top and toasted until the partridge was cooked. Juices from the bird also go down into the skirlie and give added flavour.

If you were serving this with a chicken you could stuff the bird normally but partridge are rather too small for this.

My second dish was the Selkirk Bannock.

I am very fond of fruited yeast breads and this is quite an easy one to make.

I halved the original recipe to make just 2 small to medium sized bannocks:

500g strong white flour
pinch of salt
125g in total of butter and lard. (I used more butter than lard)
200 ml milk (tepid)
10g fresh yeast
125g caster sugar
250 g sultanas (or raisins & sultanas)
milk and sugar for glazing ( I used egg yolk but I think this made it too dark).

  1. Put the flour and salt into a bowl.
  2. Rub in the fresh yeast.
  3. Rub in the butter and lard.
  4. Stir in the sugar.
  5. Stir in the tepid milk and knead up to a soft and elastic dough.
  6. Put into a covered bowl and leave to rise until almost double in size.
  7. Turn out and knead in the dried fruit.
  8. Shape into 2 round bannocks and place on a lined baking sheet.
  9. Cover and leave to rise until almost double in size.
  10. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
  11. I chose to score my bannocks because I need to practice my bread scoring but I don't think this is traditional. If you do score use a very sharp knife or blade and do this just before baking.
  12. Place the bannocks in the oven at 200C for 15 minutes and then turn the oven down to 180C.
  13. Quickly glaze the bannocks and then bake them for a further 25 mins (depending on size), longer may be needed and you may need to turn the bannocks around in the oven to get an even colour.
  14. Test they are done by tapping the base of the bannocks which should produce a slightly hollow sound rather than a flat 'thud'.
  15. Cool on wire racks.
The Best of British Challenge has been organised by Karen Burns Booth of Lavender and Lovage and Fiona McLean of London Unattached.

 The round up of the Scottish challenges will be posted by the 20th July on Farmersgirl Kitchen blog and her own contribution to this challenge can be found here Iced Cranachan.

The Face of New World Appliances will also do a round up.



  1. Ooh both dishes sound good, although I suspect I'm more likely to try the Bannock as I'm vegetarian. I love Scotland, but have never been to the Cairngorms - what a fantastic first job for you. When I was 18, I went off to be an au pair in Switzerland and didn't even speak the language. I was so much braver then than now.

    1. Hi Choclette,

      The Cairngorms were beautiful, I was blessed with a lot of sunny days too. I often wonder why I am so nervous now of doing things I had no fear of at all when younger. I hope you had a lot of fun when you were in Switzerland.

  2. Love your stories and beautiful recipes. Thanks for entering Best of British.

  3. I love the look of that Selkirk Bannock - I've been meaning to make it for such a long time now. Thanks for reminding me about it!

    1. Hope you find time to make a bannock, I am quite taken by your 'parlies', I really like anything on the gingerbread theme.