Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inventing Tradition OR Angst on St. Andrew's Day

A St. Andrew's Day Feast
When I lived in Glasgow, nobody paid much attention to St. Andrew's Day. This did not trouble me because we never celebrated it in my household while I was growing up, my mother never celebrated it her household growing up, and by extension, one can assume that my grandfather, who was born in Scotland in 1914, never celebrated it while growing up either.

Last night, however, St. Andrew was honored in our house. As I had no idea what one did on a saint's day, except eat a special meal, I made it up as I went along. I didn't want to cook a huge, fancy meal, as I had already done that for Thanksgiving. I found a recipe for Cullen Skink (BBC Good Food, January 2001) and another for individual Steak, Potato and Leek Pies (Bon Appetit, May 2004). Essentially, I planned soup and sandwiches for dinner, with shortbread for dessert.

Planning, apparently, was the easy part. Smoked haddock is not available locally, so I had to special-order smoked whitefish. This worried me as I had no idea how a substitution would impact the soup. I envisioned cooking and dining to a playlist which included Andy Stewart (yes, I have mentioned that I a part of the ancestral diaspora and we like him), Travis, Eddi Reader, and Capercaille. The playlist did not got made.

At about 5:30, I went downstairs, a bit despondent about the music situation, to start cooking for the meal to be ready at 6:30. I ended up putting on Celtic Thunder and Celtic Woman and tried to be happy. Then as soon as I started chopping, my dad announced that he had to LEAVE at 6:30 and wouldn't be back until about 7:15. My niece had stayed home from school that day and said she would "try" the soup, but asked if she could have salad instead of the pie. I took my irritated self into the kitchen to chop potatoes, leeks and onions and then the music stopped. Oh my, I was hating my plans and St. Andrew at that moment.

The music stopped because my mother quickly made a playlist of Andy Stewart and Kenneth McKellar. That cheered me up considerably. At 6:30, I had just finished chopping and had started to make the pies. Preparation and cooking always seem to take longer than anticipated. Of course, if I had noticed that the pie filling was supposed to cool completely before I put it in the pastry, I might have been better off. At 7:30, an hour later than I had planned, we sat down to dinner. The music got changed to something a little more suitable to dining and as we began to eat, my father finally got home.

The Cullen Skink was wonderful and everyone liked it better than they thought they would. I think they were frightened off by the name. And the pies were amazing, thanks in part to pie crust made by Mr. Pillsbury Doughboy. We were too full to eat any shortbread after dinner.

All in all, despite a couple of angst-ridden hours, our St. Andrew's Day celebration was a success. It also helped me realized why people invent traditions like this - it's fun. We tried new recipes, listened to music we don't normally listen to, thought about our ancestral homeland, participated in an event promoted in modern Scotland, and made an ordinary Wednesday into something special. I would do it again, and maybe invent some new things to add to our November 30th festivities. Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

Some whisky or Irn Bru? I'm in Scotland and don't like either! Your pies look lovely and Cullen Skink is one of my favourites. Congrats on starting a new family tradition! Jo :-)

Amanda E. Epperson said...

Thanks Jo. I had thought of whisky, but not Irn Bru. I don't like them either. @ScottishHistory suggested Stovies and another friend suggested a visit from St. Andrew himself. I've got a whole year to either find a statue of the saint or someone to dress up as him. I think the former will be easier....


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