Fes­tive del­i­ca­cies and treats few and far be­tween for fore­bears

The Oban Times - - Community News - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

A HAPPY New Year to all read­ers of this col­umn and to the many friends and cor­re­spon­dents who took the time and trou­ble to write to me from all over the world with ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion, sto­ries and old pho­to­graphs and to say how much they had en­joyed what I had writ­ten dur­ing the last 12 months.

As a re­sult, a book based on Morvern Lines since the col­umn be­gan more than three years ago, has been gen­er­ously ap­proved by the own­ers of The Oban Times and is now in the pipe­line. Watch this space.

As a his­to­rian, I am of­ten asked what del­i­ca­cies and treats our fore­bears had at this time of the year - not that Christ­mas was cel­e­brated to the same ex­tent it is to­day. In­deed, even I can still re­mem­ber a mail de­liv­ery on Christ­mas Day.

The an­swer is not many, other than a warm wel­come and fine old-fash­ioned hos­pi­tal­ity which, un­for­tu­nately, ap­pears to have al­most com­pletely dis­ap­peared from more ru­ral and re­mote dis­tricts.

Ob­vi­ously whisky, brandy, port and other home­made bev­er­ages, on which no duty had been paid, were eas­ily ob­tained and what a com­fort they must have pro­vided as soul and pain re­liev­ers in the armpit of the years, par­tic­u­larly be­fore the days of blue lights and breathal­y­sers.

Some Ed­in­burgh friends who bought a hol­i­day house on Ard­na­mur­chan penin­sula a few years ago, learnt the hard way.

They gave a drinks party to a wide cir­cle of friends and neigh­bours as­sum­ing, rather naively, that guests would be fa­mil­iar with Morn­ing­side ‘rules’ - ar­rive at 6pm and be off two hours later to the next party in much the same way as a herd of heifers might munch their way round a field.

Nine hours later the guests were still en­joy­ing them­selves, hav­ing de­voured sev­eral cases of fine wine, a dozen bot­tles of whisky and emp­ty­ing the con­tents of the fridge, store room and even a deep freeze.

Now that was one good party, and who could blame the rev­ellers.

If you live more than 50 miles away you can hardly ex­pect to travel all that dis­tance with­out giv­ing your host the op­por­tu­nity to enjoy your com­pany and show off their hos­pi­tal­ity - it would be rude!

Need­less to say, the soiree didn’t be­come an an­nual fix­ture in their cal­en­dar.

Very lit­tle food and drink was im­ported as peo­ple were much more self-suf­fi­cient than they are to­day.

They made do with what was avail­able. Sheep, lambs, the odd pig, a kid and per­haps even a heifer, were slaugh­tered and the var­i­ous com­po­nents trans­formed into dain­ties.

Where men worked among deer var­i­ous well-known perquisites came their way. One was the deer’s stom­ach called the poca-buidhe - Gaelic, the yel­low bag - which was washed and boiled and be­came tripe.

There are four cham­bers in a deer’s stom­ach; the ru­men, retic­u­lum, oma­sum and the abo­ma­sum. The retic­u­lum was the favourite and was called in Gaelic ‘Cur­rac and righ’ or, in some places, ‘Cur­rachd an righ’ - the king’s hood.

Neil Shaw of Jura, a com­poser of fine songs and lead­ing fig­ure in the con­tem­po­rary Gaelic speak­ing com­mu­nity who laid the foun­da­tions of the Gaelic move­ment of to­day, recorded in 1917, ‘many stalk­ers and deer for­est ghillies to­day can’t be both­ered to take the deer’s stom­ach home, but leave it for the ravens and the crows.

‘It shouldn’t be like this. Our fa­thers made many a good din­ner from the king’s hood, long cab­bage and good pota­toes. Many a thing from the deer hunt could come to the house of the poor man if the ghillies were as eco­nom­i­cal as they used to be, but Low­land cui­sine has reached the edge of the deer for­est, even to the most re­mote bothan in the cor­rie’.

On the sub­ject of deer I must, in clos­ing, com­mis­er­ate with fel­low Oban Times colum­nist Robert Robertson, au­thor of the Glas­gow Let­ter and award-win­ning singer with world-fa­mous band Skip­in­nish who, ac­cord­ing to a fine piece of film­ing shown on BBC Alba on New Year’s Day, was less suc­cess­ful with the In­ver­garry stags in his na­tive Lochaber last year than he ought to have been.

We were left none the wiser as to the rea­son; could it have been that John Cameron, the Kingie Es­tate head stalker, was too fit for him and tired him out be­fore he reached the fir­ing point, did he con­fuse his gui­tar with his trig­ger fin­ger or was he over­come by the beauty of the hills leav­ing the muckle hart of Glen­garry to kick its heels in the air and can­ter off into the heather to live an­other day?

What­ever hap­pened, his fel­low bands­men had to be con­tent not with the king’s hood for their sup­per back at the lodge that evening but an old broiler. I feel a new song on its way!

Deer of­ten pro­vided the few lux­u­ries at the New Year.

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