Like Gran used to make

When it came to choosing a pudding for this weeks blog post, I got all excited about what I wanted to choose but the more I thought about it, the harder it got. It was like choosing of the menu in a restaurant and the waiter/waitress is looking at you after they’ve taken everyone else’s order and you still don’t know what you want, order and then change at the last second.

To be honest, that happens to me with starters and main courses more often than puddings. What I want to do with this blog is to keep it as honest as I can. This means, I want to share the little recipes and knowledge that I have conjured up over the years with people. I have learned that the longer you hold onto things or not share them with others, the more static you become and almost.. boring. Sharing things is about bringing others joy and thus ending up more creative when you set out to be.

So, what does a pudding set out to accomplish or fulfil? Does it bring joy to someone’s soul? Or is it that overpowering feeling of guilt telling you that you shouldn’t have eaten it? I think at the end of the day, we should never deprive ourselves of something that brings fulfilment into life, enjoyment for a moment, a smile to someone and more importantly at the end of the day it is still a nutritious treat.

Treat being the word, it matters not if that is in the form of a bowl of fresh fruit, a stick of rhubarb dipped in sugar, that brings back memories! A scoop of ice-cream, a bowl of cereal, a cheeky thick tea with a good lashing of butter. This overwhelming thought come to me the other day about these rusk like biscuits, which they don’t make any more but anyway. So, I think we have established that a treat is something that we can enjoy now and again but not every day. I don’t think it’s fair to deprive yourself of the finer things in life, it’s just a case of having your wits about you, being a bit savvy and having the correct balance.

If you strive for it, I believe you will thrive, if you deprive yourself, your sure to fail.

So, be it that cheeky fig roll you want to dip into your cup of tea, bubbling cheese on toast with a couple of good splashes of Lea and Perrins, an oatcake with some smoked salmon and cheese cheese or a glass of your favourite wine. One of the finest things in life for me, which I have come to appreciate has to be the almost excited noise a cork makes being removed from a bottle and that gentle, low flowing rhythm of glug, glug, glug as it pours into the glass and when we start to pair it with food, that just takes it to a different dimension.

It doesn’t matter what diet it is, one day it’s good for us and the next day it’s not, surely it’s everything in moderation. I’m no nutritionist or claim to be, I’m perhaps not the healthiest or fittest person for my age, I do enjoy the outdoors every chance I get whenever I’m not in the kitchen. Whether it’s walking the dog, where I conjure up most of my ideas or the little outside jobs around the house. I feel good, I feel blessed and lucky to be where I am and as I close my eyes at night (more so, when I’m home for my 3 weeks shore leave) I can count my lucky stars and when I open my eyes, in the morning, to feel fortunate of getting my chance to try and be a person person than yesterday and do it all again.

This pudding I have decided to go for is something that is very close to my heart and grew up with. It didn’t matter if it was fresh out of the pan or brought back to life a few days later with a frying pan and a good fried egg with a runny yolk.

When you speak to people about duff, they all say that their grannies or mothers recipe is the best. I suppose the same can be said with any family recipe, where we want to protect and be proud of what has been passed down from one generation to another from one family household to another.

When my grandmother would make a duff, I had a front row seat to this cooking demonstration along with the infamous ceremony of cleaning the enamel bowl or just getting home from school before the unveiling ceremony, where the afternoon treat was a wedge of duff. When the skin was still in the transition period, not long out of the pan, not dried out and still warm, steeped in milk and drizzled with some golden syrup.

This memory is not only one that was made in Ness but also made with my childhood friend, D.A, down at Granny Go-gogs, as we called her, in Cross Skigersta where we would cycle down from Cross where it seemed we were cycling for hours and away for days. It was this memory that inspired me to re-create that moment with the clootie dumpling with one side accompanying the skin, the milk simply infused with a touch of vanilla and a drop of lavender to replicate the fragrant outdoor, summery days and the golden syrup which was transformed into a cool, light and refreshing sorbet.

This dish was actually used for one of the tasting courses from a group of residents from the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, where each course was demonstrated before tasting. That was a funny day for me as I’m not sure who they thought I was but they very friendly and appreciative of me taking time out of my busy filming schedule, asking if I spent a lot of time in the restaurant with all my TV work. A few photos, hints and recipe tips later, during the final goodbye, the thanks went to… James Martin! Okay, I went along with it, they had a good day and it all went well so I suppose that’s all that matter really. We all had a good laugh about it, at my expense but hey ho, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. Everyone coming together for some nice food, some stories and a good laugh. I wonder, since I’ve filmed a few times for BBC Alba, if I’m the Gaelic version of James Martin?

Cooking for the group from the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship in 2016

So, seeing my grandmother making the duff, the method is burned into my mind, the only thing I don’t think she ever wrote the recipe down and to date, neither have I. What I do have thought is a little story and a recipe I would like to share. I was given this recipe a few years ago from a lovely lady who entered her duff into the charity bake off that was held in Stornoway, where I was fortunate to be asked to be part of the judging panel along with one of the previous winners of the BBC Great British Bake Off. I just remember tasting the duff and thinking, this is very good and along with the other 20+ clootie dumplings, it’s perhaps only now that I realise that when it comes to our family recipes, we are not only proud to protect it’s reputation and root source but within each household, we hold the memory of hearing the tapping of the saucer on the bottom of the pan, the stradagan jumping out of the chimney from stocking the peat fire to get the griddle to the correct temperature for that batch of scones or oatcakes or the memory of making toast on the open fire (still the best way to make toast, in my opinion) or the day you realise that some recipes work and some just don’t, like putting treacle on a scone because gran had run out of syrup – big learning curve! What I do know, with all the recipes that I have collected over the years, all the books that I have gathered, the dishes that I have cooked, I know that some of the best recipes are the ones that have never been written down. I just hope that I have done Joey justice by bringing this recipe to attention and emphasise that there is still plenty of stiff competition from any household that still dawns an apron.

Clootie Duff

4 cups self raising flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teapsoon salt

3 cups dried fruit

1 level teaspoon – mixed spice

1 level teaspoon – cinnamon

1/2 level teaspoon ginger

1/2 level teaspoon nutmeg

6oz margarine

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon syrup

1 tablespoon treacle

1 apple, grated

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Milk, to mix

Method:

Mix flour, salt and spice and rub in margarine. Add sugar and dried fruit. Mix egg, syrup, treacle and apple with a little milk. Add to dry mixture and fold in bicarbonate of soda mixed in a little milk. Mix to a dropping consistency, using more milk if required.

Cooking:

Scald the “cloot” briefly in the pan of boiling water. Ring out and dredge well with flour and shake excess flour off cloth. Turn mixture onto the cloth, tie up securely, making sure there are no loose edges and leaving room for the dumpling to swell. Place dumpling on a plate in the pan of boiling water and boil for 31/2 – 4 hours, topping up with boiling water if levels drop. Lift dumpling onto a plate and carefully begin to remove the cloth, using the back of a knife to ensure that “skin” stays on the dumpling. Invert dumpling onto a large plate and fully remove the cloth. Leave dumpling to dry naturally. Slice and eat either hot or cold.

I’d love to see what you create! Upload a picture to Instagram and tag me at @TheNiseachChef or use the hashtag #TheNiseachChef

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