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Reader Memories - Clootie dumplings

19 October 2011

Reader Memories - Clootie dumplings

Sine Machir's mother was a champion clootie dumpling maker whose opinion was sought by dozens of cooks in her home town, as she describes in this evocative reader memory of traditional Scottish food.

Mother was a marvellous cook and a champion clootie maker in our town. in my memory, there seemed to be hardly a social event without a request for a Clootie Dumpling from Mary Jane. Food and money were scarce in the 1940s and how mother managed to collect all the ingredients, I don’t know, but I suppose whoever requested this Scottish delicacy must have helped with their rations.

A clootie can be eaten hot or cold, sweet or savoury and left overs, if there were any, were fried the next day. Still, I must begin with the preparation, as it was really special. First, the white cloth kept especially for the clootie had to be boiled. The large pot to hold the pudding was filled with the boiling water taken from the kettle on the fire. The baking bowl was put on the table and in went the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. This was carefully sifted before the spices were added. As there were six of us and butter was rationed, mother would sometimes add butter to the margarine, which was then rubbed in.

When all the ingredients were added, I would stand with my three sisters waiting for our turn to stir while we made a secret wish. If the clootie was for a birthday, then tiny greaseproof paper parcels, each containing a silver threepenny and one a sixpence were dropped in. Then came the moment for the mixture to be boiled. The boiled cloth was carefully removed with laundry tongs which mother wrung out with her strong hands before spreading it on the table. The cloth was liberally sprinkled with flour to give the dumpling a skin before the prepared mixture was added. The bundle was put in the pot of boiling water and a weight put on top. There it stayed boiling happily for several hours.

One day came a clootie request which was too large for the pot. Father solved the problem by suggesting the wash house boiler. As it was communal, the neighbours had to be asked and permission was granted. When everything was ready, the bundle was too heavy for mother to lift, so father suggested an extra loop be made. They took the stale off the sweeping brush, pushed it through the extra loop then they took an end each and heaved it off the table.

Mother told me her clootie was like a world with only good things in it and people should always only do good and give pleasure to others. She was also keen that it was a tradition that shouldn’t be allowed to die, and there was many a young woman would bring a small helping of her first clootie dumpling to ask mother’s opinion. Advice would be given and if the clootie was good enough for praise, the person would go away as if they'd been given a medal.

One English woman asked for the recipe before returning to England. The lady listened attentively as it was explained in detail. ‘It’s just like our Christmas pudding, then’, she said.

‘Exactly,’ said my mother with relief. ‘Only the ingredients and the way it’s made are entirely different.’

Every woman’s clootie has a secret ingredient which makes it special. I believe mother’s secret was her joy of cooking: the pride she felt in being asked to make one and the delight she showed when everyone tucked into their helpings with such enjoyment.

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