Some of you don't know that I'm a Brit. Or more correctly, I'm a Scot. I was born in Scotland eons ago and came over here with my parents when I was a kid. It's kind of cool having dual citizenship, I am a dual citizen since I never gave up my British citizenship. It doesn't mean a whole lot, but I do get to have some extra privileges when I go to the UK. I get to go through the customs as a UK citizen, while my husband stands in line with all the US born folk waiting to go through... I stand and smile at him...OK, truth be told, I gloat at him. He hates standing in line, and on more than one occasion he's said, "I stood in line for four years in the Navy, I wouldn't stand in line anymore, even if it was to see Jesus Christ on the cross". That may be a bit of a stretch but then again, I wasn't the one standing in chow lines in the Navy, so maybe there's a bit of truth in the statement.
OK so here's the deal. At the holidays I try to resurrect (no pun intended, after the above comments about Jesus) some of the old holiday traditions I learned from my Mom and her sisters. Christmas was always a big deal in our house. We didn't have any relatives over her in the Colonies so we "picked" our relatives. Our friends were the relatives we lacked. My Mom would have our house filled with friends, and friends of friends, over the week between Christmas and New Year. When I think back to those days, I think she was trying to compensate for the lack of family for me.
She would make all kinds of foods. Some of the food she made was pretty ethnic...You know what that is? Innards and all the things most folks over here wouldn't touch with a 10' pole. But if they didn't know what it was....you get the picture. My Mom was a great cook. She learned all about cooking from her Father, who was a professional cook, amongst other things... Someday I'll go into that....
My Mom taught me all the things she learned from her Dad, and I in turn have taught my kids. Consequently, there is no sauce that I can't recreate after tasting it, nor are there many dishes I can't recreate. I seem to have inherited the "tasting" gene (it helps me when I go to wine tastings...hmm...maybe I should think about a new career change...no, I'd just get drunk).
One of the biggest things (literally) at celebration times was the creation of the "Clootie Dumpling". A "Cloot" is a cloth. A big cloth, usually made from linen, or something that can hold a huge pile of flour, raisins and all the other ingredients.
The recipe is an ancient one, and most families have given up the tradition to make the dumpling to serve on the holidays. I decided this year, since the family party was falling on December 21st, Winter Solstice, we should really do it up and have all the traditional food stuffs, including "THE CLOOTIE DUMPLING".
I found the old recipe, all stained and yellowed. I matched it up with a couple of others I had come across when looking for the "real" recipe. The ingredients were available. At least I could buy them, I didn't have to sacrifice a cow, drain blood and chop innards...Most of the stuff was at my local grocery store.
This thing takes a lot of ingredients and it's messy. The assembled ingredients were all over the kitchen and the dining room. I had the needed water boiling in a vat on the stove (a big vat). I had the cloth ready. I was ready.
I had to dip the "clootie" into the vat of boiling water, pull it out, let it drip a bit, then wring it out. (Does anyone know how to wring out a big cloth when it's been soaked in boiling water, and NOT burn the Hell out of your hands??I sure don't...I had at least 2nd degree burns on my fingers...and the pain....Hell...it was worst than the first kid coming out....). I finally got the cloth out, then I had to spread it over the table and put flour on the wet cloth, spread the flour to the ends of the cloth...(Got it? So now you have a big wet slimy cloth dripping water and what appears to be library paste all over it).
You let the cloth "set" or "rest" while you make the dumpling. Now, as I stated, I had all the ingredients out and ready to hit the decks running, so I figured I'd be golden. I found the largest bowl I own and started putting the first group of ingredients into the bowl. So far so good, I had the flour ( all 6 cups of it) the 9 teaspoons of baking powder, two cups of breadcrumbs, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice and the shredded beef suet (1/4 pound of the artery packing cholesterol stuff) in the bowl. There was only one way to mix this...in went the hands, up to the elbows in the mix... I had to make sure the suet was rubbed into the dry ingredients and the warmth from my hands helped to melt the suet into the blob that was forming. I added the eggs, molasses, and milk and continued to massage the blob. I added the raisins and the currants. Last, but not least, I added all the trinkets that make the "pudding" into the celebratory thing that it is. The trinkets are wrapped in tin foil and poked into the mass. A heart for love, coins for wealth, something for good health, strength, and whatever else you want to put in for fortunes for the New Year. Finally I could see this thing was forming into something, I wasn't quite sure what to call it, but it looked familiar...(kind of like the gross stuff you might see at the dog park...)
Now the fun began in earnest. I had to navigate the "blob" over to the "Clootie" roll it on to the "clootie" (the freaking thing was so heavy I needed help getting it to the table where the "clootie" lay in wait). When the "blob" was in the middle of the "Clootie" I had to bring all the ends together and tie with a string...tight...got that? "tight". BUT I had to leave a bit of room for expansion. (Who knew?)
The whole "clootie" now filled with it's science experiment was then placed, carefully into the vat of boiling water. I needed Larry, my husband, who is looking at me askance as I do this recipe, to help lift the "blob" into the vat. The whole time he's lifting he's saying to me, "Tell me again, why are we doing this?" Straining my biceps and standing on my toes to get the "blob" into the pot without burning the rest of my body with burning water, I yell "BECAUSE IT'S TRADITION AND IT"S THE SOLSTICE!!!THAT"S WHY!!!" He forgets the Gods need to be appeased by human sacrifice....I'm just doing my part for the Gods, dammit.
The "thing" finally settles into the vat of boiling water...and I gotta tell you, I think water gets hotter when you add stuff to it immediately, 'cause this vat was bubbling up a storm and water was flying out of the pot running away to get cool. It was a sight to behold.
The vat was set to a high simmer. The "thing" in the vat had to boil for 3 1/2 hours...Yep, that's right 3 1/2 hours...I had to top off the vat on occasion to be sure the water stayed over the top of the "thing". The "thing" by this time was starting to expand in the "clootie". It was a good thing I left room on the top for the expansion........
The hours went by, I peeked in on the "thing". I told Larry, "Don't leave the house before this is done, I'm afraid of it." I had visions of all those old horror movies about the "things" that came from outer space to kill all the humans, or something like that. I wondered at one time, if this truly was some sort of science experiment that may have turned into some kind of radioactive growth....
Finally the 3+ hours was over and I had to remove the "thing" from the vat of water...boiling water. I could not lift the vat off the stove. I'll bet that sucker weighed in at 50 pounds. The objective was to grab the "clootie" haul it up and place it into a colander to drain. Now, I ask you, who in their right mind owns a colander that will hold a "blob" that has to weigh 30 pounds? I sure don't.
I enlisted in the help of my poor husband again. He looked at the vat, looked inside, looked at me and said, "No way", and promptly started to walk away. I looked at him and said, "By all that's holy...if you walk away from me in my hour of need, you may as well grab the butcher knife and cut out my heart...you chicken.....". I guess my words got to him because I noticed he came back with a smirky smile on his face as he grabbed a towel and we, together, lifted the vat and the "thing" on to the counter. The problem was, you see, you had to get the "thing" out of the water while the water was still boiling. You can't let the "thing" sit in tepid water.
We both hauled the "clootie" out of the pot, put it into the cleaned out sink, in the biggest colander I owned, which was no where near big enough to hold this great mass. It sort of moshed over the colandar and rested on the bottom of the sink. We carefully cut the string holding the "clootie" together and surveyed the "blob". It honestly was the worst looking food type of thing I've ever set my eyes on. The outside was slimy and kind of grayish, when you touched it, it sort of jiggled. I knew I had to dry it but this thing almost didn't get the drying it needed. It was bad. Larry took a good look at it and said, "You're not going to try to get my family to eat this thing, are you?" The gauntlet was thrown down... I said, "You bet your sweet bippy, I'm going to serve them this, AND they're going to like it too..." I wasn't quite sure how I would pull the last part off, but I was determined to try.
The original recipe states after draining the "thing" you place it on a tray and put it next to the fire to dry out for a few hours. (These old recipes are a riot, they never give you exact times or measurements, it's just sort of known...guess what? I don't have a clue). I decided I would put the "thing" into the oven and keep a watchful eye on it. After all, I didn't want to destroy it....
After about 45 minutes of drying it looked like something some homeless hungry folks wouldn't object to eating. As a matter of fact, it starting looking and smelling pretty damned good. Larry came in as I was looking into the oven and he said, "You know that looks really good, and it smells great". Hmm...maybe it wasn't going to be the disaster I anticipated.
I trimmed up some of the sides of the "thing" and placed it on a decorative plate. I poked a sprig of holly into the top and wrapped it for the next day...
The comments from the family were...guarded, but they were all game to try the "thing". I think they were more excited to see what their piece of the dumpling studded with the trinkets would give to them. Everyone of the family in attendance to my impromptu "Winter Solstice-Scottish traditional Clootie Dumpling" unveiling ate (and lived to tell about it) and seemed to enjoy the "Thing" called a "Clootie Dumpling".
Now you ask..."Will you make it again?" My answer to that is, "WHEN FREAKING PIGS FLY!!". I'm still dressing the burns on my hand.