Saturday, 28 May 2011

Recipe: Clootie or Clowtie?

                My partner is a Scot, born in Edinburgh and raised in Fife, and he sometimes reminisces about the treats of his childhood: black bun, clapshot, tablet and skirlie.
            He was particularly fond of clootie dumpling.  ‘The skin round the outside was the best bit.’
            I said I’d make him one for his birthday.  There were recipes for it all over the internet, of course, but most of them seemed to be about how to cook one in a basin, and to get the ‘skin’, it has to be cooked the traditional way, in a cloot.  Or, what I, coming from the Black Country, would call a ‘clowt’.  (One of the many, many things we argue about is whether it’s a clowt or a cloot you shouldn’t cast before May is out – or oot.)
In the end, I got instructions from Davy’s older sister.  And if you, too, have a wish to cook in the old-fashioned – positively medieval – way, here is how to perpetrate a clootie dumpling.
Surround yourself with the following ingredients:

125g  or four and a half ounces of suet

250g  or 9 oz plain flour
125g or four and a half ounces of oatmeal
250g or 9 ozs mixed sultanas and currants
1 tablespoon of golden syrup or treacle
75g or 3 ozs sugar

2 lightly beaten eggs
1 teaspoon of ginger 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of baking powder
4 tablespoons of milk
Flour for the cloot (or clowt)

            You can add a tablespoon of any spirit of your choice to it – whisky, brandy, rum – if you wish.
            Rub the suet into the flour as if making pastry – that is, you rub with your fingertips until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
            Then add the oatmeal, baking powder, sugar, dried fruit, and the ginger and cinnamon.  Mix it all up well; then add the eggs and syrup.  Mix well again, and add the alcohol, if you’re using it.  Add milk gradually and only until you have a firm mixture.  You want firm, not sloppy, or it’ll be hard to tie up in a cloot.
            Then for the interesting bit.  First scald your chosen cloot (or clowt) in boiling water, and spread it out, steaming, on a work-top.  Sprinkle plentifully with plain flour.  It’s this flour which, when it hits the water in the pan, will instantly form a seal and prevents the water getting in.  It also forms the prized ‘skin’ of the dumpling.
Plain flour spread over a hot wet tea-towel looks a right mess.
            Dump your pudding mixture into the middle of this hot, wet, flour-covered clowt (or cloot), and tie it up loosely with a string.  A pudding-string, in fact.

‘Sing, sing, what shall I sing?
The cat has stolen the pudding string!
Do, do, what shall I do?
The cat has bitten it right in two!’

            You tie the pudding up loosely to allow it a bit of space to expand.
            To cook the thing, take a large pan, and place an upside down saucer at the bottom.  Fill with hot water and bring to the boil.  When the water is roiling away, put in the pudding.  The instant sealing, regrettably, doesn’t announce itself with any kind of hiss or other sign (I was disappointed to discover).  Cover with more water if necessary, and boil it for three blessed hours.
            Keep checking on it, so it doesn’t boil dry, and add more boiling water as necessary.
            Of course, you can be unadventurous, and cook it in a bowl, in which case you’ll need to grease the bowl well, and leave an inch of space at the top for the thing to grow.  Cover it with greaseproof paper and tie firmly with any pudding-string the cat has left unchewed.  You still have to boil it for three hours.
            You can have more fun with a clootie by putting small coins into it, and your guests can try to eat without breaking their teeth or choking.  I see that, on the internet, they suggest first boiling these ‘small coins or charms’ and then wrapping them in waxed paper.  Davy sneers at such namby-pambiness.  Bung them in unwrapped and improve your family’s immune system!
            After three hours, you can fish the thing out, unveil it, and have at it with knives and other weaponry.  I accept no responsibility, should it fight back.
Some authorities say you should dry the skin of damp flour out by baking it for a few minutes  - others regard this idea with horror.  So, take your choice.
            Davy is of the non-drying school, and declared himself well pleased with his birthday Clootie, which we ate with custard – though naturally, cream or ice-cream will do just as well.
            My opinion?  It’s boiled fruit cake: fruity, spicy and sweet.  The especial deliciousness of the skin, I’m afraid, evaded me.  Baking it dry and crisp would surely improve it, but I was forbidden so to do and haven’t tried it since.
            The versatile clootie can also be spread with butter and jam, which I can’t help feeling is over-kill, or with cheese, much as rich fruit cake is eaten with Wensleydale.  Which is delicious, and so clootie and cheese probably is too, though I haven't tried it.
Left-over clootie can be sliced and fried in butter, as it was in Camelot, in the days when King Arthur was a thieving king   – 

‘And on that fruity pudding
All the knights and horses dined,
And what they couldn’t eat that night
The Queen next morning fried.’

            Though whether Guinevere served the fried pudding with bacon and beans, as I’ve seen recommended for clootie dumpling, is not recorded.  I can only imagine that raging indigestion would be the result, but I don’t speak from experience.   Perhaps someone who’s dared will let me know.

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