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Entries in Scottish shortbread (4)

Tuesday
Dec312013

Downton Foodie (or my top blog posts in 2013)

Using Google Analytics, I discovered the most-read posts on this blog during the last year. I also discovered a theme, which can best be described in two words: "Downton Foodie."

Yes, more people stopped here to find recipes and/or read my reflections on the wildly popular BBC series Downton Abbey than for any other reason.

So here they are, in descending order, my top-visited posts in 2013.

10. Easy Breakfast Casserole - a holiday present for readers (so yummy, easy to make, and it never fails to impress the guests).

9. Wads versus dust ruffles or why men are still from Mars (a post inspired by a tactical shopping trip to Home Depot)

8. Seven lines from my new book for Lucky 7 (from my novel Grace Unexpected when she audits an anthropology class taught by a silver fox).

7. How Downton Abbey captured my imagination (all about binge watching Seasons 1 & 2--favorite characters, setting, conflicts, one-liners).

6. Poor Lady Edith - empathy for an ugly duckling (my attempt to process all the nasty things that befall Lady Edith, the middle sister on Downton Abbey).

This is opera fudge5. What's your opera fudge I.Q.? When I visited a local book club to critique my opera novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA, they served a delicious candy called opera fudge, and I went on the hunt to learn more about it.

4. The hot dog? Proper dinner fare--yea or nay? (which includes a recipe for frankfurter crown casserole).

3. Six sentence Sunday -- the jaws of bosses (A fun excerpt from GRACE UNEXPECTED for a once-popular but now-defunct meme.)

Bunny's beautiful shortbread2. Somebunny loves my nana's. shortbread (A woman named Bunny from Oshawa, Canada, sent lovely photos after making my grandmother's shortbread recipe.)

1. Nana's authentic Scottish shortbread - an heirloom recipe (With a whopping 7,288 page views, this post featuring a simple but genuine recipe for shortbread had more views than all the others put together.)

No Sharknados, no singing foxes, no posts about Miley Cyrus and her twerking (nor will there ever be a post about her on this site.)

What will 2014 bring? Since next year marks Sir Tom Jones' 50th year in show business (and my new novel is about Tom Jones impersonators), I think I know what one or two popular posts might be about.

Here's to good health, prosperity, a new season of Downton Abbey, and lots of good food in 2014!

Thursday
Dec262013

More shortbread bakers worldwide!

My original posting of my nana's shortbread recipe has prompted more readers worldwide (besides Bunny of Oshawa) to reach out and share family shortbread stories and some charming photos.

Anne's shortbread fingers were headed to school for Heritage Day

This November, Scottish-born Anne McKechan Propst wrote to say her son who is 9 and is taking shortbread fingers in to his class for his Scottish ancestry presentation.

Like my grandmother, Anne's mother was a Glaswegian too. Her brother lives in Largs which is about an hour from Glasgow. Her family grew up in Ayrshire. She said my Nana would know it (ardrossan) because all the Glaswegians would go there in the summer for the beautiful beaches.

Her cousin has a beautiful Bed and breakfast in Largs. Anne said that if I haven't been there, I would love it:

 

You could certainly relax and 'write' from there (lol)." 
I certainly could. It does appear to be the perfect writer's retreat, doesn't it?

 

Appin Bed & Breakfast,172 Greenock Road, LargsCertainly does look like a charming place to visit (and write!) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very shortly before Christmas, I received another lovely email message from Robb Powell of Calgary who thanked me for posting my nana's recipe. He lost his mother in July of 2012, and she kept all her recipes in her head. Robb wrote,

[My mother] hailed from the MacKinnon Clan and made the best shortbread in the world. I often made it with her as a kid, but was not able to keep the recipe in my head as neatly as Mom, haha.

She was fairly ill her last few years and the shortbread recipe was a lower priority on my list, although the craving has always visited itself upon me each and every Christmas.

Your Nana's recipe is exactly the recipe as I remember it now, I will know for sure when I taste it. Thank you for posting it. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I can not wait to make up a batch!

We fancied our shortbread up with sliced red and green maraschino cherries, which I will do on the batch tomorrow. I remember my Mom's steadfastness on the importance of creaming the butter and sugar very well, as well as the kneading and slow addition of the flour to the mix. So I will pay special attention to those notes...while visions of the final product dance in my head!

Then Robb sent these photos. Look how he's arranged the cherries on top so each pan looks like a Christmas tree.

shortbread "trees" before bakingRobbie's shortbread baked

 

 

 

 

 

 

I received another note from Colleen who said,

"Thanks for posting your Nana's Shortbread recipe.I made it today for the holidays, and a family Christmas at my sister's. And I'm sure it will be a hit, (had a taste test). I'm going to have to hide them from me!!"

And a cheery note from Fiona, a visitor from Australia, who talked about her granny born of two Scots:

She always made the shortbread to give at Christmas but we were never allowed to break it to eat until midnight - for Homany (the new year). On her passing, the tradition and role of baker jumped my mother and passed directly to me at the age of 16. 

Sometimes Fiona replaces granulated sugar with 10x sugar for a finer texture. She also said her recipe includes ground rice and that she makes her shortbread into rounds.

Keep those photos and notes coming. Whenever I hear from blog readers, it makes the the world seem a cozier, warmer place.

Saturday
Oct262013

Somebunny loves my nana's shortbread!

One of the loveliest things to happen to this writer and blogger happened to me recently. More than one reader has found my Scottish nana's shortbread, an heirloom recipe, online and reached out to let me know they tried it, the latest from Bunny Wright of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

Sidebar: I had NO idea where Oshawa was. Thank heavens for the Internet. Oshawa borders Lake OntarioLook for the star on the map. Apparently it has a population of 152,000--no tiny town of two-thousand, that Oshawa.

Bunny clicked through to my "Contact Me" page and sent this note:

I was looking for a good Scottish shortbread recipe to make for our church bazaar and I came upon yours. I want to use a shortbread mold (round with a thistle print). Your mentioning of your grandmother certainly hit home with me. I had a Nana as well (MacKenzie) and she sounded exactly like yours!

She then went on to say,

My dad still makes shortbread and each family still gets a round for Christmas. Hale and hearty, he will be 92 in November.

My family makes shortbread at Christmas, too. I suppose it's too rich to eat (must be made with 1 pound of pure butter!) on any old day for any old reason.

She went to ask me whether she thought the recipe would do well in a mold. Because its so rich with butter, it packs or presses down into dishes and molds easily, so I said I thought it would work. I have used Nana's recipe in my own thistle mold successfully.

Lo and behold, just a week later, she wrote back.

The shortbread has turned out perfectly! Thanks for a great recipe. I haven’t made shortbread since my (other Irish) grandmother told me it tasted like bubble gum! LOL I’ll enclose a photo.

And she enclosed this photograph. Doesn't her shortbread look perfect?  Every edge is perfectly shaped. Color is ideal. I can almost taste its buttery goodness just staring at the photo.

Bunny, thank you so much for reaching out to me and sharing your shortbread. Both our grandmothers were Glaswegians, and Bunny can imitate hers, too, (though her accent might be a darn sight better than mine.)

I'd also gotten a lovely note in August from a reader named Sandra who said, "You touched me with your recipe and little background story."

My heirloom shortbread recipe gets more hits than any other single post on my blog. Thanks to the Internet, I  can share Nana's recipe with the whole world, and that is a great feeling.

If Nana were alive, I know she'd be pleased to see how many people have not only stopped by for her recipe but have reached out to her granddaughter and went out of their way to thank her for sharing it.

(And there wasn't much that pleased her, believe me. So, I musta done good.)

 

Saturday
Mar162013

Nana's authentic Scottish shortbread - an heirloom recipe

My mother's mother, whom we called "Nana," came to New York City from Scotland in the early part of the last century. Because she had such a dominant personality and a thick Scottish accent, I remember her much more clearly than my father's mother.

Nana had little nicknames for all of my siblings and me: Brian-me-boy (which she pronounced "buy"), Red Feather (for my sister Heather), I was Gale Girl (which I use as a screen name today), and Rossi Bairn for my brother Ross. We thought she was saying Rossi Bear and still refer to my brother Ross as "Rossi Bear" today because we were just silly American kids. 

While I was growing up, she came to visit our farm in Berks County regularly even though she and my father fought a lot. Because of the delectables and recipes she shared, sometimes it seemed we were like a little Scottish outpost situated in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Many of my memories of her revolve around food and tartan dresses. (Always tartan, never plaid, mind you. And let's not even get started about how most people mispronounce "Auld Lang Syne" by saying Syne as though it begins with a "Z".)

Nana's shortbread never looked fancy but it's the best I've ever tasted.In my previous post, I mentioned having received some heirloom recipes from my Scottish nana. So without further adieu, here is the recipe for my favorite treat Nana used to make--Scottish shortbread.

This recipe is the best in the world. Forget all those chi-chi shortbreads with rosemary, rosewater, and god-knows-what adulteration. This is the BEST recipe for authentic shortbread you'll ever find, and oh, so simple.

You can sort of hear my nana's personality in her recipe--she was a bossy one, that's for sure.  

My mother handwrote this recipe and gave it to me during my wedding shower in 1985:

Nana's Scottish Shortbread

1 lb. butter (no oleo)
1 full cup sugar
Cream butter and sugar. Then add 3 and 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time.

Mix well and knead thoroughly. Add more flour if needed. The more you knead, the tastier the shortbread will be.

Pat the dough into a round, square, or oblong pan (don't roll it or grease the pan; the dough is rich enough). Prick with a fork all the through, top to bottom,  in a design if you can.

If you like thicker shortbread, use an 8 x 8--just watch that the bottom doesn't brown. If you like it a little thinner, an 11 x 7.5 x 1.5 (deep) is ideal. 

Bake in 300 degree (very slow) oven for 45-60 minutes. Don't let shortbread get brown on top. 

Happy baking!

* * * 

And of course, no post about Scottish food would be complete without invoking Rabbie Burns' famous blessing:

Some hae meat

by Robert Burns

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanit.

(And the fact that I posted this the day before St. Patrick's Day would make my nana even happier. If you're not sure why that is, then you've never grown up with Scottish people.)