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Cloutie Dumpling

There were two occasions in the year when bairns in Scotland traditionally went guising - Halloween and Hogmany ( this custom has now died out ). We are now nearing Halloween and can expect Guisers to come chapping on the door - not begging, but merely "thigging"; that is, soliciting gifts on special occasions. Apples, nuts and copper coins ( now silver! ) were the appropriate gift to "help the guisers". In her splendid book "Halloween" the late F Marion McNeill, one-time Vice-President of the Scottish National Party and well known Scottish cookery writer, explains the origin of this festival.

'Halloween or All Hallows' Eve ( October 31 ), appears in the Christian Calendar at the festival of All Saints, which commemorates the "blessed dead" who have been canonised. But how comes it, you may ask, that a solemn religious festival is associated with bonfires, guisers, witches, ducking for apples, burning hazel-nuts and such-like ploys?

The answer is quite simple. It was the policy of the early Christian Church to graft a Christian festival upon each pagan one, so as to disturb the customs of the people as little as possible; and, just as they grafted Christmas, the feast of the Nativity, upon Yule, the great festival of the Nordic peoples that celebrated the winter solstice, so they grafted Halloween upon the ancient Celtic festival of Samhuinn ( pronounced approximently Sah'-win ), which marked the entry of the Celtic year........ The religion of Scotland at the coming of the first Christian missionaries was Druidism, a form of sun-worship peculiar to the Celtic peoples. The doctrines of the Druids were secret. They were never written down, but were committed to memory, generation after generation, by the priestly caste. But the rites were public, and many survived as folk-customs for centuries after their original significance was forgotten. Some survive to this day as Halloween frolics.'

Next week we will look at some of the ploys and games associated with Halloween and towards that end you might consider enjoying one of the splendid dishes with Halloween significance - Cloutie Dumpling. Mind you, it  is a treat at any time of the year!

Cloutie Dumpling

Ingredients:  12 oz flour ( or half flour and half breadcrumbs ); 6 oz shredded beef suet; 6 oz moist sugar; 4 oz currants; 4 oz sulanas; 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or mixed spices; 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda; 1 egg ( optional ); buttermilk or thick sour milk to mix.

Method:  Mix the dry ingredients together in a basin. Stir in enough buttermilk to make a rather thick batter - that is, one of dropping consistency. Dip a pudding-cloth into boiling water. Wring it out, then dredge lightly with flour and sink it into a bowl large enough to hold the mixture. Spoon in the batter. ( The bowl will give it a round shape, like a dumpling. ) Gather up the cloth, making sure that the folds are evenly distributed. Tie up tightly with string, leaving room for the dumpling to swell ( about one quarter of total bulk ). Place an old thick plate in the bottom of a large pan. Lift the dumpling on to it, and pour in boiling water to cover. Cover closely, replenishing the water when necessary. Boil for about three hours. Untie and turn out carefully on to a heated serving-dish. When removing the cloth, take care not to break the "skin". Dredge with castor sugar and serve with hot custard sauce.

Note - The spice may be varied to taste, and oatmeal may be substituted for breadcrumbs. The dumpling is very good made with ale instead of milk, an egg being added and the spice omitted.

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