Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
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Friday, 2 January 2009

Stornoway Bread - "The Best". Ask the Cows.

A newly baked Stornoway plain loaf(a variety of bread once favoured by all Scots)is undoubtedly one of the great culinary experiences this sadly homogeneous world can still offer up. It is no exaggeration to assert that once a person has tasted the Stornoway plain loaf,one sets a benchmark which no other bread can ever match. The words "manna" and "ambrosia" come to mind. You might say that it is the Haagen Dazs of all breads. A "breid heid" from Glasgow,on first tasting the Stornoway loaf,lost his reason altogether. People returning from the island remove as much "tat" from their cars,to ensure room for the Stornoway loaves. One family from Liverpool sent their 16 year old back home by 'plane,to make room for a dozen loaves.People in Glasgow ask that you bring them back "just a couple of loaves". I have to remind my new-found "friends" that my car will be returning with five adults,a dog,an outboard engine and a mini wardrobe(on the roof rack,of course)to be returned to Ikea. But,of course I'll do my level best for them, to be sure, "a nise",ahem........ Suffice to say that the Stornoway bread has a fine reputation,yes,the world over. Surely if the Stornoway "marag" can be exported to Glasgow or Edinburgh,then the bread could travel equally well in the same van. Now,if you think this eulogy to a plain loaf is a bit OTT,then I suggest you "make your way to Stornoway",and buy a loaf for yourself at the "Stag Bakery". I know for sure what the outcome will be.
In previous posts, the Stornoway loaf and the Stag Bakery received a couple of mentions. In that regard,Iain M. ("The Croft")told me that his grandfather,known as "Willie Og" from Stornoway was Master Baker at the Stag Bakery. In my young days,I don't think there was a bakery in town of that name. I know that Hughie Mathesons baked bread,but as for other bakeries in Lewis producing this delicious loaf,I simply can't recall. The "Stag" raised its antlers last year in a most unexpected place. With a lady friend of mine,I visited Douglas in South Lanarkshire to visit the Cameronians Museum (closed for refurbishment,at that time),and the Chapel containing the tomb of the "Black Douglas",Robert Bruce's right hand man in the Scottish Wars of Independence. As we made our way along a street of old houses,we stopped outside this cottage to "converse" with a very lively little terrier . Our conversation was picked up by a young lady and her stepfather who were doing renovation work in this cottage,dated around 1590,and by far the oldest house in Douglas. She invited us in, to see her house which she had bought to escape the grind of working and staying in Glasgow. The conversation initially concerned old buildings and somehow it moved to "tighean dhubha",and finally coming to rest on a shared knowledge of the Isle of Lewis. This lady was well acquainted with Lewis and informed me that she was related to the owners of the Stag Bakery in Stornoway. It's a small world,Miss Maclean.
When we were in Dalmore during the holidays,as many as 17 people might be accommodated/fed at the one time in the house at No.5. This took a lot of bread,man(as the Americans say). Donald,my brother,and I would be sent down to the "shed" in Carloway to pick up our bread order. Two sturdy upright bikes,four large canvas bags.and we arrived at Shed a'Hech(Shed a'Bhraseach),where one could expect a little gentle ribbing from the natives. "Well,boyths.how many loafths are needed today at Taigh Glass?" Domhnull a'Bhraseach had a lovely sense of humour,and an attractive lisp. A little embarrassed, I would say 19(23 is the house record),while the Big Yin,my brother lurked outside pretending not to know me. "Tell your Uncle Shonnie that in future we will divert the bread van into Dalmore,to save you boyths the trouble"
I remember once, with a joint cargo of about 12 or 14 loaves,we were heading out towards the Doctor's House,when my fitba'daft brother noticed a "bounce" game in progress on the football park. We lay our bikes carefully by the river,the bread sacks still draped over the handle bars. The game was very enjoyable,until one of the local lads directed my attention to the bicycles "taobh an abhuinn". Cows,that were not there at the start of the game, were feasting on 5 Dalmore's complete weekend bread supply. Well what a mess,and how to explain this away! Some of the loaves were untouched,others had the imprints of bovine dentistry, while still others languished in one of the ruminants' many stomaches. Well,you could only laugh(or cry) at the situation,and fortunately for us, our adult relatives decided,that in the scheme of things,it was better to laugh. Shonnie,my uncle,couldn't quite appreciate the hilarity in the house,and his laugh,when it came, was short and muted. The only worry now was facing Domhnull a'Bhraseach next time around."Well,boyths,how did you get on last week?". O Man,Man!!


Anonymous said...

Yes, you can't beat a stag loaf! My Grandad was indeed William "Og" Mackenzie and he started Stag Bakery with a local business partner. My Grandad's father (also William Og) was also a baker and his father in turn was also a Stornoway baker going by the name of Johnny Og (Oak). The Stag name comes from the Stag's head on the old MacKenzie clan crest.

Ian M said...

Jonnie Og's lovely little bakery was across from the footbridge to the Castle Grounds, I went there often as a child.
One legendary baker on the N Sea rigs was a Johnnie Og alumnus who baked the best and biggest doughnuts ever known on either side of the Atlantic.
The Stag bakery was so called because it was built on Stag Road.
I used to live round the corner from the site - between a derelict house and the C of S manse - where it was built.
In fact I worked in the bakery for a while (night shift)(hopeless employee) after leaving school and was startled to see the retired Nicolson janitor, previously a figure of some standing merged with ridicule, coming in to a part time job wrapping sliced bread.
The reason our beloved plain loaf isnt nearly as nice today is because they no longer use good Canadian spring wheat but soft European rubbish. Oh well...