Cranachan and other oat-eating opportunities

I’d arranged recently to meet the loon and my favourite niece in Avenue in Byres Road but when I turned up, it had changed into Turadh which means “the break in the clouds between showers”.  Luckily I’d described the outside well so we managed to find each other inside.  I’m very impressed by the imaginative name but they need to give the floor upstairs a good scrub.

Anyway, both porridge and cranachan are on their menu.  You can get the porridge traditional style with just salt but there are also some fancy toppings  for those without a sense of what’s fitting.  They also have cranachan on their menu.  I look forward to trying these on future visits.

I’ve had a thing about folk messing about with cranachan for years now, even writing a letter to the guys who were running The Albannach in Trafalgar Square, London.  I do not think that whisky and honey are bona fide ingredients but have been added possibly due to confusion with Atholl Brose.  My original source for this is F Marion McNeill and her bible – The Scots Kitchen, first published in 1929.   Her alternative name for cranachan is cream crowdie and she gives only two essential ingredients: toasted oatmeal and lightly-whipped cream.  She writes that “It may be sweetened and flavoured to taste” and adds that “A few handfuls of raspberries buried in a bowl of cream-crowdie make an excellent sweet”.

I understand it grew from a dish called sowans (originally made just with oat grain husks and water) which was whipped cream (and whipped with the fingers) with the addition of toasted oatmeal – a dish for a special occasion such as at harvest time.  Raspberries then got added and fair enough.


It’s the addition of honey and whisky that gets me going.  Is this just part of the fashion for putting whisky into any dish to make it more ‘Scottish’ like the whisky sauce some folk make now for haggis?  The original flavour of the dish just gets overwhelmed.

Just thinking that cranachan can be turned into a fab ice cream.  Buy a good tub of vanilla and let it soften but before you take it out of the freezer, toast your oats and wash your rasps.  Then when the ice cream’s soft but not completely defrosted quickly mix in the oats and fold in the rasps, getting it back into the tub and into the freezer as soon as possible.  Maybe you could add a tait of whisky here as, according to Nigella, alcohol stops ice cream from freezing solid.  And now I’m contradicting myself.  “Very well then, I contradict myself.”

Birchermuesli has become a breakfast favourite of mine but not one shared by the younger generation.  My favourite niece christened it “glutinous muesli” and now refuses to put it in her mouth; her brother, the loon, is nearly as scathing.  I will admit that my early attempts did result in a bit of a mush but now that I only use Flahavan’s jumbo oats, it’s not sticky at all – or hardly at all – and the oats stay intact.  I make it the night before and it’s become a bit of a ritual on a Tuesday and a Saturday night when I can go peacefully to bed, knowing that it’s in the fridge all ready for the morning.

I use apple juice to soak the oats though you can use almond or oat milk or cow’s milk if you prefer.  In winter, I go for an apple and ginger juice and in summer, apple and elderflower or rhubarb work well too.  M & S, a couple of years ago, did an apple juice with nettle and some other greens which was very aromatic but it’s been discontinued.    I tip the oats into a favourite bowl and then add the juice stirring with a fork until I feel I’ve got a wet but not a sloppy mixture.  Then I grate in half a red apple – a firm one.  The flecks of red peel make it look more attractive, breaking up the beige.  Before stirring, I squeeze half a lemon on top of the apple, watching out for pips falling in.  Then it gets a good mix; I put a plate on top of the bowl and store it in the fridge overnight.  Next morning, you can sense it doing you good as it goes down and you feel so virtuous!

I’ve tried it out with these instant porridge pots too – in an emergency.  I boil the apple juice and then add to the plain porridge oats up to their fill-to-here line.  Because the oats are so much finer, it does become a bit of a mush but the taste is fine so shut your eyes.

I mind my father making a version of this, many, many years ago.

Skirlie was made by my Aunt Jessie as a stuffing for chicken but I can never get mine as good as hers.  She didn’t use a recipe, just added oatmeal, salt and pepper to her fried onions until it looked and felt right.  It doesn’t have to be used as a stuffing, it can be an accompaniment to something else, not necessarily meat based.

Here’s F Marian McNeill’s recipe for a chicken stuffing which I came across recently:  “Rub a piece of butter into twice its weight in oatmeal or barley meal, or substitute finely chopped suet for the butter.  Season with salt, pepper and a little wild garlic and mint.  Mix the ingredients well and stuff the bird.”  I’m going to try this sometime soon.

As it’s Hogmanay, I should be getting on with cleaning – even though it’s the Sabbath.  Now, what takes priority?  Folk tradition or Presbyterianism?

I’ll end with a tip about putting oatmeal into a pan of mince – beef or vegetable based – to thicken the sauce and bulk it up.

Bliadhna mhath ur.  Eat more oats in 2018.


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