By Wilma Bolton

A lot of my childhood memories revolve around the small kitchen of our prefab at 133 Mill Road, Hamilton. This kitchen without question, was the undisputed domain of my mother Peggy Russell. An all round cook and a great baker, she made apple, currant and rhubarb pies as well as lemon meringue pies, doughnuts, shortbread, gingerbread, pancakes with sultanas on top and currant, treacle and plain scones. Her speciality was truffles and they tasted just beautiful.

When she was baking, my father Jimmy would be forever popping in and out asking her when it would be ready. “When I say it’s ready!” was her standard answer. She would eventually lose her rag with him and ban him from the kitchen.

My father was the only member of the family who took sugar in his coffee. Peggy had other plans for it and although she bought sugar every week, she guarded it like a zealot. What she didn’t use for baking she hoarded in the living room sideboard for eleven months of the year until it was the jam making season.

Jimmy had three plots behind the cottages on Bent Road, two of them filled with black and red currant bushes, raspberries, gooseberries and strawberry plants; the other one was for vegetables. When the fruit was ready, out would come the sugar and the big brass jelly pan, and my father and I would start picking the berries and carry them home in baskets. For weeks the kitchen would be filled with the smell of jam and jelly being made.

Peggy made enough to see us through until the next jam making session the following year. She also gave away a great many jars to friends and neighbours and her jam was beautiful. I still have her brass jelly pan to this day and I’ve used it many times myself to make jam and marmalade.

My father spent a lot of his spare time down at his plots, usually with me and my friends Marjorie Laird or Betty King in tow. At dinner time he would dig up potatoes and cut a cabbage and we would be sent to wash the potatoes while he lit a fire inside a square of old bricks. On top of the bricks he had a couple of oven racks where he placed the pots. He never quite trusted me to make 100% sure that there were no caterpillars on the cabbage so he always washed it himself at the stand pipe in Mary Street. He would either fry bacon or open a tin of corned beef and with his new potatoes and cabbage, we sat down and ate a meal fit for a king from tin plates.

My mother always made a clootie dumpling on Christmas Eve and it was rich and dark with fruits and spices. She would clean and wrap silver threepenny and sixpenny pieces in greaseproof paper and stir them through the dumpling mixture which would then be steamed in a large pot for four hours.

Peggy never lost her Aberdeen accent and she had a lot of sayings. One she used to use when the dumplin was simmering away was; Oh my! the smell of that dumplin’s “gaen roon my hert like a hairy worm.” Another one was “A hairy man’s a happy man but a hairy wife’s a witch.” “He’s got a face like a weel skelpit erse” was her description of a man or boy with a red face. Her sayings were legion.

Every woman who has ever made a clootie dumpling is one hundred percent convinced that her recipe is the best and I am no different. I am sure that my mother’s dumpling recipe was better than any other I’ve ever tasted. It also had the advantage of having the silver treasure hidden in it’s dark recesses. I have to belatedly confess that the thought of the money determined where I put the knife. That was when a knitting needle came in handy. I would push it through the dumpling until I felt it hitting a coin. That is where I cut my slice and then I ran up to Blyth’s shop to spend my ill gotten gains. If Peggy had caught me, there would have been a murder in Mill Road, or then again; she might just “ hae turned a blin ee’”

The above story was sent to us by Wilma Bolton and is taken from her childhood memories of growing up in Hamilton.

Wilma has kindly gave Historic Hamilton readers her mums recipe for her Clootie Dumpling. Enjoy!

1lb self-raising flour
25 g mixed spice
2 1/2 heaped T/spoons cinnamon
2 1/2 ” “ ground ginger
200 g suet
2 tablespoon syrup
3 tablespoons treacle treacle.
1 pound of sultanas
1 pound of currants
Or 2 pounds of mixed fruit
1 pound of raisins
1 large apple grated
2 eggs + milk (not semi skimmed)
1 large soup pot.
A cotton cloth no less than a meter square or an inside out clean cotton pillow case with the seam at one side unpicked for boiling the dumpling. I use the same small table cloth that my mother used.
1. Mix flour, suet, spices, syrup, treacle and mix. Add currants, raisin and grated apple (core and grate with skin on) and mix again.
Add two beaten eggs and milk and mix to stiff dough. The amount of milk required will be judged by the stiffness of the dough. Just go easy with it. The dough should be neither wet nor dry. Just a bit sticky.

2. Put a soup plate upside down on the bottom of a large soup pot and then sit a side plate on top of the soup plate. Pour boiling water into pot until it is just under the plate.

3. Pour boiling water into another pot and imerse the cloth, empty water out and remove and wring out when cool enough. Lay it out on clean table or worktop, sprinkle with flour, place mixture on the floured side of the cloth and bring the four corners of the cloth together and tie in the middle with string above the dumplin’ mixture, leaving a wee bit room for it to expand. Remember you are using self raising flour.

4. When water is boiling place the clootie dumplin’ on the plate. Put spare cloth corners outside pot (keeping away from gas) and put the lid on and simmer away for four hours. Have boiling water ready to top up when the sound of the water boiling changes as the water level falls. When topping up do not pour the water over the dumplin’. Pour down the side of the pan. Just let it slowly boil away with steam coming up the side of the dumpling’. You will hear the plate at the bottom making a noise as the water boils. Don’t let the pot run out of water and always make sure that the water doesn’t go off the boil. You need the steam to cook the dumplin’.
(An alternative to steaming is to put a plate on the bottom of the pot, sit the dumplin’ on top of it add boiling down the side until it covers the dumplin’ and boil for four hours.)

5. After steaming or boiling for about 4hrs lift the dumplin’ out of pot. Leave on a dinner plate for a few minutes to let it cool down a wee bit. Cut the string, opening the top and peel cloth slowly down the sides of the dumplin’. Let it cool a bit more and then put a plate on the top of the dumplin’ and holding the two plates turn upside down and then remove the top plate and slowly remove the cloth. Put it in a pre heated oven (150 degrees) with the door open to let a skin develop on the outside of the dumplin’. Or if you have a fire or a gas fire sit it in front of it. You will know it is ready when it no longer feels wet. It dosen’t take long.

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