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Wee Glimpses

Alexander McCall Smith's favorite humorous books

Alexander McCall Smith is a professor of medical ethics at Edinburgh university and the author of more than 50 books. He is best known for his series about a female Botswanan detective, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

  1. Mapp and Lucia by EF Benson

    It may be cheating to add this, but Tom Holt deserves the very greatest praise for writing two quite brilliant Benson books with the blessing of the Benson Estate. A remarkable achievement.

  2. Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt

    This is the classic Edinburgh novel. Miss Brodie teaches at an Edinburgh girls' school. She admires Mussolini and has a marvellous turn of phrase, especially when describing the gaseous domains of chemistry teachers. The humour here is dry as a dog biscuit, which suits Edinburgh very well.

  3. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

    All of Benson's Mapp and Lucia books deserve to be on this list; this is glorious comic writing, made all the funnier by the fact that the jokes are repeated many times. And one might always join the Tilling Society, which is composed of admirers of these books.

  4. The Young Visiters (sic) by Daisy Ashford

    Mr Salteena, "an elderly man of 42", enjoys inviting young girls to stay with him. So we are told at the beginning of this extraordinary tale.

  5. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

    Waugh's humour is biting. One might feel a bit sad reading him today, because we know the world of his characters is doomed and will be replaced by a new form of nastiness.

  6. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

    Academia is a very obvious target for the humorist. The modern academic comedy owes a great debt to Lucky Jim, which is still a very amusing book. Jim's misfortune with the counterpane is a warning to all house guests.

  7. The English Teacher by RK Narayan

    RK Narayan's Malgudi novels are humorous gems and it is a great pity that they are not better known. He wrote beautifully and with great compassion, something regrettably lacking in some humorous writing.

  8. Die Gefangennahme eines Postboten (The Capture of a Postman) by Michael von Poser

    Michael von Poser is a contemporary German writer whose work reaches only a very small audience. This is a great pity, because it is achingly funny. This virtually unobtainable collection of stories includes the tale of a postman who is kidnapped by a small village which wishes to attract Rome's attention. As a result of the indifference of the German public to his work, von Poser now devotes himself to translating Chinese poetry into German and writing humorous essays on subjects such as hatmaking and the art of leaving the house.

  9. The Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy by Sigmund Freud

    The psychoanalytical movement has unintentionally produced the most remarkably funny works. This story of Little Hans who fears that he will be bitten by dray horses is unconsciously humorous. Most Freudians do not find this sort of thing at all funny, consciously or otherwise.

  10. The History Man by Malcolm Bradbury

    This novel deserves to survive because it captures, so beautifully and so wittily, a form of posturing which afflicted our intellectual and cultural life for many decades and which is still alive and well in some quarters. Perhaps somebody should now write The Art Man.

    From the Guardian.co.uk

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What is a Ceilidh ?

A Ceilidh (pronounced "Kay-lay", emphasis on 1st syllable) derives from the Gaelic word meaning a visit and originally meant just that (and still does in Gaelic). It can also mean a house party, a concert or more usually an evening of informal Scottish traditional dancing to informal music. Ceilidhs in the Lowlands tend to be dances, in the Highlands they tend to be concerts. Dances in the Highlands and traditional ceilidhs in the Lowlands are often called "ceilidh dances". Ceilidh dancing is fundamentally different from Scottish Country Dancing in that it is much less formal and the primary purpose is the enjoyment of doing the dance. Scottish Country Dancing is much more oriented towards being a demonstration or exhibition.

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Understanding Scottish Graveyards

When I visited Ayr two years ago, one of my fellow travelers was a former resident and very willing guide for a walking tour of the town one pleasant evening. One of the most interesting places we visited was the church graveyard where she shared her interest in deciphering headstones. I later found the following on the internet information on the internet...Shelley Bain.

From Understanding Scottish Graveyards by Betty Willsher - most likely out of print.

Emblems of Mortality
Skeleton, Skull, Bones, - any variety - a reminder to the living that death comes to us all. Winged skulls are rare.
Hourglass - sands of time - we have a limited time on earth and the sand is running out in ours.
Hooded-Robed figure - Father time usually with his hourglass and scythe nearby.
Scythe, dart, bow and arrow, lance, axe - the weapons of death.
Sexton's Tools - crossed spade and turf cutter (triangular blade).
Bell/hand bell - the Deid bell - rang to give notice of funerals.
Trees with lopped branches - life cut short.
Adam and Eve - These will usually be on the left and right side of the stone respectively. There are a few variations on their depiction - depending on the stone mason. Represents the Fall from Grace.
Snakes - the snake from the Garden of Eden - death and sin.

Emblems of Immortality
Heads and or full bodies with Wings - the soul ascending from death waiting for Judgement Day.
Angels with Trumpets - Angels of the Resurrection.
Resurrection Scenes
Clouds or Sunbursts - the radiance of God.
Torches - eternal life.
Heart - divine love.
Heart carved between initials - true love of a married couple.
Crown - crown of righteousness.
Palm fronds, bay leaves, laurel - victory over death.
Poppies - sleep.
Lillies - purity.
Other flowers are ornamental
Fir cones - ancient symbol of fertility - now ornamental.
Scales - weighing of the soul on Judgement Day.
Anchor - hope - also the emblem of mariners or fishermen.
Dove - Holy Spirit.
Hands emerging from clouds - hand of God.
Hands shaking - sign of farewell or reunion.
Others - Adam and Eve - Abraham and Isaac - Sower and Reaper (popular in farming areas).

You may come across a marker that has different initials on the left hand side and only one on the right. The right hand initial is for the surname of the family, the ones on the left are for the individual family members.

And finally - emblems of trade.. a few examples
Mason - trowel, square, level.
Malt Men - grain shovel, tongs, slated shovel (mash oar), fire hook ( two pronged fork sort of).
Bakers - bakers peel - the long flat thingy for removing items from the oven.
Weavers - loom, shuttlecock, a web (sample of weaved cloth).

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St Andrew´s Day

St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and the official St Andrew's Day is on November 30th. Andrew, the Apostle, was added to the communion of saints of the Pictish Church in the 8th century. The legend was that St Rule, a Greek monk, was told by an angel to take the relics of St Andrew to Scotland. While different versions of the story exist, it seems that a religious shrine was created at "Cennrigmonaid" which is known today as the town of St Andrews. Both Columba and St Andrew became emblems of the Church of Scots which emerged from the Church of Picts and, subsequently, St Andrew was widely accepted as Scotland's patron saint.

Around 1143-60, a new cathedral and priory was located at St Andrews. Pilgrimages to St Andrews were encouraged by Queen Margaret who instituted a free ferry to transport "pilgrims to the Apostle" across the Firth of Forth. In 1320, the identity of the Scottish nation was supported by the "Declaration of Arbroath" in which the words "our patron and protector, Andrew" appear.

Two flags are commonly associated with Scotland: the "lion rampant" which is the Royal Standard of Scotland, and the official St Andrew's Cross which is also known as the "Saltire". The origin of the flag is told in the traditional Scottish legend of the Saltire. It is said that around 832 AD, in the vicinity of Athelstaneford in the Lothians, an army of allied Picts and Scots found themselves surrounded by a large force of Angles. As King Angus led the allies in prayer, a strange thing happened. The vision of a large white cross appeared against the light blue of the clear Lothian sky. The cross was taken as a representation of the X-shaped cross (crux decussata) upon which St Andrew had been martyred. King Angus vowed that if he were somehow to defeat the Angles, he would make St Andrew the patron saint of Scotland. As they say, the rest of the story is history!

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Surnames

In Scotland - as in the rest of Western Europe - there were four main ways of acquiring a surname:

- Patronymic - taking the father's first name e.g. Robertson
- Occupation - e.g. Smith (the most common surname of all)
- Locality - e.g. Wood
- Nickname - e.g. White, Little.

Patronymics - Lowland names such as Wilson, Robertson, Thomson and Johnson are among the most common surnames in Scotland. 'Mac' names are also patronymic. MacManus - son of Magnus. 'Mc' is just a printer's contraction and has no significance as to etymology.

Occupation - Names which are derived from trades and occupations - mostly found in towns. The most common of these is Smith (the most common surname in Scotland, England and the USA) but other examples would be Taylor (tailor) Baxter (baker) and Cooper (barrel maker).

Locality - In Scotland the tendency is for people to be named after places (in England the tendency is the opposite). Examples of such names are Morton, Lauder, Menzies and Galloway.

Nickname - Names which could refer to colour or size, e.g. White, Black, Small, Little. Scottish names in this category include Campbell (meaning 'crooked mouth'). Another example of nickname - this time referring to the bearers origins - is Scott.

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Naming patterns

People of all countries tend to use forenames which run in the family. In Scotland families not only use such names but they tend to follow naming patterns - the most common of which is:

- 1st son - named after his paternal grandfather
- 2nd son - named after his maternal grandfather
- 3rd son - named after his father
- 1st daughter - named after her maternal grandmother
- 2nd daughter - named after her paternal grandmother
- 3rd daughter - named after her mother

Although this naming pattern was not always used, it can be a useful indication to genealogists. Unfortunately, this pattern is not used to the same extent today.

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The Seven Wonders of Scotland

The Scotsman, in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland, has launched a public vote to find the SEVEN WONDERS OF SCOTLAND. It is a search to find the heartbeat of the nation, to discover those wonders - natural, artificial and cultural - which make Scotland what it is today.

Please find below the Scotsman's 30 shortlisted wonders. Which would you vote for?

St Kilda
According to naturalist James Fisher, anyone who ever lays eyes on St Kilda will be haunted by it for the rest of their life. The farthest outpost of Britain, evacuated in 1930, has a dramatic rugged beauty, with the highest sea-cliffs in the UK providing an important habitat for vast numbers of puffins, fulmars and gannets.

The Scottish Parliament
It may have been one of the most controversial buildings of all time, but Enric Miralles' Scottish Parliament is lauded by architecture enthusiasts as a miracle of modern design. Hugely popular with people who work there, the Parliament is now one of Edinburgh's top tourist attractions - but is still reviled by many.

Glencoe
Towering mountains and ever-changing weather characterise the eerie glen, redolent of the ghosts of one of the most bloody episodes in Scottish history. Standing in the depths of the valley, one cannot fail to be overpowered by the landscape and the almost tangible presence of the past.

Scotland's literature
The work of Burns, Scott and Stevenson, the philosophers of the Enlightenment and the modern successes of Rankin and Welsh are what define Scotland more than any other aspect of our culture. For a small nation, we have produced a disproportionate number of world famous writers, which reflects an affinity with and appreciation of the written word which dates back to mediaeval times.

The Forth Bridge
When it was built, the Forth Bridge was regarded as the eighth wonder of the world and it remains one of the most recognisable structures in Scotland. Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker's bridge is a testament to robust Victorian engineering and casts a magnificent silhouette across the waters of the Forth.

The ancient Caledonian Forest
From Glen Affric to Abernethy and the Black Wood of Rannoch, the Caledonian Forest of today is just a fragment of the vast swathes of woodland which once spread across the country. Magical and transcending, these patches of ancient forest are a vital part of our natural heritage, domain of the mighty Scots pine and a precious habitat for wildlife.

New Lanark
A rare and beautifully restored model village from the very dawn of the industrial age, New Lanark, set in a wooded valley close to the Falls of Clyde, is a shining example of idealism in action. Social visionary Robert Owen's new view of society included universal education and healthcare and an end to child labour and slavery. His vision inspired philanthropists and co-operative movements around the world.

Glasgow's shipyards
Tens of thousands of men once worked on the shipyards of the Clyde and many of the ships they built are still in service today. Glasgow's shipbuilding industry helped forge the steely character of the city and apprentices including Sir Alex Ferguson and Billy Connolly began their working lives there.

The prehistoric treasures of Orkney
Within a few windy miles on Orkney is a collection of standing stones which predate Stonehenge and the Pyramids. Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, Stenness and Skara Brae, which are all World Heritage Sites, are potent symbols of the culture which predated and helped create Scotland.

The Borders abbeys
It is hundreds of years since Melrose, Dryburgh, Jedburgh and Kelso abbeys have been used for worship, but their picturesque remains are an integral feature of the Borders landscape. Framed by rivers, forest and gentle hills, their association with Walter Scott, Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots have made them an inspiration for centuries.

The Scottish sense of humour
Whether it comes from our intelligence, our ability to laugh at ourselves, or a mechanism to cope with the cold dark weather, the Scots sense of humour is unique. Laughter is the perfect foil to the Celtic gloom and "enjoying the craic" is one of the most universal aspects of life from Gretna to Wick and beyond.

The Cuillin of Skye
Stunning views of the Hebridean islands and peaks that challenge even experienced climbers make the towering black ridge of the Cuillin a playground for mountaineers. Those who have mastered it speak of an outstanding sense of freedom and an astonishing play of colours on land and sea.

Single malt whisky
The pure water, the clear fresh air and the peat moorlands of Scotland all contribute to the flavours of single malt whisky, the water of life and one of our great offerings to the world. The combination of water, malted barley and yeast result in hundreds of distinctive flavours, from the smoky island malts to the sweet ambrosia of Speyside.

The Caledonian Canal
One of the great feats of engineering, Thomas Telford's chain of locks at the start of the Caledonian Canal was conceived in the Napoleonic era and designed to be deep enough to take a naval frigate. With views of Ben Nevis and the azure coast of Lochaber, the canal is a stunning example of man's determination to master the forces of nature.

Iona
The exiled home of St Columba and the burial place of Scottish Kings continues to be a place of pilgrimage for those seeking the source of Celtic Christianity. With white sand beaches and clear turquoise seas, this tiny island is famous worldwide as a place of great power and a symbol of spirituality and peace.

The architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Architect, painter and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh left a great legacy to Glasgow with his distinctive buildings, in which even the furniture was created to his specifications. The House for an Art Lover, the Glasgow School of Art, the Willow Tea Rooms and the Lighthouse are all beautiful and distinctive, stamped with a recognizable flourish which even today is used to epitomise the Glasgow style.

Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags
How many cities in the world have a skyline dominated by the plug of a long-extinct volcano? Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags bring the rugged elemental beauty of Scotland into the heart of the city, while its distinctive rock formations inspired the father of modern geology, James Hutton.

Ben Nevis
The easy southern slopes of Britain's tallest mountain can be explored by walkers, while the steep buttresses and ridges to the North are a stern test for dedicated climbers. Mountaineers speak of huge hidden crevasses where you can lose yourself for hours and of unparallelled panoramic views stretching from the Cairngorms to the Highland lochs.

Dolly the Sheep & Scots inventiveness
The world discovered Dolly the Sheep in 1997, when she became internationally famous as the first live mammal ever cloned from an adult cell. Embryologist Ian Wilmut and his team at Roslin Institute continue a long tradition of Scottish ingenuity, which has given an astonishing number of inventions to the world.

The Edinburgh Festivals
In August the capital is transformed into a cultural wonderland with the world's greatest ballet companies and finest authors rubbing shoulders with television executives, talent scouts and countless comedians. The streets of a city which can sometimes be dour become a riot of colour and a living celebration of the arts in every guise.

Edinburgh Old and New Towns
With a stunning natural setting and a magnificent skyline, Edinburgh is a treasury of architectural marvels, from the cobbled labyrinth of the old walled city to the elegant Georgian splendour of the New Town. Every step is paved with history, from the towering achievements of the Enlightenment to the heinous crimes of grave robbers Burke and Hare.

Fingal's Cave and Staffa
To stand inside the great basalt cathedral of Fingal's Cave was an important part of the Grand Tour and this rocky Hebridean outcrop continues to inspire thousands of visitors to this day. Immortalised by Felix Mendelssohn in the Hebrides Overture and painted by Turner, Fingal's Cave is awash with romantic legend.

Golf
Scotland is not only the home of golf and the place the rules were first laid down, it also contains some of the world's most spectacular courses, including five which are used in the Open Championship. Stunning scenery, undulating greens and testing conditions make courses such as St Andrews among the finest in the world - and a place of pilgrimage where all golfers dream of refining their skills.

The kilt
Not only is the kilt a national form of dress, which keeps alive the tradition of the clan tartan and identifies Scots at formal gatherings around the world, it is also a design classic. French designer Jean Paul Gaultier is a fan, Vivienne Westwood created a punk version and Howie Nicholsby of Edinburgh has made plain kilts in leather and denim for stars including Vin Diesel and Robbie Williams.

The light and sky of Scotland
From the vast skies of Orkney to the cool clear light of the east coast and the blazing pink and orange of the Hebridean sunsets, Scotland's skies present an ever-changing panorama. Writers, poets and artists from the land of mist and mountains have celebrated the transforming beauty and peculiar qualities of Scotland's light.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
A place of great natural beauty and tranquillity, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is Scotland's favourite playground, within an hour's drive of 80 per cent of the population. Rivalling the great national parks of the world, it is a tremendous asset, opening up the countryside for sailing, fishing and walking and giving city dwellers the chance to enjoy the natural world.

Rosslyn Chapel
The treasure house of carvings inside the Mediaeval chapel at Rosslyn make it not only an outstanding work of art but one of the great mysteries of the Earth. Writers from Burns and Byron to Dan Brown have been captivated by the wealth of symbolism and have tried to unlock the secrets of the chapel, which many believe to be a repository of hidden knowledge or even the last resting-place of the Holy Grail.

Scotland's wildlife
Whether it is watching a herd of deer running across the hills, glimpsing a golden eagle or osprey or marvelling at whales and dolphins from the side of a boat, any encounter with Scotland's wildlife is a magical experience. We share our beautiful surroundings with an astonishing variety of wild animals, birds and creatures of the sea which are a hugely important part of what makes Scotland such a special place.

The Scots tongue
The language of Burns also flavours the works of Irvine Welsh and enriches our everyday speech with a wealth of words and phrases. Victorian educators may have tried to crush the use of Scots but it is now seen as a keystone of our culture which shapes the way we express ourselves and gives us gallus words like braw, dreich, crabbit and steamin'.

The Scottish Enlightenment
In the 18th century, Scotland was a country "crowded with genius" including biographer Boswell, economist Adam Smith, geologist James Hutton and philosophers such as David Hume. The work of the Enlightenment thinkers challenged the authority of the church and gave the world a new vision of man as the centre and creator of the moral universe.

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Hogmanay

What is Hogmanay?
Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year, celebrated on 31st December, usually in a most exuberant fashion. In the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh it has become a huge ticketed festival. Celebrations start in the early evening and reach a crescendo by midnight. Bells chime at midnight, there is an orgy of kissing and everyone sings Auld Lang Syne.

Elsewhere in Scotland, particularly in more remote parts, customary first footing and ceilidhs take place. For centuries, fire ceremonies -- torch light processions, fireball swinging and lighting of New Year fires -- played an important part in the Hogmanay celebrations. And they still do.

Where did the word Hogmanay come from?
Nobody knows for sure where the word "Hogmanay" came from. Opinions differ as to whether it originated from the Gaelic oge maidne ("new morning"), Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath ("Holy Month"), or Norman French word hoguinane, which was derived from the Old French anguillanneuf ("gift at New Year"). It's also been suggested that it came from the French au gui mener ("lead to the mistletoe") or a Flemish combo hoog ("high" or "great"), min ("love" or "affection") and dag ("day"). Take your pick.

What are the origins of Hogmanay?
Hogmanay's roots reach back to the pagan practice of sun and fire worship in the deep mid-Winter. This evolved into the ancient Saturnalia, a great Roman Winter festival, where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which became the twelve days of christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they became known in Scotland. The Winter festival went underground with the Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged at the end of the 17th Century. Since then the customs have continued to evolve to the modern day.

It is only in recent years that Hogmanay has been celebrated on such a large scale: the first event of its kind was at "Summit in the City" in 1992 when Edinburgh hosted the European Union Heads of State conference. Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival was so successful that it spawned similar events throughout Scotland.

What is the symbolism of fire at Hogmanay?
The flame and fire at Hogmanay symbolises many things. The bringing of the light of knowledge from one year to the next, lighting the way into the next uncharted century, putting behind you the darkness past, but carrying forward its sacred flame of hope and enlightenment to a better parish, and in this day, world.

What is First Footing?
Traditionally, it has been held that your new year will be a prosperous one if, at the strike of midnight, a "tall, dark stranger" appears at your door with a lump of coal for the fire, or a cake or coin. In exchange, you offered him food, wine or a wee dram of whisky, or the traditional Het Pint, which is a combination of ale, nutmeg and whisky. It's been sugggested that the fear associated with blond strangers arose from the memory of blond-haired Viking's raping and pillaging Scotland circa 4th to 12th centuries.

What's more likely to happen these days is that groups of friends or family get together and do a tour of each others' houses. Each year, a household takes it in turn to provide a meal for the group. In many parts of Scotland gifts or "Hogmananys" are exchanged after the turn of midnight.

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Sue´s Chocolate Shortbread
  • Cream together: 1 pound butter (2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Add: 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sifted cocoa
  • 1 t. almond flavoring (optional)

Mix to a smooth dough. Pat into a jelly roll pan. Prick in rows with a fork. Sprinkle the top with granulated sugar. Bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes. It should be bubbling on top. ENJOY!

Sue Frambach, President

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Marion´s Forfar Bridies
  • 1 pound rump steak or topside beef
  • 3 ounces (6 T.) fresh suet, grated
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
  • pastry: 3 1/2 c. plain flour
  • 1/2 c. self-raising flour
  • 1/2 c. lard
  • 1-3 T. water, to mix

First make the pastry, making a stiff dough. Divide into four and roll into large ovals. Set the oven at moderately hot: 400 degrees. Beat out the steak and cut it into 1/2 inch squares. Mix with the suet and onion, then season. Divide between the ovals, putting the filling to one side and leaving a border. Brush the edges with water, fold over the uncovered pastry and crimp the edges to seal them. Make a hole at the top. Bake in the preheated over for 45 minutes.

Serves 4

Marion notes: Forfar bridies are a form of Cornish pastry made from beef rump or topside rather than skirt, and much eaten in Aberdeen Angus country in the vale of Strathmore. Forfar is the main town and Bridie was the surname of the lady who first made them. The Aberdeen Angus scores because it is a heavy animal, and the meat is most concentrated above an imaginary line going from the shoulder diagonally across the animal. Moreover, the meat is flecked through with fat, which makes it tender and well-flavoured, qualities that are emphasized by proper hanging.

Marion Karlin

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Judy´s Pan Collops
  • 2 T. butter
  • 4 medium sized onions, sliced
  • 8 thin slices of beef steak
  • black pepper
  • 2 T. whiskey

Melt butter and sauté onions until soft but not brown. Push aside and add steaks to the pan, browning quickly on both sides. Add pepper. Spread onions around and on top of the meat, add whiskey, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes. Salt to taste before serving.

Judy notes: chopped meat called Scottish collops was served with crispy leeks, steamed kale and clapshot cakes in oatmeal.

Judy McNamara

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Blinkbonnie Shortbread
  • 1/2 C.butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 C. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 C. corn starch
  • 1 C. flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put all ingredients in a bowl. Mix with one hand by stirring and squeezing until all ingredients are incorporated. Mixture will be crumbly. Turn out onto clean countertop. Continue to squeeze clumps to incorporate any stray, dry ingredients. Once entire mixture is of consistent texture, shape and press into circle 1/4" thick. No rolling pin needed. Pierce the entire thickness of the dough with fork tines. Cut cookies with a biscuit cutter or knife. Transfer cookies to clean cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

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Petticoat Tails
  • 12 oz. (3 cups) plain flour
  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) butter
  • 2 oz. (1/4 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 4 T. milk

Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Gently heat the butter and milk together and as soon as the butter has melted, stir the liquid into the flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it lightly. Divide the dough in half, then roll the halves out directly onto a baking tray into 9-inch rounds using a large plate as a guide. Flute the edges. Cut out a 2-inch circle from the centre but leave it in place. Divide the outer ring into eight, keeping the inner circle whole. Sprinkle with caster sugar and bake at gas 4/350 degrees F/180 degrees C. for about 40 minutes or until golden to light brown, and crisp.

History says according to the book "A Feast of Scotland" that "there are various theories as to the origin of these curiously-named shortbread biscuits. Some say the name was derived from the French Petites Gatelles, meaning little cakes; others that its origin lies in the shape of the biscuits, which is a replica of the Elizabethan full gored skirt; while a third possibility is that it was the clever invention of a cook after years of broken tips to triangular-shaped biscuits." My brother-in-law is in the Scottish McGregor clan. My sister purchased the cookbook when they were visiting relatives in Scotland.

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Scottish Buttermilk Oat Scones
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1 cup buttermilk at room temp
  • ½ cup whole grain oat flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup unbleached white flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup currents, raisins or dried cherries
  • 4 Tbl softened butter
  • butter to grease the baking sheet
  • 1 Tbl milk
  • cinnamon & sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Toast oats in the oven for 20 minutes until golden.
Combine oats with buttermilk, let sit for 20 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, sugar, salt and dried fruit.

Reset the oven to 400 F. Grease baking sheet with butter.

Cut the butter into the flour mix until the texture is coarsely crumbled.
Stir in the buttermilk/oat mixture.
Flour your hands and scoop the dough, forming a ball. Do not over mix.
Press the ball of dough directly onto the baking sheet and press into a ¾“ thick circle.
With a sharp knife, score the surface almost to the bottom into 8 wedges.
Brush top with milk and sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon-sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Cut into wedges. Makes 8.

Hints and variations:
Substitute white flour for either or both whole grain flours.
Increase the sugar to 1/4 cup.
Use a cheese grater to cut the butter while it is frozen or very cold.

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