When I saw that recipe book, I was instantly put in mind of my mother’s collection which also contained a mix of handwritten and stuck in recipes. She got married in 1953 but I don’t know when she started keeping her notes. The navy blue covered book is now with my sister but alas, there is no written recipe for the coconut cake which was one of our childhood favourites – a pastry case covered in a layer of jam, then topped with a mix I’m guessing of desiccated coconut, sugar and eggs, baked in a round flan tin. Thursday was baking day and we’d come home from school to find nearly every kitchen surface covered with cooling snaisters. (This will be the basis of my belief that it’s sinful to put on the oven for only one thing – see Common Sins. )
Maw Broon’s Cookbook, published in 2007 by Waverley Books in association with DC Thomson & Co, is a commercial version and I have to say I think it’s been very well put together. It purports to be a collection of recipes and household hints which Maw Broon’s mother passed down to her and now she’s passing it on to her daughter in law, Maggie. For authenticity, there are some food-stained pages and others with drawings and scribbles by the bairns.
On 29 January, I saw in The Herald an article by Sandra Dick on a similar theme: Just like granny used to make it … forgotten recipes inspire TV chef. Gregor MacLeod found his granny’s recipe book when he moved into her old house on Lewis and was clearing her belongings prior to reviving her B & B business. He decided to cook his way through her book, trying to use the same ingredients and learning to appreciate her attempts at a zero waste approach; it turned into “an emotional as well as culinary journey”. BBC Alba is currently showing Cidsin Granaidh Chalanais which follows Mr MacLeod on this ‘journey’ and I’m going to get on to iPlayer just as soon as I finish this post.
I heard him on the wireless on Thursday (17 Feb), on Mornings with Stephen Jardine on Radio Scotland. It starts about 75 minutes into the programme if you want to listen on BBC Sounds, lasting about 7 minutes. As a child, Gregor enjoyed watching his granny make pancakes and he now uses her griddle. The recipes are in a stained jotter in which she started writing in1946 when working as a cook / childminder in Glasgow. There are five shortbread recipes; however his favourites are her Special Fruit Cake, her Oatcakes and her Carrageen Pudding which he says is a “showstopper” when turned out of a fancy mould. Harder for him to stomach are Ceann Cropaig (stuffed fish heads) and her Sheep’s Head which was singed (creating a horrific smell) and then boiled, though he said his father used to enjoy the tongue. This was nose to tail eating before we ever heard of Fergus Henderson.
Lady Grisell Baillie, whom I promised to research after seeing the quantities in her shortbread recipe (see Most melancholy night), was another of the Waste Not, Want Not brigade. In her household book, she provided advice on “How to use a Whole Sheep or Lamb” all the way to “Any bits not otherwise wanted are very welcome additions to the scraps set aside for the keeper’s dogs”, as quoted by Annette Hope in A Caledonian Feast.
Grisell comes from Griselda, an Old German name which has Zelda as another variant. I’ve seen Lady Baillie’s first name spelled three different ways but will stick to the one. She was born Grisell Home (or Hume) on Christmas Day 1665 in Berwickshire, a daughter of Sir Patrick Home who was at different times Lord Polwarth and 1st Earl of Marchmont. Her mother was Grisell Kerr and having presumably been named after her mother, she passed the name on to two of her daughters. Her father was a supporter of the Covenanters; he was proscribed after the Restoration and had to go into hiding in the vault of a church near his home. Only his wife and young Grisell knew about this and the girl took food to his hiding place at night; she had to sneak it off the dinner table onto her lap without the servants or her younger siblings noticing. They did notice however that she seemed to have a huge appetite, seeming one evening to put away most of a sheep’s head – a favourite dish of her father. (See The Scots Kitchen) The heavy wooden lantern which she used to guide her to the church can be seen now in the Museum of Scotland.
Sir Patrick escaped to the Netherlands and came back with William of Orange in 1688. He was a member of the old Scottish Parliament and voted for the Union in 1707, “not above the suspicion of having received a reward for so doing”, according to Wikipedia. In 1692, Grisell married George Baillie whom she’d known since they were both 12 years of age. She’d turned down the chance to be a ‘maid of honour’ to Queen Mary and also what had been seen as a more “advantageous match”. Her husband had been in exile with her father and also became a member of the Scottish Parliament; in 1696, he’d invested £1,000 in the Darien scheme. He too voted in favour of union with England so Grisell is connected to Burns’s “parcel o rogues” twice over. George Baillie became the MP for Berwickshire in the new Union Parliament in London, a job he kept for 26 years and they divided their time between London and Mellerstain House, near Kelso.
It’s not Grisell’s politics that concern me here though, but her meticulous household record keeping which has been a great legacy to the Scottish nation. She began on her marriage in 1692 and kept full details of household accounts, records, recipes, prices, menus of dishes as well as family information until just before she died. They have been an excellent primary source for historians on what the family and their servants were eating, what they were buying and how much they were spending. In 1911, the Scottish History Society published The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie edited by Robert Scott-Moncrieff, some 400 pages just covering the years 1692 – 1718.
The level of detail is fascinating. In 1709, she was paying £1 for six dozen lemons and 2 dozen oranges, as quoted by Annette Hope in A Caledonian Feast. She occasionally bought “taiblet for the bairns” (See The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill) and olive oil – which I had assumed was a 20th century introduction to Scotland. At “super” with the Duke of Montrose in 1715, they ate among other dishes “Scots collips wi marrow and black pudins about them”; elsewhere in The Scots Kitchen we learn that “a little py of cocks’ combs” and “a salver wi jellies and sillie bubess” were on Lady Baillie’s table and at “Christenmas” 1715, they had both “plum potage” and “plum puden”. Annette Hope lists some dishes from another dinner with the Duke and Duchess of Montrose in 1717 which surprised me: “sparagass, garlic sauce, pistoches, limon puden, oranges”. We should bear in mind this was upper class eating, but I hope the servants had access at least to the leftovers.
The language she used is also of interest. On 20 November 1722, there’s the first written use in Scotland of the word “Ashiet” for a big serving plate; in 1725 they were spelled “ashets”. Other French influences are seen in her various spellings for fricassees – “friassy”, “friasy” and “friascy” – and also in her “bisket”, “ragows” and “canelle”, French for cinnamon. (See A Caledonian Feast)
In 1732, she itemised her spending in Naples which she visited with her husband, two daughters and her granddaughter “Grisie” as they sought in vain a cure for her son in law who was ill with tuberculosis. On one day in May that year, she bought items including hankies, fans, aprons, a “tortoyshel” comb, yellow “stokins” and yellow shoes (these last two for Grisie?) but she also paid for “Copiing musick” and binding music books, listing all the prices in both ducats and £ s d.
Several portraits of her can still be seen. On Wikipedia, there’s a black and white engraving from 1717 by G J Stodart in which she’s wearing quite a plain frock and has her hair in long plaits. Underneath it says “after Maria Verelst portrait” and on the Gazetteer for Scotland site, there’s a very similar painting with Grisell wearing navy blue and in the same pose beside a red curtain so I’m assuming that’s the Verelst one.
If you go to https://www.manuscriptcookbookssurvey.org/essays/recipes-in-the-hands-of-lady-grisell-baillie-lady-murray-janet-kirk-and-may-menzies-and-the-identities-of-persons-credited-for-recipes/ , you’ll see a 1717 portrait by William Aikman which is on the front cover of a biography called Lady Grisell Baillie – Mistress of Mellerstain, written by Lesley Abernethy and published in 2020. She looks kind of fierce there and I wouldn’t like to have been a kitchen maid confessing to burning a batch of her shortbread. Finally, I saw online a third portrait, this one by John Scougal in which she’s in much finer clothes, looking kind of haughty and with her hair piled very high. It’s marked “Paxton House” which is in Berwickshire and whose last “laird” was one John David Home Robertson, ex Labour MP and MSP for the Berwick and East Lothian areas.
Lady Baillie had a second career as a songwriter and underneath her portrait on the above site, there’s a 1725 one of her daughter Lady Grisell Murray by the same Maria Verelst. Lady Murray’s holding an open book of music and it was this daughter who had copies of her mother’s songs. She also wrote memoirs of both her parents, though these weren’t published till 1809 and then 1822, quite a while after her death in 1759. (I’m starting to get very interested in this daughter who married Sir Alexander Murray of Stanhope in 1710 at age 18, left him four years later and returned to her parents ….. but I better stick to my main subject!)
Unfortunately, only two of Grisell Baillie’s songs survive: Werena my heart licht I wad dee and The ewe-buchtin’s bonnie. The former was included in Collection of the Best Scotch Songs, 1725, and also in Volume 4 of Allan Ramsey’s Tea-Table Miscellany (1724 – 1737).
According to Lady Baillie’s entry on the Poetry Foundation site, her “verses bear mournful witness to suffering” and it was assumed this was connected to her father’s troubled life story. To me, this is just havers – but have a look at them for yourself:
Both seem to be tales of young love gone wrong. The former is the song of a woman whose love is thwarted by the man’s mother and sister because of class differences and jealousy of her good looks, though I have to say her “bonnie young Johnnie” seems a bit fushionless to me. I needed my Scots dictionary to get the full meaning but I’m sure you’ll get the gist if you persevere. In the latter, “buchtin” was the time in the evening when the ewes were milked; it’s also mentioned in Burns’ The Lea Rig, but normally spelled “bughtin” there. (Some shockingly bad spellings / mistakes if these titles appear on several online sites, including “ewe butchin’s” which made me momentarily think of slaughter, though there’d be nothing “bonnie” about that!)
I was pleased that her Scots skills had not been lost to her in spite of her background and the language upheaval of her times. She began to remind me of a later poet Violet Jacob, born Violet Augusta Mary Frederica Kennedy-Erskine in 1863 at the House of Dun in Angus, who also put Scots words into the mouths of working class folk in her poems and songs, winning high praise from Hugh MacDiarmid for doing so.
Lady Baillie, keeping her household accounts until the end, died in London in 1746. (I wonder how she felt about her near miss with the Jacobite army ?) She was buried a few weeks later back in Mellerstain, on what would have been her 81st birthday. According to visitscotland.com it’s “one of Scotland’s finest stately homes” and the gardens there are normally open to the public. Maybe I should make a visit come the summer time and walk in her footsteps.