I always refer to the Happy Farmer as part of the fixtures and fittings of Islay. He is from one of the oldest families on the island. The Fletchers have been farming on Islay close on 500 years. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting him, you will know what a character he is. Full of charm, highland humour, with a twinkle in the eye. There is always a warm welcome at Persabus.
Family traditions are part and parcel of daily life on the farm here.
One such tradition that has been passed down through the generations is the making of the iconic clootie dumpling. A traditional Scottish pudding. It is something I had never heard of before I came to live at Persabus. In those days my lovely mother in law seemed to always have clootie dumplings simmering away in the farmhouse kitchen. They were whipped up and brought out whenever there was a celebration or occasion. A clootie dumpling is a spicy pudding, studded with dried fruits, and when my mother in law made one, it was also full of trinkets and five pences. Each one carefully wrapped in grease proof paper and folded into the mix. Hidden treasures to find on your plate at Hogmanay. The pudding mix is then wrapped in the clootie. The clootie being a strip of cloth. It is then tied with string before being placed in a pan of boiling water and left to simmer for four or so hours.
My late mother in law was insistent in her latter years that we watched and learnt how to make clootie dumplings. Following on the tradition that had been passed down through the generations. When she passed away, within hours, I found myself in the farmhouse kitchen fumbling through her clootie dumpling recipe. Trying to do my best by her. Trying to remember all of the intricacies to make the perfect whisky laced clootie dumpling for all of the family and friends that would be coming over. Four hours is a long time to wait to see if the clootie dumpling is a success. Only when the clootie is peeled back from the dumpling do you get to see if it has cooked properly, and if the golden skin has formed over it. The final proof of the pudding as always is then in the tasting of it. Thankfully it was a success.
Last week then the Happy Farmer had his sleeves rolled up as he took to the farmhouse kitchen to make a clootie dumpling for his sister. We were heading to Glasgow for a weekend of celebrations for his sister’s ‘big’ birthday. It would be breaking with tradition not to have a clootie dumpling at the party. Several hours later and two clootie dumplings emerged from the Aga and one very Happy Farmer sported a very happy grin. You might wonder as to why there were two clootie dumpings. The party was overseas, in Glasgow. When the younger clan heard a clootie dumpling was heading to their aunt’s, further requests for clootie dumpling were placed immediately. Luckily we discovered clootie dumpling can travel as hand luggage on the Loganair flight. It passed through the xray scanning machine at the airport security gate without the blink of an eye and managed to survive the flight without being eaten.
The party was a good one. It was a real gathering of the clans, with family and friends young and old. Lots of good food, a clootie dumpling, birthday cake, drinks, dancing, singing, and a performance from the Can Can dancers. It went on way beyond the wee small hours. The birthday girl had a fabulous weekend, as we all did. The Happy Farmer’s only complaint? He did not get to try one slice of clootie dumpling. It’s back to the kitchen stove at Persabus this week.
Until next time…