There has always a significant link between Scottish Grannies and food. On the one hand we had “clean your plate or you’ll no get your pudding” or on the other they were always making your favourite stuff, in big quantities. Small Gran always made ham bone lentil soup, which was magnificent and had a certain finesse. Big Gran also made soup, which was usually Kale, slightly less finesse due to it being pretty chunky with many vegetables. Its arrival on the table was always accompanied by Big Gran recommending heartily “it’s good for you, it’ll stick to your ribs”. I don’t remember it sticking to my ribs although when I was smaller I did have a minds eye picture of the vegetables stuck straight to my rib bones.
Wee Gran played a blinder one day. She had council workmen in fixing something that had gone wrong in her house. They finished just before lunchtime and one of the workmen commented on the wonderful smell coming from the soup pan on the cooker. Wee Gran never batted an eyelid as she asked them if they’d like some second day soup. Oh yes they said, well come back tomorrow Wee Gran said. Their faces were a picture. You’ll probably be aware that home made soup tastes better the day after it’s made. Must be something to do with maturing. Maybe. Possibly.
Staying in the kitchen for a wee while longer let’s consider the nectar of the gods that both grans used to make. Tablet. It was just wonderful, sweet and full of flavour as they say. It wasn’t made a that often but when it was, it was just amazing. Factory made tablet just doesn’t cut it and isn’t as good as the Scottish Grannies version.
I stayed with Wee Gran a lot because she was on her own and occasionally I stayed at Big Grans, usually if my parents were off on a trip.
Staying at Wee Grans wasn’t as much of an adventure as staying at Big Grans. Wee Gran made toast with a long fork thrust close to the open coal fire and served it spread with Blueband Margarine and a bit of strongly coloured orange cheese. That was good as long as the margarine was soft enough to use because if it wasn’t the toast totally wrecked. What was not so good was that Izal Toilet Tissues were the only choice in the toilet and the cistern was high up on the wall with a chain pull. It made the most horrific noise which scared me to death and meant I had to run at full pelt downstairs again. Wee Gran always asked what was wrong with me making such a noise crashing down the stairs. I didn’t let on, oh the shame of it if I had. Wee Grans spare double bed in the “front room” had a “bolster” pillow”. It seemed pretty opulent at the time. No duvets back then, just stiff white sheets and lots of heavy and jaggy blankets. Making the bed was a major undertaking to say the least.
A slight digression for a moment if I may. The advent of nylon fitted sheets caused quite a stir. My Mum and Dad had them on their bed and unbelievably my dad had a pair of red nylon pyjamas. To this day I wonder why he never caught fire as he slid into bed the static between the sheets and the PJs, along with the friction caused by the two nylon surfaces surely must have been a major fire hazard. It probably wouldn’t be allowed nowadays. Mores the pity really. Dangerous? Maybe only in the sartorial stakes.
Staying at Big Grans brought alternative forms of entertainment. Big Gran controlled my Granddad. She knew what was best for him and he knew she did even when she was well wide of the mark. He was a really canny and quiet man, not least because getting a word in edgeways smoked a pipe, which seemed to take up an enormous amount of his time, requiring cleaning and filling and tightening and banging on the fire and on and on. However, Big Gran categorised his most aggravating smoking a pipe trick spitting in the open coal fire in the highest misdemeanour category. Most times he was pretty accurate although, given that he was only about three feet away or so you would expect he would be. If he was less accurate then invariably he would hit the fire grate and sizzling would commence. Big Gran would get pretty cross and Granddad would have to make sure he cleaned the grate really thoroughly the next morning when he set the fire. I thought it was pretty cool actually but I was young and immature in the ways of women back then. So little has changed over the years.
When I last stayed at Big Grans they’d both been retired for years. They would wake me up before seven o’clock as they set the fire and made their porridge. Now bearing in mind they had no work to go to or many social functions in their calendar you would expect that they would have relaxed a bit and allowed themselves to get up a bit later. Not a starter, they’d done it all their lives and they continued to do so even when they were not quite fit enough.
One morning well before seven I was wakened as usual. I got up and looked out the window as I heard voices, which I’d not noticed before. Now, me actually getting up was remarkable in itself, not so much because I didn’t mind an odd lie in, but more because Big Gran tucked me in once I was in bed. She did it with such fervour and accuracy with the sheets and blankets that on a number of occasions further movement was just not possible. It gave new meaning to sleeping so well I hadn’t moved all night
Anyway back to the voices outside before seven o’clock on a freezing Scottish winter morning. I’d heard the voices because the window was open to let fresh air in, obviously it also let in the cold, but when I was staying at Big Grans I was made of sterner stuff and could withstand sub zero temperatures although I did have a copious number of blankets and a hot water bottle which did help. A bit. Ish.
So the voices. They weren’t just in my head, they were the voices of Big Gran and various other lady neighbours all of a similar age. They stood on the pavement with coats on over their dressing gowns and night ware with varying arrangements of curlers, Kirby grips and hairnets on their heads. I was puzzled by this communal standing about but only until the local co-operative milk van drove into the street. The ladies formed an orderly queue and received their milk along with whatever rolls, bran scones or sodas they had pre-ordered.
To finish then I’ll just add one further memory of Big Grans cooking powers and Granddads less then accurate spitting. Big Gran made the best Clootie Dumpling in the world. It was made, most specifically, for New Years Day when the whole family would go for dinner. That would be seven adults and six children of varying ages in what was a pretty small room. The living room got very hot very quickly, helped in no small part, by the roaring open coal fire, which had been tended all day as “the family are coming”.
The final part of the preparation of the clootie dumpling was for it to sit on hearth to breath whilst we ate our soup (Kale, what else?) and then our steak pie. The cloot (cloth) covering of the dumpling would be rolled back a bit to expose the dumpling and we all looked forward to enjoying it. There was a danger that someone might swallow a six pence or a thrupenny bit but we were at our Grannies so we’d be fine. (Scottish Grannies have been healing the walking wounded for generations and have an extensive medical box filled with lotions and potions Mary Poppins would die for – more of in the next instalment of Scottish Grannies).
Back to the Clootie dumpling. You know what’s coming next.
Following the finishing of the steak pie the table was cleared and Granddad sat down at the fire for a puff of his pipe. No one complained as at least two other adults were smoking as well. Granddad was enjoying his pipe and no one was really paying much attention to him. Then he took aim and spat. His aim was good but not good enough. Some of it definitely landed on the dumpling. Luckily Big Gran didn’t see and no one said a word about it. However, Big Gran did comment about people not being as keen on the dumpling as they usually were but everyone assured her it was because they had had too much Steak pie. Granddad was demonstrably relieved, he even helped wash up the dishes which must have been a bit of a giveaway that something definitely wasn’t right.