So easy to get around Norway (a future post) and an easy taxi trip to the Bergen airport for our flight to Scotland (Aberdeen).
As I start my post, I have food on my mind as I came across this photo below…a restaurant we enjoyed on Isle of Skye. (As usual a few recipes at the end of this post.)
I’ll stay with food for a while and later describe our journey on the first leg of our 2+ weeks in Scotland on this visit; combined with some family history memories that connects with my Scottish Grandparents in Sydney. I’ll bold print for anyone preferring to skim read.
Traditional favourite foods in my Scottish/Australian grandparents’ house when I was a child were:
Fish and fresh peas; Scotch Broth and Cullen Skink (a smoked fish soup), which I vaguely remember our Grandpa making (in his younger days) and I tried in various coastal towns around Scotland.
I also have memories of various egg custards our mother liked to make and/or buy when I was a young child – sometimes on the drive to our Grandparents’ home in Balmain, Sydney (Balmain was one of Sydney’s original fishing villages and our Grandfather was a fisherman).
If we visited as a family and had a long day out, we would often stop for burgers (a favourite Jamie Olivier recipe in next post) on the drive home; our home was about 30-40 min from Balmain…would take a lot longer now the traffic is heavier in most areas of Sydney.
Off the Scottish track and onto family history for a bit as this post relates indirectly at least!!…skim over next few paragraphs etc. if more interested in travels.
Our mother, with her strong links to Scotland (and perhaps an engrained sense of social justice/independence from that + seeing her own mother’s struggles) was one of the first women to drive both in her family and in our suburb…we were very proud of her, and I can remember her learning to drive when I was a young child. She really loved the independence it gave her so I was proud of her for that as well.
Mum loved fashion and the arts (she had qualifications in dress/pattern making as well as pottery) and I remember her making white towelling gowns for the beach – like she has on in the photo above. She was also greatly interested in the women’s rights movement that started to grow in my very early teens. She was one of only Mums I knew who just loved TV documentaries and she had a keen interest in politics too. We watched and talked about many programs together, particularly when I spent almost 9 months in bed recovering from my first spinal surgery at 13…sudden onset of scoliosis after years on a ballet scholarship!…
Mum’s love of learning and her caring personality inspired me to bounce back (eventually!) from rehabilitation and hospital visits, and I completed both secondary and tertiary Education – something only a limited number of girls did in my time at the local public high school. (In Australia “public” refers to Govt run schools). I did need to wear a back brace when I returned to high school and I do remember a couple of bullies teasing me about the bulky brace…painful, but taught me to distance myself from people like that and seek out kind/caring friends.
Mum also avoided people like that and gravitated toward down to earth people who enjoyed a laugh (eg TV comedies) but never at someone else’s expense, especially if a person was going through tough times. She wasn’t an active Feminist but she admired those who had the dedication (and time!…she had 5 young girls) to do more for the general well being of women and girls, not just men and boys which was often the case back then. She would have liked to have been more involved, but I think she sometimes lacked the confidence – socially she could be quite shy in unfamiliar situations as was I in my early decades.
Back to thoughts of food:
Over the decades in Australia, but particularly in the 60s and early 70s, British food was the standard food that was served in homes by many of our parents with similar ancestry. If we went out for “something special”, it was either Chinese or Italian – at that stage a westernised version of their food to appeal to Anglo tastes. Our mother started to experiment more with food (extra spices etc.) when food programs started to become popular on TV eg. Margaret Fulton and Bernard King. Margaret Fulton’s first cookbook was known Australia wide and can even be seen at our National Museum + a few other National institutions in Canberra.
A much greater interest in British foods (both traditional and fusion) by people in the food scene seems to have only occurred in only the last decade or so it seems? We even noticed a big change in UK food culture between a 2005 trip and more recent visits, with the quality of food, even in regional restaurants, improving so much. The competition between restaurants has perhaps prompted that – many have Trip Advisor posters in the window and if they guess you’ve enjoyed the meal, they leave a Trip Advisor card with the bill! I often do as an acknowledgement of a very enjoyable lunch or dinner.
However, the best British food for me connects with childhood memories eg. super fresh fish and fresh peas picked from the pod and then cooked by our Scottish grandmother. I, along with many other children of the time, may have invented the first “mushy pea” idea just by using our fork. A recipe for a fancier version will be included at the end of post😉
I’ve also been prompted to write this post on Scotland, as I’ve recently finished making some traditional British family recipes including a Christmas cake (my mother often made “fruit cake” not just at Christmas), and over the last few days I’ve been warming some up to eat more like a pudding with homemade egg custard (recipe below). It works well as a dessert as a cake full of moist fruit plus nuts (recipe idea below as well).
Side tracking with a bit more history I hope will be of some interest to readers…
Some might wonder from the heading how I’m connecting Scotland and Sydney…part of the reason for this recent journey in Scotland was to follow a family history trail…
Tony and I enjoy learning about the interesting stories related to our family although we’re not into mulling over lists of names and dates – so common once family trees go a long way back (unless they were aristocrats or similar!…ours weren’t).
We do enjoy the immigrant stories – those associated with our maternal grandmothers (my Nana and Tony’s great great great! Grandmother from Isle of Skye in the 1850s). This part of Tony’s ancestry became particularly interesting for us when on Isle of Skye, we learned of “The Clearances” (worth reading about if you’re a history nerd like me 🤓)…a story of discrimination and abuse that resulted in many Scottish families immigrating to other countries.
Photo below shows 4 generations of Tony’s family with his Great Grandmother the first to be born in Sydney…in ….(note to self…check family tree)…Flora MacDonald’s daughter! Not the famous Flora MacDonald, referred to in the Skye Boat Song, and memorialised at the graveyard in Skye (photo below) but most probably named after her.
In a future post I’ll write more about our 4 nights on the Isle of Skye as this one focuses more on our day trip from Aberdeen to Inverness...
highly recommended and if driving yourself, interesting to get off the main roads and explore the coastline, towns and villages. If we do it again I’d check out review sites and forums etc. for travel advice as some places more interesting than others of course.
As we set out on our journey northward, we had lots of questions about Tony’s family and mine…why did they leave? Some of the answers seemed obvious but others not so clear of course. We can only piece together it all with what we saw/learned/heard on this trip plus memories of our childhood. However, this post (and others on Scotland in the future) is a journal for us plus for anyone wanting to know and/or travel there…a country to visit just for the scenery alone…stunning in parts.
Here’s a photo taken on day of our checkout from the hotel in Bergen, Norway (a post for another day) where we loved staying 4 nights too:
Bergen – Aberdeen
It’s an easy …….flight from Norway to Scotland and a good way to enter the UK without going through the long queues so often encountered at say Heathrow. We stayed at the airport Rydges Hotel in Aberdeen…a meal was included in the room rate, and even though service was slow the food was quite good. Much better than the airport Rydges in Sydney.
If you want to explore around Aberdeen, you may want to stay closer to the city but our intention, the morning after our flight, was to head towards the Scottish Highlands we had heard so much about…mostly from my sister and niece who had been putting together family history info.
Here’s a photo of our first glimpses of Scotland on the flight from Norway:
The next day we hired a car and headed toward the coast (Buckie) where we had a long look around (more on that below) + lunch at a pleasant little cafe.
The weather in September was reasonable although when the wind occasionally whipped up I had a scarf handy. As you can see from the second photo above, it’s a very exposed coastline. We walked up and down the street and a seaside path near here to get a feel for what my grandfather’s childhood would have been like.
We also tried to find where my grandfather’s house was located…almost next door to the number we were given were solid stone terraces like those seen in photos above and below – most brightened up with some painted trim around the windows and doors. I’ll need to check with my niece, but from what we could see, our grandfather’s original house had been knocked down and a “modern” shopfront now replaces it.
Tony and I talked about how disappointed our grandfather would be to see that happen as the construction of the original stone houses have stood the test of time in Buckie. I’m sure he would have loved to see the original house (which we guess would have been similar greystone), lovingly cared for with colourful painted trims.
More Connections with Scotland and Sydney:
As mentioned before, this is an immigration story as well as a reflection on our recent travels, including food experiences (present and past) relating to Scotland…
So here’s a photo of my grandfather and grandmother at their beautiful house on the harbour in Sydney (Balmain)...if you look to LHS of photo the pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge can be seen. Wonderful views from this house.
Our mother (RHS…with me on her knee) remembers “The Bridge” being opened, and occasionally told me about the excitement of the day – an interesting story behind that which is worth reading about if you’re interested in history combined with some political intrigue of the 1930s.
When our grandparents immigrated with 2 young children (8 more were born in Sydney!…including a “middle child”, our mother Nell)… they were very pleased about both the quality of housing in Australia (although maybe not when they 1st arrived) and the climate – almost sub tropical compared to Scotland Grandpa told me.
He would have a laugh when I complained about the cold during a Sydney winter (generally quite mild) although most of the houses had fireplaces as can be seen from the chimney in photo below of their Sydney house (LHS with blue trim) where they raised their large family. Even my parents’ house was a double brick “war service home” (Dad was a WWII Veteran) and had a fireplace in the living room, although for more convenience, from the 1970s we mostly used other forms of heating.It was a bit of a shock when Tony and I moved to Canberra in 1974, and some of the places we rented didn’t have much heating at all – Canberra can get very cold in winter, sometimes between -1 to -6 deg C overnight in mid winter.
The photo above shows the Sydney sandstone steps that lead you up from the Balmain East Wharf (ferry stop still there) to “Nana & Grandpa’s house” – built in early 1900s I guess but I’ll try to confirm that later.
As a child in late 50s, 60s & early 70s, I really loved visiting although it was sad to see our grandparents’ decline; Nana many years before Grandpa, perhaps partly due to having immigrated here from Scotland with no extended family + 10 children to raise.
When Nana became ill (I think it was after 9th baby – common in those days), the older girls took over helping to raise the younger children although our Mum and Aunts have told me that our grandfather “was an excellent father and husband” doing the best he could under difficult circumstances eg. “Cheering up the house with a coat of white paint”.
The house (photo below as well) reminded me of a lighthouse. I loved it! I still do and wish it was still in the family (sold in 70s for a ridiculously low amount!); a real estate agent bought it!! Apologies to ethical real estate agents but…this happens far too often so if grandchildren ever reading this one day, be wise/take care!!
Nana’s extended illness affected her cognitive function (and perhaps her hearing as she was almost deaf for the decade++ I knew her), but she happily helped with housework, food prep etc…shelling peas was something she loved. As she became older, her dementia seemed to take her back to older memories, and sometimes I’d hear her speaking in Scottish Gaelic (a Celtic Language), even when our Grandfather was no longer alive to speak with. I learnt from locals on Isle of Lewis (post for another day) that it’s pronounced very differently to Irish Gaelic.
A special/memorable time…in about 1960:
Twice weekly visits, with our mother, to visit our grandparents occurred when I was a 4 or 5 year old (2 older sisters were at school), we would have fresh peas with freshly caught fish (Grandpa was a fisherman), sometimes followed by some fresh egg custard tart and a cup of tea. After that a very short walk to the park on the harbour near East Balmain wharf.
Grandpa would often give me a few coins for my little purse and said “spend a bit, save a bit wee lass”…good advice from both him and our mother…who was also very wise with money. She had to be!…another story I won’t go into here.
Back to the food...
I’d often steal some fresh peas from the pods…Nana would give me a gentle reprimand and a shake of the finger if I took too many. She was such a sweet and kind person…it would have been good to hear about her younger self but sadly, it wasn’t possible. I suppose partly a reason for me writing this blog…both my grandmother and later our mother had dementia (Nana’s perhaps due to a serious mastitis infection after childbirth Mum told me).
Back to our recent Scottish Highlands trip…the first stop after we left Aberdeen was a cafe in Buckie where we had a very pleasant light lunch. Tony needed to go searching for some UK 🇬🇧 money (for the kids…that’s Pounds£).
It’s just a small town and while it didn’t seem to have a depressed economy, it certainly didn’t appear to be thriving. However, there was quite a lot of investment in the solid, historic stone houses (as in photos above) and when I was walking down one street looking for our grandfather’s childhood house number, I asked at a nearby bathroom restoration showroom (she was helpful) and it seemed to have a big range of latest fitouts + a few people browsing…and it was only mid week.
We found a lovely little Fishing Museum in Buckie (photo below) where they seemed to be aware of the Grays (my Grandfather’s family name) who lived there so many decades ago (photos below):
We enjoyed this small museum…what a hard life our Scottish ancestors must have had!…particularly the women who sometimes carried the men to the fishing boats in order to keep them dry. Our Nana was quite a petite woman so I really can’t imagine her doing that even when she was young!…she immigrated to Sydney with Grandpa (a fisherman) in her early 20s.
The landscape around the Buckie coastal area is mostly devoid of trees and shrubs (the Inverness district is greener…photos will be in my next post). However, we did find a few places with attractive streetscapes like this one:
The Weather in Scotland September:
Can be harsh we hear but as can be seen from the photos we had reasonable weather last September (2018). Much better than when we were there (and Nth England) a few years ago! On days like that I often talked Tony into going to a cosy museum (sometimes for a hot drink or lunch as well)…I’m looking very cold + a bit bored in next photo but I did find the Roman history fascinating and we often hired the audio if it’s not included in museum entry fees:
So it was quite a long day from Aberdeen to Inverness (via Buckie for a few hours) but we really enjoyed it all and would recommend a slow drive. If we ever do it again, I think we might look for a more prosperous coastal town to stop at as we hear the seafood can be excellent in the right places.
In Buckie, the cafe we stopped at was just a basic bakery/sandwich and soup place…very pleasant and unpretentious plus the traditional soup of this district was really delicious “Cullen Skink” (recipe note below). I can vaguely remember my Grandfather making it in Sydney when I was a young child so even just eating the soup brought back very fond memories.
Our B&B in Inverness – “Castleview” (photo below)…more photos in next post on Scotland:
So we had a wonderful few days at the start of our 2nd Scottish adventure. As it was a family history trail, I’d like to make this post in memory of my late family including my 2 older sisters and my parents…such wonderful grandparents themselves and photo below is of them with our youngest son, Joel.
Final reflections on family...
Joel has just driven down and visited us at our South Coast holiday house and really enjoyed kayaking with Tony at Lake Narrawallee and eating with us too. Old photos of those no longer with us remind us to make the most of every day don’t they, so here’s to a Happy New Year (’19 already!)…and happy travelling!🥂
Sydney – New Years Eve
Off to New Year Drinks with neighbours now so…RECIPES WILL BE TYPED UP THIS WEEK (some are on the Net)…
Homemade egg custard (Nigella’s recipe from net?…+ I have book); Mushy peas; “Make It As You Like Christmas Cake” (on Net); Scotch Broth (on Net); Cullen Skink soup (on Net); Nigella’s Pavlova recipe (on Net?…I have the book so will type it up from that here).
MUSHY PEA RECIPES:
Here’s the quick recipe we go with (taste.com.au) when fresh peas aren’t available:
There are numerous fresh pea recipes on the Net…fresh is best of course but my Nutritionist (I see once/twice per Yr) tells me that frozen peas are still highly nutritious.
There are some interesting opinions on Net about Mushy Peas including this one:
thedaringgourmet.com says they have “the authentic” recipe for mushy peas…not sure if that’s true or if they’re just advertising a particular brand?? Anyway, here’s what they say:
“if you want to make authentic mushy peas like the way they’re served at pubs and fish & chip shops throughout Britain, with the right flavor and right texture, be sure to use marrowfat peas. (I gather they’re
The other key to making authentic mushy peas is to avoid embellishments. Mushy peas are simple: Marrowfat peas, baking soda (for softening), water and salt. That’s it! They’ll taste just like you remember them.
And as for green food coloring….NO WAY!!!!!”
TRADITIONAL EGG CUSTARD from…
NIGELLA’S BOOZY BRITISH TRIFLE RECIPE:
From her “Nigella Christmas” book 2009
4 cups heavy cream; 8 egg yolks + 2 whole eggs; 1/4 cup superfine sugar (I used 1/8 cup & it was sweet enough for us if served with poached fruit or similar); 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (pure if possible)
Heat cream (4 cups) in a large, wide, heavy-based pan and while it’s heating, whisk the egg yolks, whole eggs and superfine (caster) sugar in a bowl.
Watch carefully...when cream AT boiling point (don’t actually let it boil), take off the heat and pour it over the eggs and sugar, whisking as you go.
Wash out the pan (boring but it does need to be done), then pour the uncooked custard back into it and return to the heat.
Cook over a medium heat (people might say low heat but that’s just too tedious!), stirring all the time, until it has thickened. IT MUST NEVER BOIL.
After 10-15 minutes, it should be thick enough, so straightaway pour it into a cold, clean bowl.
Add vanilla extract (1 teaspoon), and whisk a bit to help bring the temperature down.
NEXT…”MAKE IT AS YOU LIKE CHRISTMAS CAKE”…bbcgoodfood.com
I also used this mix to make multiple small cakes…I just reduced the cooking time …testing with a skewer of course to check they were cooked through.