Scottish fare tastes fairly well on the tongue

Published 1:30 am Saturday, August 22, 2009

My husband has for years wanted to go to the North Carolina Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain. The games always occur in July on my birthday weekend. This year my husband treated me on my birthday to a trip to the games. He sweetened the pie by taking me to the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, N.C. The Inn is a late 19th century farmhouse in a mountain valley—green, cool with lots of flowers in bloom as were most places in the mountains this time of year. It was a far cry from the heat and dryness we had been experiencing here in the deep South.

Valle Crucis was named Valley of the Cross by an early Episcopal priest, who saw a cross in the mountain streams of the valley. He established there the first new monastery since the Middle Ages. Today it functions as a conference center. The area now is better known for the Mast General Store—-an 1880s large rambling general store that is part museum of the past but very much a functioning general store. The innkeepers told us to mail our cards there and when I asked when I got to the store, I was pointed to the corner that was a US post office.

The Inn was a rambling affair with a fiddle-playing family on the wrap-around porch when we arrived. They serve dinner to the public on the weekends. The chef is very talented, serving a prix fixe four-course meal. (Small world: she was from Haiti and lived across the street from the doctor my husband lived with 40 years ago in Haiti.)

The Highland Games are held at McRae Meadows on Grandfather Mountain, just outside Linville, for four days in July and have been since 1956. They are perhaps one of the largest Highland Games in America—a showcase for all things Scottish: piping and drumming, dancing, caber toss, sheep herding with Border Collies, food, kilts. Thirty thousand people were estimated at this year’s affair. One thing we missed; there was no beer. The games have been dry since the beginning. Not very Scottish, if you ask me. All the clans have tents and supply information. There are many vendors selling food, clothes, kilts, bagpipes, jewelry, and books. On our way out Saturday afternoon we bought a used Scottish cookbook that featured several Scottish country house inns. It featured the Altnaharrie Inn where we had stayed a few years back in northwest Scotland and remembered the meal as one of the best we had ever eaten.

For lunch at the games on Saturday my husband had Scotch eggs. The hard-boiled eggs, wrapped in sausage and deep fried are eaten in the UK and are available in supermarkets, convenience stores and even motorway service stations. Contrary to what one might think they were created by the famous London department store, Fortnum & Mason in 1851.

Scotch Eggs

(So fattening but so good. Makes six eggs.)

6 hard-cooked eggs, well chilled

1 pound breakfast sausage

½ cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

¾ cup fine bread crumbs

Vegetable oil for frying

Peel eggs and set aside. Divide sausage into six portions. Roll each egg in flour and with hands press a portion of the sausage around each egg.

Dip sausage-wrapped eggs into beaten eggs and roll in breadcrumbs. Heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees.

Cook each egg in oil about four to five minutes or until sausage is cooked and browned. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, or cold for a picnic item.

From our cookbook (Claire MacDonald’s Scotland) purchased on Grandfather Mountain I found a good recipe with shrimp and spinach. It would make a good first course for a summer lunch.

Spinach and Garlic Terrine with Prawns and Tomatoes

(Serves 8-10)

2 lbs. frozen spinach, thawed and well drained

1-2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 ½ cups cheddar cheese, grated

2 extra-large eggs

2 extra-large egg yolks

½ tsp. grated nutmeg

½ tsp. salt and freshly ground pepper

10 small, ripe tomatoes

1 lb. shelled cooked prawns (shrimp)

4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Some fresh basil leaves

Line the short ends and the bottom of a 2 lb. terrine or loaf tin with baking parchment. Put the drained spinach into a food processor together with the chopped garlic and the grated cheese. Whiz to make a smooth purée. Then, still whizzing, add the whole eggs, one by one, and the egg yolks. Add the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the mixture into the prepared terrine, smooth even, and cover the surface with a strip of baking parchment. Put the terrine into a roasting pan and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the terrine. Bake in a preheated moderate oven (350 degrees) for 1½ hours. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely — ideally overnight.

Skin the tomatoes: dip each in boiling water for a few seconds, after which the skin will slip off easily. Cut each tomato in half, then each half in six wedges, scooping out the seeds. Mix in a bowl with the prawns (shrimp). Cut any huge prawns in half. Stir in the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and the torn basil leaves.

Turn out the spinach and garlic terrine on to a serving place. Spoon around the tomato and prawn mixture.

Slinte (pronounced slahn-tchuh) – Gaelic for ‘health’