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Stories and Stovies
Hamely Fair - Fish


What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine –
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Robert Burns, Is There For Honest Poverty

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes
A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

Welcome to Scotland

The follow selections are reminders of foods I grew up with. My taste bud memories are still sweet and warm, and I’m glad that somehow, somewhere, I found some recipe books from Scotland in America with recipes in them to help me recreate these foods for you. All of my grandmother’s cooking tips and recipes were from the "handful of this" and "a little bit of that" school of cooking. She only wrote her dumpling and scones down from me when we lived in Germany – I wish I had asked her for more.

FISH

Arbroath Smokies

This is the recipe for smokies from "A Taste of Scotland":

4 whole smoked haddock
1:1/2 cups milk
Salt and pepper
Butter

Separate the pairs of smokies and lay them in a shallow dish. Pour on the milk and add salt and pepper. Spread on butter and cover with foil. Cook in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for about 30 minutes.

This is how "A Taste of Scotland" further describes smokies:

"These are quite unlike any other smoked fish in the world. Small haddocks are used, the fish are cleaned, but not split open, salted, then tied in twos by the tails, hung high on little wooden spits or over halved whisky barrels above a fire usually made from oak or silver birch chips. This method originated at Auchmithie, but by the beginning of the nineteenth century the fisherfolk settled at Arbroath, and by the end of that century the success of these fish became more widely known, and the name was changed to Arbroath smokies. The outside of an Arbroath smokey is a lovely copper colour, and the inside has a most delectable savoury flavour and creamy texture. When the pit or barrels were not available, ingenious fisherwives set up their own small smoking sheds."

You know, I don't ever remember my Granny doing anything like this with the smokies. We would go to Arbroath at least once a year to enjoy the sea air, I would swim in that freezing cold North Sea water and think nothing of it, perform in the poetry and speech competition of the Arbroath Music Festival and buy smokies in the backyard smokeries of the fishwives there. We never cooked them at all - would just bring them home and eat that tasty smoked herring right out of its skin. Good eating!

We wouldn't always eat smokies, though. Every Hogmanay, or New Year's Eve, street vendors (we called them "barrow boys") would have them "dressed" - wrapped in crepe paper to look like formally dressed people, complete with hats for the "men" and bonnets for the "ladies." These would be "first foot" gifts to give as symbols and hope for good luck in the coming year to those you visited that night, after New Year had been rung in. My granny would always have a smokey and a horshoe hanging over the inside of the front door for a good year's luck. The horshoe would always be with the arch up, "So the luck wouldn't run out," she said.

A few other comments about Arbroath and smokies – you always bought them in pairs; and any time my granny would talk about some body who was yelling and screaming out in public, she would say she was going on "like an Arbroath fishwife" referring how these ladies would call their wares. My granny would also often tell me how her husband, the Welshman who was torpedoed after they’d been married only about two years in World War I, could never pronounce ‘Auchmithie" but always called in "Ow-mithie." We Scots do like to laugh at you foreigners who can’t say the simplest little words, don’t we?

As I write this I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have a granny who told me stories, and talked of those long gone as though they were still alive and with us. Maybe that’s why I love genealogy so much and feel John’s presence so close sometimes, even more than 20 years after his death. These people and ways were so close to my Granny and somehow or other I learned to feel the same way. I wonder if any of my grandchildren will carry on this family trait? I hope so.

I’m going to include in these memories a copy of one of my first place certificates from the Arbroath festival. The year before I married I won the verse speaking silver cup for, of all things, English verse. Miss Angus, my teacher, was amazed (that I won the English competition) and frustrated with me because I only took a second for the Scottish verse speaking – that was the one she was sure I was going to be first. My name was to be engraved on it by the Festival Committee when it was returned in 1966. But I was in America by December of 1965 and my mother returned it for me. I wonder if that cup is still in existence for some other Scottish elocutionists who might wonder just who Charlotte Alvoet was in 1965 and where she is in 1998?

I hope you like the poem I’m including too. It’s not quite a poem about a smokie, but it is about a fish. This was a poem I won an award in competition for at one of the annual Arbroath Music Festival competitions. It was a dear favorite of my mother, and whenever I was performing as an "elocutionist" in concerts or programs in old folks homes, etc., she would always ask me to do this. I remember her glowing as she watched me performing this and other pieces. She always had the biggest smile at this one because, for a woman who didn’t like to eat fish, she certainly liked to hear this poem.

The Auld Broon Troot

The auld broon troot lay unner a stane,
Unner a stane lay he.
An’ he thocht o’ the wind, an’ he thocht o’ the rain
An’ the troot he uist to be.

A’m a guy auld troot, said he to himsel’;
A gey auld troot, said he.
An’ there’s mony a queer-like tale I could tell
O’ the things that he’e happened to me.

Thae wee hafflin’ trooties are a’ verra smert,
They’re a verra smert, said he.
Oh, they ken a’ the rules o’ the gem aff by heart!
An’ they’re no often catched, A’ll agree.

They’re thinkin’ a’m auld,
An’ they’re thinkin’ a’m dune.
They’re thinkin’ I’m dune, said he.
They’re thinkin’ I’m no’ worth the flirt o’ a fin,
Or the blink o’ a bonny black e’e.

But a’m safe and a’m snug in ma bonnie we neuk,
A’m safe and a’m snug, said he.
A’m the big fish that nae fisher could heuk,
An’ a’ll aye be that- till ah dee!

My mother and me on a Scottish fishing town beach after the War
My mother and me on a Scottish fishing town beach after the War

An Arbroath Music Festival certificate
An Arbroath Music Festival certificate

From a clipping taken from the Dundee Courier, during our trip there, Summer 1974:

More about Dundee’s working horses

A Dundee reader refers to my item from Mr. Simpson about the city’s working horses of 50 years ago.

He says, "During the first world war, horses were often allowed to go along streets by themselves, their vanmen delivering all the while.

"Tram-cars were still in vogue and in many places there were only a few feet between a tram-line and the pavement.

"Peter McCabe’s bakery was in such a place near the foot of Blackness Road.

"Bakery vans had always to be moved to allow a tram to go up ‘the Blackie.’

"The vanman could be up the close and carrying boards from the bakery there to the van.

"Sometimes the tram-drivers became impatient at the hold-up and clanged the tram-bell with their foot.

"One of Peter McCabe’s horses tumbled to this.

"Of its own volition it would turn to the right facing up ‘the Blackie’ and complete a circle.

"Once the tram had moved off, the horse would come back again to where it had been.

Signal

"At the top of Hilltown there was a fish shop which had a white pony.

"It did exactly as Peter McCabe’s bakery horse did when the tram-driver gave the signal.

"One grocer had a shop at the corner of Francis Street, and he kept his horses in a stable quite near, usually referred to as ‘the alley.’

"Six days a week the horse would come from the stable, turn to the right at Strathmartine Road, move over to the left and stop until the van was loaded with groceries to be hawked in country districts.

"Every morning except Tuesdays the rounds were beyond Downfield so the horse moved off in that direction.

"On Tuesdays, however the district covered was Birkhill, Muirhead, Dronley, &c., beginning at Lawton Cottages, which would be somewhere near Byron Street.

"This meant the horse had to turn to come down to Coldside to get into what was then Loons Road.

"It did so automatically, without the guidance of the vanman."

Mrs. Mackintosh’s fish shop

Mrs. Charlotte Bleh, an ex-Dundonian holidaying from the United States, was also interested in my item on Dundee’s working horses.

"My grandmother, whose maiden name was Mackintosh is 82," she says.

"She says she's sure the fish shop at the top of Hilltown, which you mentioned, was owned by her grandmother, Mrs. Jessie Mackintosh.

"Mrs. Mackintosh had a white pony.

"The shop had a big sign in the shape of a fish above the door.

"I’d like to have some more information about the shop and the pony."

Mrs. Bleh is staying with relatives in Dundee.


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