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McIan's Highlanders At Home
Gathering Dulse


Gathering Dulse

THIS marine production, which grows in leaves of a deep chocolate colour, over-spreads the sea rocks, from which it is gathered when the tide recedes, chiefly by women and children, who carry it home in creels, Croid-hleagan, as represented in the illustration, or in a smaller sort borne under the arm, called Murlan.

The Dulse of the low country is the Gaelic Duilasg, the Dulisc of the Irish, and the Fucus palmatus of naturalists.

When freshly picked and washed it is an agreeable and wholesome article of food, and is in perfection when it has been "three times bathed in the May flood." The Ollamh Mhaolich, or the celebrated doctor of Mull, held this production in high estimation, and a saying of his is preserved, which intimates that did the people know its excellence they would gather it from the rocks as if their nails were like iron. It is much improved when intermixed with a small pungent plant called pepper dulse the fucus primatifidus. Some prefer it dipped in scalding water, and we have had it roasted with a hot poker, but when properly boiled it forms a rich, gelatinous sort of soup, a piece of butter being added to it, and seasoning according to one’s means or taste, in which state it may be preserved for some time. It is at times boiled with milk, or a mixture of cream is added when served up, by which it is much improved.

Slaik is another marine plant, less abundant than dulse, which is used in a similar manner. The leaves are transparent, of a brown colour, and being of so extremely delicate a texture, they are dissolved in boiling into a beautiful jelly, in the preparation of which some old dames are very nice. Dulse is regularly sold in the northern towns, and women attend the markets from great distances, with heavy loads in creels slung on their backs.

The severity of the climate in the Highlands of Scotland is in many seasons exceedingly great, subjecting the natives to frequent painful privations, the poorer cottars, from their situation, being often reduced to utter want on the failure of their little crops. The temperature is not so excessively low, being mollified, especially in the islands and along the coasts of the mainland, by the ocean; but the country is subject to long-continued winds and rains, which with the early insetting of winter and the late advance of spring, frustrate the labours of the industrious farmer and leave him in sad destitution.

Of late years, and at the present time, this is lamentably the case with the hardy population of these parts, whose patient endurance of their sufferings is worthy of the highest praise, and if we do not read of such dire calamities as famine and consequent disease ravaging the Highlands in former ages, we must conclude that under the patriarchal rule of clanship the people were saved by the chiefs, their natural protectors, from such a fate, being provided for when in distress by them and their more fortunate friends, and assisted through their difficulties by the fraternal co-operation of the clan.

The social state of the Gaël is now very different, and it is unfortunately found that they can no longer live with comfort, or even without the frequent occurrence of periods of starvation in their native land. Emigration is the political panacea for both their own distress and the burden of their support thereby thrown on the lairds. The solitude of sheepwalks, hunting grounds, and forest preserves, are already more commonly seen than the cultivated fields and grazings of the tenantry, and the destruction of that class, never to be restored—" a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,"—cannot be averted; sic tempora mutantur in the progress of society—the Highlanders have outlived their pristine state, and must yield to changes not to be eluded. Tenaciously have they clung to their fathers’ institutions, delighting in the recollection of a system no longer in existence.

The wars, for which they were so useful in the British armies, opportunely met their wonted feelings and habits; but even now when these are legally subverted, they have not been able, generally speaking, to adapt themselves entirely to the wide alteration of their circumstances. The philosopher and patriot may regret this melancholy change, but the Highlander’s fate appears inevitable.

When a people are visited with want of food, what expedients will be resorted to for alleviation of the pains of hunger! In the late periods of destitution, old and young resorted daily to the rocks of a stormy ocean as the only source, whence they strove to pick the means of life; but, truly, much may there be found to serve for human food, and of no inferior sort. Besides the dulse and slaik, there are wilks, limpits, mussels, oysters, crabs, etc. Of the first an excellent and substantial broth is made, with the addition of butter, and, at times, oatmeal. Groups of children are often seen around a fire kindled among the rocks, broiling the shell fish which have just been taken from their oozy bed, rejoicing at their humble feast, and furnishing pleasing subjects for the artist.


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