Scottish visit reveals interesting facts, food

Published 12:01am Saturday, September 21, 2013

We visited two great castles in Scotland, both of them in Caithness on the very northern most part of Scotland. We had our woolens, but the wind one day off the North Sea meant we needed even more to keep warm.

We drove up from the airport in Glasgow to Wick where we spent two nights in Ackergill castle. The castle and its setting were fabulous with its outlook over the North Sea, but the service was lacking as was the food. We went into town the second night and had Indian take-out!

The treat was the Castle of Mey, the only home the Queen Mother Elizabeth ever owned. She bought the abandoned castle in the 1950s after the King died. She was to spend the next 50 years visiting there every August. Prince Charles, her favorite grandchild,

The Castle of Mey in England, the only home of the Queen Mother.
The Castle of Mey in England, the only home of the Queen Mother.

still makes the yearly August pilgrimage. We had to plan our visit after he had left as the castle is closed to the public when he is in residence.

The guided tour gave much insight into the life of the Queen Mother. She was a Scottish girl who refused the proposal of the Duke of York several times before accepting. Then comes the surprise: The Duke’s brother becomes king but abdicates to marry, and Elizabeth’s husband becomes King George VI.

She was not known as an intellectual, but her sense of duty to family and country was significant, and she became and stayed one of the most beloved royals. She loved to have people about, and the Castle of Mey was filled with guests every autumn. The Queen Mother had fruit in her room for breakfast every morning. Lunch was usually a picnic, which meant that the cook and staff served the meal alfresco.

She had a gin and Dubonnet at lunch. Teatime was at four. Dinner was not until nine. The menu was written out each evening in French (she was fluent). She always had champagne for dinner. Before-dinner cocktails included a martini for her, stirred (not shaken; this was before Bond).

The Queen Mother loved fish and omelettes, but I cannot relate to her dislike of smoked salmon, oysters, coconuts and capers. She wouldn’t let staff she liked retire. The chef only retired in his late 70s when the Queen Mother died. She didn’t change much at the castle, threadbare though it might have been. The Queen gave her mother a new carpet in the Drawing Room but it had to be the same pattern as the old one. They still use the refrigerator and stove from the 1950s. (Those old appliances hold up better than new ones.)

Our room at Ackergill was up several flights of steep spiral stone steps which I found a chore. The Queen Mother’s bedroom was up a flight of the same type which she climbed even on her last visit to the Castle of Mey at age 101. The entrance to the main floor also had a double staircase. The Queen had some handrails installed one Sunday morning while her mother was at church. When the Queen Mother returned, she took one look at the new handrail and went up the other side.

The castle has an extensive walled garden and it is still a working farm where Angus cattle, the Queen’s favorite and North Country Cheviot sheep are raised. There is a tea room where we had a nice soup with cheese scones for lunch and, of course, a shop where I bought a throw in the Castle of Mey plaid and a new cookbook A Taste of Mey, Recipes and Memories, Inspired by the Castle of Mey, Caithness, Home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

I have chosen to do one of her favorite dishes, Oeufs Drumkilbo, found in the cookbook. It is “really like a posh prawn cocktail and egg mayonnaise all wrapped into one.” It was created by Mrs. Cruikshank, the 17th Lord Elphinstone’s first cook at Drumkilbo where they lived in the early 1950s.

The recipe in the book is from Julian Williams, formerly Head Chef to Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, which was adapted from a recipe given to him by Michael Sealey RVM (Gold), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Head Chef for 40 years (the one who got to retire only when she died!).

Oeufs Drumkilbo, a legendary favourite

Serves 6-8

¾ pint mayonnaise

4 diced hard boiled eggs

8 oz. cooked shrimp

8 oz. diced lobster (I could not get lobster so used more shrimp)

3 diced ripe tomatoes (blanched, skinned and de-seeded)

1 dessert spoon anchovy essence (I used a tube of anchovy paste)

6 drops Tabasco sauce

1 dessert spoon tomato purée

2 oz. gelatin

¼ pint warm fish stock

Dissolve the gelatin in the warm fish stock and allow to cool. Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and add half the cooled gelatin. Add all the other ingredients to the mayonnaise mixture and stir carefully to combine. Place the mixture in a china or glass bowl and chill until set.

Glaze with the remaining gelatin and decorate at will (I used parsley) and allow to set. Serve with fingers of brown bread, mustard and cress.

It is a very nice cool luncheon dish or it could be a first course for a nice dinner.

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