Tag Archives: turnip

Halloween II: Treacle Scones

Like anything Halloween-themed, there needs to be a sequel!

So today, I’ve been thinking about Halloween traditions – what are yours? Dressing up as a cat, a skeleton, a sexy shepherdess (yes, I have seen “Little Ho Peep” offered in a central London costume store…’nuff said!) or a vampire? Maybe you like to smile and ask for sweets, or prefer to run around and threaten strangers with a good pelting of eggs if they don’t dish out the sugary stuff?

Well, here is a little flavour of what we traditionally got up to in Scotland. First, and at the risk of sounding like a bad Blackadder sketch, we didn’t carve pumpkins, we carved turnips. Yes, turnip lanterns. And you know what? I really like them. They look much more like odd little goblins. Pumpkins look cute, but turnips actually look much more fitting for Halloween.

In fact, these may be the ancestors of the carved pumpkin. This was apparently a Celtic tradition to ward off evil spirits in late autumn. When those hardy Celts from Ireland and Scotland ended up in America, you can imagine that this tradition was easily applied to pumpkins, and a new tradition (and Halloween as most of us know it) was born. Surprisingly, they throw out the most amazing golden light, so you can see why people thought there was something magical about doing this.

Next, the idea of “trick or treat” was quite novel to me. Up north, we called it “guising” and the idea was children would dress up in a disguise. Guisers would go door to door and perform a party piece – sing a song or tell jokes – and you would get some nuts or pieces of fruit (oranges or apples – very healthy!). Inevitably, the attraction of sweets without the need to earn it has seen trick-or-treat take off…

And finally, we used to have treacle scones! I’m going to stick my neck out here and guess that unless you are from Scotland, you’ve never heard of this before, but of course it’s pretty easy to to guess what this involes…or at least most of this will be clear. You take a scone, cut it in half, spread each half with treacle…

…then you tie it to a string to eat it! Alright, so this final step is one for the brave, the willing and the foolish. And as you can imagine, it gets pretty messy very quickly. The sticky scone will swing back and forth, hitting you in the face and making sure you are well-covered in treacle.

You can make this even more fun by tying a string across the room, and then hanging the individual scones on other pieces of string from the main rope – the effect of this is that any swinging effect is amplified, making it more fun and increasing messiness by around 150% (note: no actual reasearch into messiness levels has been undertaken). It is, however, rather advisable to keep a damp cloth to hand, and make sure you do this either above a wooden or tile floor, or put down lots of newspapers. Treacle and cream carpets tend not to go too well with each other.

Just a note if you do decide to give this a try – tie up the scones first, then put on some treacle just before the games begin. It turns out to be rather difficult to tie up a sticky scone…

When I revisited this tradition, I did a little thinking about what to put on them. Was pure treacle the best thing to use? Well, I tried it straight up – the proper black-as-tar stuff that comes in the traditional Lyles tin.

I have to admit, it is pretty strong and actually it was not all that much fun. So I did a little experimentation, and worked out that you actually want to have a mixture of one part treacle to one or two parts lovely golden syrup. This gives you all the spiciness and complexity from the treacle (it’s surprisingly like liquorice when you mix it), but the taste is milder and is likely to prove more popular with kids. If you’re feeling very ambitious and want something that is a little less like a syrup and more like a caramel, add a little melted butter and a pinch of salt. But I assure you, it all end up in a giant sticky mess whatever you do!

That, and many a Scottish granny would frown on such frivolity when good old-fashioned treacle would do!

Happy Halloween!

To make treacle scones (makes 6 large or 12 small scones):

• 275g self-raising flour
• 75g butter
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 egg, beaten
• 125ml milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Rub together the flour, baking powder and butter until it resembles rough breadcrumbs.

Mix the egg and milk, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined – be careful not to over-mix. It will be quite soft and wet.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll out to around 2 cm thick. Use a cutter to form the scones. Place on a well-floured baking sheet a few inches apart and brush the tops with a little milk.

Bake for around 15 minutes until the scones are risen and golden.

Serve the scones with butter, jam and honey, or with a side of treacle or 50/50 treacle mixed with golden syrup.

Worth making? This is a super basic scone recipe. But go on – there is a part of you that really wants to try eating them, covered in syrup, hanging from a string. You know you do.


Filed under Recipe, Scottish Food, Sweet Things

Scottish food: Clapshot (Potato & Swede Mash)

To contrast with the very, very sweet tablet I posted a few days ago, clapshot is the polar opposite. Very simple and very savoury. Looking at the list of ingredients, I concede that it does not sound so very exciting, but I can assure you that it all works together beautifully.

Clapshot originates in the north of Scotland, with Orkney usually suggested as its birthplace. This would probably have been the main part of the meal back when life was a lot less comfortable than it is today, but for modern tastes, this makes a fine side dish too.

Now, as if just to prove the point of how different the Scots are, when we talk about “turnip” we mean the orange root vegetable others refer to as swede. If you use white turnips…well, I have never made this with white turnips, but I would imagine that it does not become as soft as swede, so it will be altogether more lumpy, so the dish won’t look as good. By all means try it, but you have been forewarned! In contrast, swede becomes wonderfully juicy and tender when boiled, and changes from a dull peachy hue to a vibrant orange colour, which looks rather fetching against yellow potatoes and flecked with green chives and black pepper. The taste is interesting, and incredibly more-ish: the sweetness and aroma of the swede comes out and mixes with the sharpness of the pepper and chives, tempered by the creaminess of the butter. All this from potato and turnip!

Simple? Yes. But something to tickle the tastebuds? Most certainly.

To make clapshot (as a side for four or main course for two):

• Approximately 500g swede, peeled and roughly cubed
Approximately 500g potatoes, peeled and roughly cubed
• 50g butter
• salt, to taste
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 2-3 tablespoons milk
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the turnip and potato, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Drain, and return immediately to the pot.

Add the butter, chives,  salt, pepper and milk, and use a masher to roughly combine the turnip and potato. Make the mixture as rough or smooth as you like (I like to leave it a little lumpy). Serve straight away while still hot.

If you want to prepare ahead of time, omit the chives when mashing the clapshot. Reheat in an ovenproof dish covered with tin foil, and mix the chives into the clapshot when it comes out of the oven.

If you are feeling creative or want to mix it up a little, you could add a pinch of nutmeg, or use the butter to fry a little chopped onion to add to the mash.

Worth making? Given how simple this sounds, and how quick it is to make, clapshot is very tasty, and a nice way to vary the selection of winter vegetables.


Filed under Recipe, Savoury, Scottish Food

Vegetable Broth

In the words of Frank Loesser, “baby, it’s cold outside”. Yes, a little light snow and the south of England has come to a shuddering halt. We’re now being bombarded with headlines about “Frozen Britain” (yawn), but as yet, there is no news about how this affects that other news staple, the Royal Wedding.

What is beyond doubt it that it is very chilly, and that calls for proper winter soups. This one is a veggie version of Scotch Broth, so – obviously – lots of vegetables, plus potato and barley to add a bit of substance. I like my soups to be thick and hearty, something filling when you get in from the cold, or to prepare you to venture outside. I just don’t get clear soups, or basic bouillon. Filling, and mopped up with lots of brown, crusty bread. Mmmm!

I also like soups that have a bit of character – smooth “posh” soups are all well and good, but if you’re looking for something to serve as a meal, lots of chunky carrot, turnip, celeriac and barley will do the trick. This is also a super-easy recipe. Just chop up the vegetables, fry in a little oil, add stock and let it simmer for a few hours until the barley is soft. Job done. I’ve posted before about my love for barley, and I am going to go on about it again. I think it really brings something to a soup, a bit of chewiness and texture combined with the tender vegetables.

It’s also a good one as it is cheap as chips to make (read the ingredients – it’s all basic stuff, and quelle horreur very healthy) and can be quite easily made from the sort of thing that skulks around in the bottom of the fridge or, with these winter days, arrives in your weekly organic veg box. I know, that makes me sound so Stoke Newington la-di-da!

If you are making this soup, I’ve put a recipe below, but to be honest, the trick is just to get roughly similar amounts of autumn or winter vegetables, add some potato and barley, then sit back and let the lot simmer until the vegetables are tender. It can also be quite happily made with whatever you have to hand – leeks, celery etc. I like to aim for some vegetables that will turn soft and break down (making the soup thick and satisfying), while others hold their shape. I finished this one off with a couple of spoons of soy sauce, and added a scant handful of fresh thyme leaves to the soup 10 minutes before serving.

As an aside, normally I don’t use celeriac in soup (I use celery), but I decided to give it a try. And, rather marvellously, it cooks wonderfully, becoming very soft, then breaking down and adding to the thickness of the soup. I like to make little culinary discoveries like this!

To make Vegetable Broth (serves 4):

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 large carrot carrots, peeled and diced
• 1 small swede, peeled and diced
• 1 small turnip, peeled and diced
• 3 small onions, peeled and diced 
• 2 scant handfuls barley
• 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

• 3 litres vegetable stock

• salt and pepper, to taste
• small handful fresh thyme

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the carrots, swede, celeriac, onions, barley and potato, and cook for 2 minutes on a medium heat, stirring from time to time.

Add the stock and stir well. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the barley is tender (about 30 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Towards the end of the cooking time, add the thyme (if using). Once ready, add more water if the soup is too thick, and serve with lots of crusty brown bread.


Filed under Recipe, Savoury