Clootie dumplings: Proof of the pudding - Scotland Magazine
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Clootie dumplings: Proof of the pudding

Meet the lady who has built up a company making clootie dumplings, the original Scottish comfort food, for a worldwide audience Words by Cat Thomson The origins of the clootie…

Meet the lady who has built up a company making clootie dumplings, the original Scottish comfort food, for a worldwide audience

Words by Cat Thomson

The origins of the clootie dumpling, that much-loved Scottish pudding, are vague. 

A plainer version of plum puddings or Christmas puddings, clootie dumpling are believed to date back to medieval times and in the 17th century, there was a popular tradition of hiding charms, tuppences or thruppenny bits inside them for good luck. The “clootie” part of the name comes from the Scots word for cloth, which refers to the cloth in which the pudding was wrapped while steamed. Scottish weans (children) have often been sternly warned: “Never cast a cloot, ‘til May’s oot,” which loosely translates as  ‘stay wrapped up warm until it is summer.’

Normally eaten in the winter months, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to clootie dumplings, though once you’ve boiled your clootie to perfection, it’s generally accepted that you should place it in front of a roaring fire to thicken the skin.

If that sounds too much like hard work, but you still want to sink your teeth into this Scottish delicacy then Clootie McToot is a Scottish-based business that makes homemade dumplings to an old family recipe and ships them across the world to people who have a real appetite for this traditional Scottish dish.

clootie dumpling
Michelle Maddox founded Clootie McToot in 2017 and her dumplings are now popular all over the world

The business was begun by Michelle Maddox, who as a single mum of one began working for the BBC in London on a food programme featuring the likes of Anthony Worrall Thompson and Oz Clarke, following the completion of her Food Science degree at Dundee University.

Following another spell in England – this time in Bury St Edmunds with her new husband (and three children later) – Michelle and family moved back to Scotland, and it was then that the idea of running her own food business occurred to her, quite by chance.

Three of Michelle’s four children have additional support needs and as fate would have it, the embryo of the idea began when her son Jacob was turned down when he applied to run a stall at his school Christmas fete in 2015. “You are always challenging the education system when you have children like mine,” she says. “I was a bit annoyed, so I hired one for myself, it cost £5.”

However, Michelle then realised she needed something to sell and decided to make her granny’s clooties. Michelle explains her granny’s clootie dumplings – a slight alteration to a recipe from her great grandmother – were not a once-a-year treat, “Gran’s passion was cooking, and she would make a big clootie dumpling every weekend. We would have it for pudding for the next two days, then she fried it for a weekday treat for Grandpa. By the next weekend’s visit, we’d make another one,” she says. 

The company produces many different clootie dumpling flavours. Credit: jjgreig

Granny’s clooties were a hit. They sold out in minutes and the next year Michelle repeated the success, but it was a customer’s comment, ‘it would be a great business’ that made her take the plunge into making dumplings full time.

The very next day, she handed in her notice at work and spent the following year (2017) selling clootie dumplings at every market or fair she could, in a bid to build up the Clootie McToot brand. “I could have easily given up, but I learned from customer feedback. That is what kept me going,” she says.

Michelle dreamed of having a shop and so with the help of her husband, she converted an old stable next to her home in Abernethy, Perthshire, in 2018, which then expanded to include a café and production kitchen in 2019.

Due to her family’s additional support needs, Michelle made a point of employing staff with a range of abilities, as she feels that barriers to employment are made to be broken, “I wanted them to experience self-worth and feel a part of a team who are contributing positively to society,” she says.  “You have to be quite quirky to work with me. I love all my members of staff; they are my work family.”

clootie dumplings
Michelle has perfected her recipe. Credit: JJGreig

Of course, Michelle has not been immune to moments of doubt in the journey of turning her business from a tiny start-up to the successful brand it is today. “It has been a roller coaster journey, you get real highs and lows, but it is holding in there and keeping your nerve. It would be so easy to give up,” she says.

Thankfully, holding her nerve has paid off for Michelle. Clootie McToot dumplings are on the rise: in 2020 exports began and last year made up 25 per cent of the business turnover. Every two months, 5472 puddings are shipped to Canada and America, where they are sold in Sobeys Halifax and at The Scottish Grocer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Maine. In the UK they are stocked in the House of Bruar, the Houses of Parliament, Scottish Parliament, on the Caledonian Sleeper trains, and in other stockists.

Michelle’s clootie dumplings are made using quality ingredients and traditional methods. She would like to see a law passed to protect the traditional manufacturing process.

“Clootie dumplings are a very emotional pudding,” she says. “There are so many memories with them, whether it be the smell, the noise of them bubbling away, the taste or memories of your relative that used to make them. People say it is a tradition that is dying out, but I don’t believe that. There’s always someone like me passing on the stories.”

The lasting appeal of clootie dumplings is in their versatility, Michelle says: “You can stuff it in duck or chicken, have it with custard or ice cream, or blue cheese.” Some even like to refry them as a breakfast dish.

clootie dumplings
Clootie dumplings can be served either sweet or savoury. Credit: JJGreig

Clootie McToot sells a range of puddings, including traditional, whisky, rum and raisin, apple, pear and cinnamon, banana and toffee and make-at-home kits.

In February 2024, it was announced that Clootie McToot was merging with Drumnadrochit-based bakery and hospitality company, COBBS Group.  The Abernethy café has now closed and online orders have been paused while production is moved north and merger negotiations continue.

No longer the family-run business it was, nevertheless the deal will be great news for clootie dumpling fans around the globe as the company plans to expand exports and sales. 

Willie Cameron, business development director at COBBS Group says the plan is to have a clootie dumpling HQ at Nevis Range in Lochaber in Scotland’s Great Glen. “We are hoping to run masterclasses and have a visitor experience. We’ve got huge ambitions for clootie dumplings, to reach a wider market,” he says. 

Michelle, a busy mum of four, should be proud of how far her wee clootie dumpling business has come, while for the rest of us, it’s time to tuck in…

Order your clootie dumplings, here.

Read more in the July/August 2024 issue. Available to buy from Friday 14 June here. 

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