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Issue 73 - Warming the cockles

Scotland Magazine Issue 73
February 2014


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Warming the cockles

Recipes to keep you warm in winter

Although there is a promise of spring in the air, it’s not quite time to fold away the thermals and unfurl the t-shirts yet. There is still plenty of time to delight in comforting, warming dishes such as beans, soda bread and hot pudding.

Irish soda bread takes less time to make than it takes to walk down the High Street to the bakers for a loaf. Like scones, it is the alkali (bicarbonate of soda) reacting with the acid (buttermilk or sour milk) which produces an immediate rising action. Unlike yeast-based breads, it should be baked straight after mixing, for the best rise. Although the recipe given here is for white flour, you can substitute half wholemeal or add a handful of wheatgerm to give it a rougher texture.

Bruine Bonen is a staple in Holland. A hearty, nourishing dish of beans served with bacon (and its fat), onions and a splash of vinegar, it was traditionally eaten once a week in winter. On Fridays it was eaten without the bacon. Along with Hutspot (hotpot) and Erwten soep (pea soup) it is one of Holland’s national dishes. It is even mashed and served to babies with apple sauce. My recipe is from Cor Van Hage, who arrived in Britain in the late 1940s from Holland. Cor’s mother used to cook this recipe for her 13 children to try to assuage their huge appetites, sharpened while they planted bulbs in the cold, windswept fields all day. Another of her specialities was Jan in de Zak, a boiled pudding made of flour, milk and eggs which was eaten warm with Dutch syrup and bacon fat. Usually boiled in a small pillowcase or cloth (like Scottish cloutie dumpling), the Van Hage family’s gargantuan pud was boiled in a 30lb bulb sack in a huge tub in the wash-house.

Since I imagine not many of you have a clean bulb sack (or a family of 15) to hand, I suggest you try another pudding; blueberry grunt, my version of an old Canadian recipe for a blueberry pudding topped with sweet dumplings. Imagine, if you will, a tightly-lidded saucepan of berries and dumplings steaming away gently, with a reassuring, muffled “phut” resounding occasionally from within and you will begin to understand the etymology of a grunt in the kitchen. Since I am not partial to sweet dumplings, however, I have made the topping for the blueberries more of a scone crust and baked it in the oven. Pedants among you might call it a cobbler, but I happen to like the word grunt. So, blueberry grunt it is.

Irish Soda Bread
400g/14 oz plain flour
1 rounded tsp salt
1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda
200 ml/10 fl oz buttermilk

Place a floured baking sheet in the oven as you preheat it to 230C/450F/Gas8.

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the buttermilk .

Combine well then –with floured hands – turn onto a floured surface and, kneading quickly and lightly, give it a couple of turns to form a round shape. Flatten into a round, about 5 cm thick. Cut a deep cross into the surface of the dough. Transfer it to the hot baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce to 200C/400F/Gas and bake for a further 20 minutes or until done. Tap the base of the loaf, it should sound hollow.

Leave to cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Dutch brown beans with bacon
Start the night before by soaking the beans and gammon; you can cook the beans without the gammon and serve with the streaky bacon.

500g/1 lb 2 oz Dutch brown (or pinto) beans
1 kg/2 lb 4 oz smoked gammon hock, soaked overnight, optional
250g/9 oz smoked streaky bacon
25g / 1oz butter
Sherry Vinegar
1 peeled, chopped red onion, to serve

Wash the beans well, then place in the (large) saucepan you intend to cook them in. Cover with cold water, so the level is about 3 cm above the beans. Leave to soak overnight. If you are using gammon, add that to the pan (plus extra water to just cover everything) and bring slowly to the boil. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes, remove any scum with a slotted spoon, then cover and cook over a medium heat for 1 - 1½ hours or until the beans are tender, topping up with boiling water if necessary). Add salt to taste and remove the gammon to a board to slice.

Cook the streaky bacon in a pan with the butter until crispy.

Using a slotted spoon, spoon some beans onto warm plates. Pour a little bacon fat from the bacon pan over the top, then top with some bacon. Sprinkle each plate with a little vinegar, then top with some chopped onion.

If using gammon, slice and serve on the side.

Blueberry Grunt
Serve warm with thick cream or some Greek yoghurt

600g/1 lb 5 oz blueberries
115g/ 4 oz golden caster sugar
2 level tsp cornflour
3 tbsp lemon juice
175g / 6 oz self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
the zest of 1 lemon
50g / 2 oz butter, diced
1 medium egg, beaten
4 tbsp milk
Place the berries in a saucepan with 50g/2 oz sugar. Dissolve the cornflour in the lemon juice and add to the pan. Bring very slowly to the boil. Boil for about 2 minutes, until the juices are released, then remove and tip everything into a shallow oven dish.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the remaining sugar and lemon zest. Rub in the butter then stir in the egg and milk, to form a soft dough. Drop 6 spoonfuls of the dough over the top of the blueberries - they do not need to be too shapely as they will spread out haphazardly during cooking.

Bake in a preheated oven (220C/425F/Gas7) for about 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown and firm.