Thursday, January 29, 2015

A True Scotsman: Kilty, kilty caul' bum

Kilty, kilty caul' bum
Three sterrs up.
The wummin in the tap flair
Hit me wi' a cup!

Ma heid's a' bleedin',
Ma face is a' cut -
Kilty, kilty caul' bum,
Three sterrs up!

(Traditional Scottish skipping rhyme)

Like the monster at the bottom of Loch Ness one of the most well kept secrets of Scotland is … what, if anything is worn under the kilt.

Stock answers include:
"No, nothing is worn, everything is in perfect working order!" or
"Yes, socks, shoes, and talcum powder," and "Yes, socks, shoes, and two shades of lipstick."

The True Scotsman it seems wears the kilt without undergarments.

But where did this all originate from?

Highland drovers wore the kilt and found it perfectly appropriate attire for crossing rough terrain in summer and winter. The absence of technology to produce underwear at the time meant nothing was worn under the kilt. The Dress Act which formed part of the 1746 Act of Proscription prohibited the traditional wearing of clan tartans and kilts. But fear of rebellion in the private armies and mercenaries that made up the Scottish Regiments. kilts continued to be worn. Whether as a mark of respect for the once proud nation or pure disrespect to their English masters nothing was worn under the military kilt.

About a hundred years after the Acts of Union (1707), all things Scottish once again became very popular in England and Scottish Fancy dress was the vogue in upper class society. Naturally civilians became inquisitive about what lay beneath the pleated plaid.

This was humorously referred to as ‘military uniform’, leading to popular metaphors such as "going regimental" or “military practice.” No different really to to today’s “going commando.” By the time of Queen Victoria, a true scotiafile,her interest in the Highland Games and dancing necessitated participants were modestly clothed. Later the regulations of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD) stipulated “dark or toning with the kilt should be worn but not white. Highland athletes were also required to wear shorts of some type during competitions.

During the First World War on the Western Front the kilt was worn into battle and sergeant majors reportedly used mirrors tied to the end of walking sticks to inspect up and under the kilt at parade inspection. In 1940 the kilt was retired from combat but used instead as the formal dress uniform of the regiments. “Up skirting” continued with a floor mounted mirror in the barracks.

Kilts have once again become very popular as Highland dress has become popular evening wear for men of all ages. The matter to go fit and proper without underwear has become quite controversial The Scottish Tartans Authority recently decreed refusing to put on underwear beneath a kilt is both "childish and unhygienic". Others remain stoic in the belief going regiment is perfectly acceptable dress. There is certainly no scientific evidence to support the unhygienic argument but one needs to be wary of how and where you sit if your dignity is to be preserved. In Greenock in 2011 a terrible fight broke out at a local wedding after the groom decided to sit on his bride’s white gown. All too quickly it was noticed he had unwittingly left a skid mark and one almighty fight between the in-laws ensued.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The History of Porridge

'The halesome parritch, chief o' Scotia's food' from 'A Cotter's Saturday night' by Robert Burns (1785)

Porridge or "parritch," are allied to the word "pottage," indicating the practice of cooking ingredients together in a pot and thickening it with cereals. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word "porridge" did not come into use until the 17th century but porridge like dishes are thought to have been made in Neolithic times by boiling ground, crushed, or chopped cereal in water, milk. The Gaelic word for porridge is “leite” although it goes by other names including 'milgruel' in Shetland. It is generally defined as a dish made by stirring oatmeal or rolled oats into boiling water and simmering the mixture gently until it is cooked. Scot’s porridge is usually eaten hot for breakfast with optional flavourings and may be sweetened with sugar or honey. Traditionally it was eaten with salt. Eating porridge in cold countries is thought to keep the body warm during the long winter months.

Reference to Porridge appears in the "Vinaya" texts and the Lord Buddha considered the dish to have five benefits. The Five Endurances (Wuchang) were: overnight digestion, reduced flatulence, the quenching of thirst, the suppression of hunger and reduced constipation.

Climatic conditions meant oats and barley were the predominant crops to grow in the North of Scotland. Despite this oats did not predominate until the eighteenth century, thereafter it played an increasing role in the diet. This was especially true in rural areas where oatmeal often formed the basis of every meal. In 1794, Joseph. Donaldson observed the eating habits of farm labourers in the Carse of Gowie, and described oatmeal with milk cooked in different ways, was the sole source of sustenance throughout the year. Scottish emigrants took their food preferences to many far-flung corners of the globe.

Unflaked oatmeal had to soften to become edible, so it had to be cooked for a long time. The wooden spurtle (parritch stick or thivel) was used to stir it frequently to prevent the formation of large lumps. Traditionally Scots’ used a spurtle to stir the pot. It was important to always stir deiseal (clockwise/sunwise) with the right hand for luck. Stirring widdershins (anticlockwise) was said to invoke the devil or bring bad luck. Good bairns were often rewarded by having the spurtle to lick in addition to their share of the breakfast. The following is one verse of a song entitled 'Our gudeman came hame at e'en.' collected by David Herd in 1776.

Our gudeman came hame at e'en,
And hame came he,
And there he saw a shining sword
Where nae sword should be:
What's this now, gudewife,
And what's this I see ?
O how came this sword here
Without the leave o' me ?
A sword! quo' she,—aye, a sword! quo' he.
Shame fa' yere cuckold face,
And waur may ye see,
It's but a porridge spurtle
My mither sent to me.
A spurtle! quo' he,—aye, a spurtle ! quo' she.
Far hae I ridden, love,
And meikle hae I seen,
But silver hiked spurtles
Saw I never nane.

Oat grains are available as whole grains or groats. These are ground into oatmeal and steamed and rolled into flakes of varying thickness. These can be steel-cut, or toasted and stone-ground (Macroom Oatmeal). Rolled oats are used for many purposes; the bigger the flakes, the chewier the porridge. Toasting the oats beforehand for a couple of minutes gives the finished dish a distinctly nutty, roasted flavour. Choose rolled oats if you want a smooth consistency and a porridge that cooks quickly. Rolled oats have a medium grain and are used for oatcakes, biscuits and stuffing. Scottish traditionalists allow only oats, water and salt although full-fat milk makes a rich porridge. A ratio of one part of milk to two of water has been recommended as a happy medium. A little salt added towards the end of cooking is essential, whether or not the porridge is sweetened. Adding the salt too early hardens the grain, preventing it from swelling, and results in a less creamy bowl of porridge. Traditionally the mixture is said to whisper ‘Perth’ and ‘Gargunnock’ in a gentle simmering way when it’s ready. Letting the porridge sit, lidded, for 5 to 15 minutes may develop a little more flavour.

Porridge is highly nutritious because oatmeal contains protein, carbohydrate, fats, and soluble fibre, all the B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, and iron. The lack of vitamins A, C, and D is redressed when it is combined with milk or vegetables. Oats are a slow release carbohydrate and perfect for a low G.I. diet. Research also shows they are also useful for lowering cholesterol. Porridge was customarily eaten while standing, but the reasons remain obscure. Some believe it helped fill the stomach "A staunin' sack fills the fu'est" (A standing sack fills the fullest), while others consider it as a precaution in times when an enemy may catch them unawares.

The oats used for porridge determine how hearty the final dish will be and how long to cook; the finer the oats the quicker the cooking time. The oats used for porridge are usually rolled rather than crushed and Scottish oats, also known as "pinhead oats" and are the ones used for Scottish porridge.This simplified the preparation of porridge and all oat-based dishes. In 1877 the Quaker Oats Company of the United States developed rolled oats or oatflakes by steaming and rolling the coarsest grade of oatmeal to produce pinhead oatmeal. Today’s muesli is a derivative of the Scottish porridge.

In the past the basic mixture allowed for numerous permutations, all with their own nomenclature according to locality. Brose was made by pouring boiling water over oatmeal, butter, and salt: with meat stock it became fat brose, while the addition of a green vegetable gave kail brose. Hasty Pudding was a form of porridge enriched and sweetened. Gruel was made by boiling the liquid that oats had soaked in, flavoring it with assorted ingredients and allowing it to cool to a jellylike substance. To make sowans, oat husks were soaked until sour, at which point the mixture was sieved and the husks thrown out. The liquid was a pleasant drink and the starchy sediment underneath was boiled and eaten either hot or cold, with milk, cream, or beer again served separately.

Once cooked, the porridge was ladled into porringers (bowls) with a separate bowl of milk, buttermilk, or thin cream close by. Each spoonful of porridge was dipped into the cold liquid and then eaten. Some sprinkled sugar over the porridge, and others preferred honey, treacle or syrup, or a knob of butter—the men might replace the milk with ale or small beer. Porridge was sometimes poured into a drawer in the kitchen dresser to be sliced when cold, either for eating out in the fields or for reheating in the evening.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Dougie MacLean

The Scottish singer-songwriter was born in Dunblane in 1954. He joined the Paisley based Scottish folk group, the Tannahill Weavers in the mid seventies and toured extensively in the UK and Europe playing fiddle, mandolin and sharing vocals. The group recorded their first album “Are Ye Sleeping Maggie?” in 1976.

Dougie left the Tannahills and teamed up with German born Scot, Alan Roberts and recorded the album Caledonia in 1978. The album met with great critical acclaim and the song Caledonia would be later recorded by many other artists.

Later the duo joined Alex Campbell and recorded the album CRM which contained traditional Scottish songs.

In 1980 Dougie MacLean joined SillyWizard for six months and toured with them in the USA, Holland and Germany before forming a duo with Edinburgh guitarist, Donald MacDougall. They performed in US, Canada and Europe and McLean (on foddle) contributed to Silly Wizard's fourth album, Wild and Beautiful (1981) before returning to the Tannahill Weavers.

During this time Dougie’s recorded his first solo album, Snaigow in 1980.

The singer now based himself in Perthshire but continued to tour worldwide. His follow up was Wing and a prayer and was released on Plant Life in 1981.

He later built a recording studio near Dunkled and he and his wife, artist Jennifer MacLean, launched their own record label, Dunkeld Records. The debut album Craigie Dhu (1982) proved a commercial success and this was followed by Fiddle (1984) and Singing Land (1986) .

Over the years Dunkeld Records became one of Scotland's most respected independent record labels featuring not only Dougie MacLean but also Hamish Moore, Sheena Wellington, Frieda Morrison, Gordon Duncan, David Allison and Blackeyed Biddy. Throughout the decade Dougie MacLean's reputation grew and became a popular performer at festivals and concerts where ever Scottish music featured. The album Real Estate was released in 1988.

Dougie MacLean has built an international reputation as songwriter, composer and extraordinary performer on his own terms. His songs have been covered by hosts of artists including Scottish stars Paolo Nutini & Amy MacDonald, Ronan Keating, Mary & Frances Black, Dolores Keane, Deanta and Cara Dillon, and Grammy award winning US country singer Kathy Mattea. His music has been used in the Hollywood movies: Trevor Jones adapted the music from the Search album as the main theme to The Last of the Mohicans in 1992; Angel Eyes also featured music from Dougie Mclean as well as A Mugs Game (BBC).

To date his greatest success has been “Caledonia” which has become one of Scotland’s most popular contemporary songs. The song was written in less than 10 minutes on a beach in Brittany, France when the singer was busking overseas and feeling homesick. The song featured in a Tennent’s Lager beer advert in 1991 with a cover interpretation sung by Frankie Miller.

The public response was immediate and so enormous Miller re-recorded the whole song and released it as an independent single. The song reached number 45 in UK Singles Chart but topped the Scottish charts in 1992. The song has been covered by many other artists.