Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Monday, 17 March 2008

Grey Soup,Scones and the "Striolla"

The big feast of the week was Sunday Lunch and fish,eggs and porridge were off menu that day,porridge, because the great big pot it was made in,was needed to make the soup on the Sunday. This black caste-iron pot was huge and hung from what we called a "striolla"(Sp?). This was a stout chain attached to a transverse metal bar which had been embedded half way up the chimney,probably from day one. Into this pot went water(of course),2 pounds of salt mutton,an equal amount of fresh mutton,pearl barley,onions and green cabbage(if available). Some flour was added later to thicken the soup a little. It has to be said that the large piece of dry salt meat was steeped in water overnight to remove some of the salt. We city lads christened the resulting potage "Grey Soup". The meats were placed on a large salver,the soup was ladled onto plates,and a large terrine of "first crop" potatoes took centre stage on the table. Apart from the soup spoons,there was no need for cutlery here. Who could ever forget the flavour of the meats,the wonderful taste of that soup,and the freshness of the Kerr's Pinks? This was truly "a finger-lickin'" feast; after all,it was only our fingers we used.
One cannot talk of food here without mentioning the Stornoway bread,to be exact their "plain loaf". This was(and still is)a tall white loaf of exquisite taste whose crust,top and bottom,is best kept to the last. Even after 2 or 3 days it's as flavoursome as ever. My favourite is still a thick slice of this loaf,buttered and crowned with a grilled slice of black pudding.
Every afternoon,when the lunch dishes were washed and put away, my mother and Aunt Dolly would set up the large baking board on the table. I remember that the board had "gates" at each of the four corners through which the flour could be brushed out. The brush was a bunch of seagull feathers tied with some Harris wool. The brush was used also to wipe clean the girdle(griddle). Mother made the scones and Aunt Dolly the oatcakes - and I can still taste them,but sadly only in my memory. Occasionally we were treated to pancakes.
One might understandably think that I have a fixation on the foods of a bygone age,but not so. I only want to put on record the food the people ate and how they prepared it. This was 60 years ago and in only a few years the blackhouses were abandoned,overtaken by modernity. The way of life over hundreds of years would change,but this was to exact a high price within the Lewis communities.


Shelley said...

Food preparation took up so much of the day back then. It was a way of life as well as the means TO life, so it's fitting that food should have a place of honour in your recollections.

But gosh, it make me hungry reading about all! :D

Anonymous said...

My Grandad, Willie "Og" was a Master baker of the Stornoway bread at Stag Bakeries and you're right, it is delicious even now.

Ian M said...

Actually the whole art of it was that food preparation was extremely easy.
For example, in my Lewis childhood anyway, in the country the sunday joint was simmered rather than roasted. That's an extremely efficient method. This yielded soup (chuck the barley and onion in first, carrots halfway through, cabbage near the end), which would be followed by the meat, fished out of the pot and sliced to serve with Granpas own lovely Kerrs Pink of course... I like to dredge the veg/barley out and have it on the side. The spuds would of course be boiled in their skins, peeled at the table and smeared with butter. Yum. Best well sprinkled with salt in my opinion,certainly not the revolting HP sauce offered in some families.
My father liked canned pear embedded in instant custard to finish.... not for me. I took the choc buscuit and tea option and scarpered of to read and digest.

Ian M said...

I well remember being sent along BayHead to Johny Og's little bakery for the best bread on the planet, then or since. Stornoway bakeries clubbed together to form the Stag bakery a few years later.

Johnny Og would have used Canadian wheat, which is why returning natives of a certain age can find the modern plain loaf a tad disappointing - it's made from softer European wheat.

I wonder if they still make these jaw breaking bakers biscuits, I think these were primarily for taking to sea, you would really have to be starving.

In Ulster they have a very similar loaf, but broader.

Standard issue to wake eveyone up at my Granpas was a cup of mahogany tea and a thick buttered slice of Jonnny Og's finest plain.

(Looking back, I wonder why they didn't bake their own bread.... the Raeburn was often on all day)

"Pan" bread was more expensive, lighter and posher, not so tasty.

I once worked on an oil rig where the Baker was a lewisman trained by Og: he made the most spectacularly gorgeous doughnuts I've ever tasted.

happy days.....

Anonymous said...

Iain M. The jaw breaking biscuits you refer to were known as "Craggan" biscuits and were baked in "Buth a'Chraggan"a small bakery on the road into town,just past Laxdale. They were popular on the west coast,and certainly in our house,but not with me. When he retired,he closed the shop and vowed the recipe would go to the grave with him,and it did.We might not mourn the passing of the great Craggan biscuit,but many did. Yours, D.J.Maclennan.