'...O Power abune whose bounty free,
Oor needs and wants suffices;
We render thanks for Barley Bree,
And meat that appetises.
Be Thou our Skip throughout life's game,
An' syne we're sure to win;
Tho' slow the shot and wide the aim,
We'll soop each ither in.'
From 'A Curler's Grace' (Anon)
I've been in Scotland for a few days with my sister and her children; so all things Scottish have been on my mind. We were in the gentle lowlands of Dumfries and Galloway - Robert Burns country, with its mild climate, shell beaches and long sandy estuaries. However today loyal Scots will have their eyes much further north, because it's the great Highland Gathering at Braemar.
There have been gatherings of the clans at Braemar for over nine hundred years, ever since the time of King Malcolm III in the eleventh century, when there was supposedly a race to the summit of Craig Choinnich overlooking Braemar in order to find the fastest runner in the kingdom be the Royal Messenger.
The Braemar Games were first held in the summer of 1815 and organised by the ‘Braemar Wright Society’ a Friendly Society whereby working men could make a small weekly contribution when they were working, as an insurance against being unable to work due to ill health or old age. The games grew and grew and were then given the Royal seal of approval by Queen Victoria who was madly enthusiastic about all things Scottish. In 1852 the Queen bought nearby Balmoral Castle and its accompanying 49,000 acres as her summer retreat.
The Royal family still spend summer on the estate (as anyone who has seen the film ‘The Queen’ will know). Balmoral is the Queen’s private property, not a state palace and when they are there the family always visit the Braemar Games, often with the Prime Minister who traditionally stays at Balmoral for a few days every August. Here they are enjoying the games...I love the heather covered pavilion they are sitting in...
We’ve had a lot of sport in Britain this summer and the Paralympics started this week, but the traditional Scottish games held at Braemar are of a more rustic nature. There’s ‘tossing the caber’ – where big men in kilts up-end tree trunks and chuck them as far as they can, then there’s ‘putting the stone’ where big men – ditto, chuck a 28lb stone about - women do this too, they ‘put’ a mere 18lb stone. ‘Maide leisg’ is a trial of strength between two men; sitting with the soles of their feet together and holding a stick between their toes, they pull on it until one of them is raised from the ground. Then there’s my personal favourite - the ‘sheaf toss’ where bags of wheat straw are pitch-forked across the show ground like discarded sandwiches.
On top of all this, there are hill races, tugs of war, piping and dancing demonstrations, throwing weights over hurdles and it all makes me feel totally exhausted just writing about it. The wearing of the kilt is of course ‘de rigeur’, there are masses of stalls selling all sorts of memorabilia; sporrans and dirks and socks and any amount of other stuff.
My two nieces and a friend have spent the last week haring around the Scottish countryside on their bikes wearing tartan hats with fake ginger hair sprouting from the sides like some frightful parody of a Glasgow Saturday night - so not all Scottish culture is in the best of taste!
However the food was in great taste, especially ‘Cream o’ Galloway’ ice cream, which was wonderful. We all went on an ice cream making workshop and Lucy and I made ‘Craivin’ our personal invention of caramel, raisin and vanilla ice cream – totally delicious! If you are planning to eat ice cream immediately after freezing then it's very simple to make. If you want to keep it for a few days then it's better to make it with a custard base, the egg emulsifies and stops it become too crystallised. This is what Lucy and I made. It's all done by weight so that makes it very easy.
'Craivin' ice cream
Put a bowl on a scales and add:
100g double cream
50g soft brown sugar
150g full cream milk
Mix well until the sugar is dissolved then add:
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
1 dessertspoon black treacle
Stir until the black treacle has disappeared. Tip into a plastic carton and freeze, if you have time to give it a stir when it's half frozen so much the better. I used my second hand ice cream machine.
Serve with shortbread fingers....och aye...it's enough to make ye bust yer breeks....
'What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a' that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that,
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.'
From 'A man's a man for a' that' by Robert Burns (1759-1796)