Saturday, 2 January 2016

A Scottish New Year's Day Tradition

Traditionally New Year's Day is the most important holiday in Scotland, and the Scots' enjoyment of the feast has travelled with them. There's a reason people in the English-speaking parts of the world sing the Scottish "Auld Lang Syne".

Although elsewhere New Year's Day is treated like an afterthought to New Year's Eve, the ultimate "morning after the night before", for Scots New Year's Day is the point of the partying. Almost everything is shut. Transportation is erratic. Never plan to travel in Scotland on New Year's Day. You might get a bus or (pricey) cab home before dawn, but after that, just stay put or plan to walk everywhere. January 1st is no longer a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics in Scotland, for which those without cars are thankful.

Scots actually do eat things with names like "clootie dumpling", and a local woman walking her dog in the grounds of the Historical House mentioned that she had made two: one for Christmas and one for New Year's Day.

"I'd like to make it, but I don't have a pudding basin," said the chatelaine of the Historical House.

"You don't use a pudding basin; you use a cloot!" exclaimed the lady. "A cloth."

And, indeed, a clootie dumpling is what it says it is: a sweet dumpling full of candied fruit boiled in a cloth.

However, the traditional dish of New Year's Day is the steak pie. Pre-made steak pies are to be had in supermarkets and butcher shops in the last week of December. Some canny Scots order theirs from their favourite butcher, to be sure of getting a good one, whereas others make their own.

There's not much point ordering a steak pie from a butcher if there are only two people in your branch of the family. The best thing to do is get a packet of puff pastry, 400 g of raw, roughly chopped beef, some beef stock (like Bovril), high-quality soy sauce, an onion, a bit of flour dissolved in water as a gravy thickener, some egg-wash, a big saucepan, a rolling pin and a smallish rectangular pie tin.

Steak pie is really just slow-cooked beef and gravy covered with a puff pastry lid. It takes about an hour to cook and 15 minutes to bake. Serve with mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts or some other highly flavoured veg. Afterwards you may feel too full to eat any clootie dumpling, fruitcake or any other traditional British pudding. Perhaps a bit of leftover Stilton cheese eaten on apple slices is a better idea. Meanwhile, this pie goes well with a strong red wine.

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