From a farmhouse kitchen in Moray

Taking a break from the old recipes which involve unusual parts of an animal that I came across in the little 1950’s/60’s booklet Traditional Recipes from Scotland, here is an absolute favourite and quite normal, gingerbread.  According to Janet Murray who shared the recipes, ‘this recipe has been in use for over a hundred years – for instance, it was made in a farmhouse in Moray for Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838. Well, the booklet might have been printed in the 1950’s/60’s, but Janet obliviously had the recipe a lot longer!

I’ve been coming across some unusual words, archaic words and dialect words, in the old cookery books, and the old gardening books I’ve been looking at recently. Ashet, heid, shoddy, and now another new one:

This kitchen (the farmhouse kitchen in Moray) had the usual wide fireplace with a swee, but it also had a baker’s oven, and bread and gingerbread were baked every Tuesday.

Swee is not a spelling mistake, it’s an actual thing. I had a guess since Janet was talking about a fireplace where food would be cooked, that it might be something from which a pot or a kettle could be suspended over the fire. I looked it up and it took a little while to find. here are some of the things it could mean, before I found the thing it actually did mean:

  • to be influenced or swerve or influence or cause to swerve to or from a purpose or opinion
  • to swing to one side or the other, backwards and forwards, to sway, rock
  • A swee is a strong dram

Then there was this:

  • From the swee or crane in the chimney, hung the big family pot – the bar from which the cooking-pot hung over the fire

So now we know, the swee was a bar or hook which held a pot or kettle over the fire! I was right! Back to Janet:

After the bread came out of the oven, the bread pans were filled with the gingerbread mixture and put back in the oven. The original ercipe was for 3 lbs of flour. I have tried the recipe using just half f the quantities, and even that makes a big cake. Here is the recipe:

Janet’s gingerbread

  • 1½ lbs flour
  • 4 oz lard
  • 4 oz butter
  • ¾ lb soft brown sugar
  • ½ lb treacle
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ pint milk, warmed – the original recipe tells you to take a pint of milk from the cow, but I find that heating the milk just to blood heat does quite well
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  1. sift the flour, ginger, salt into a roomy bowl
  2. rub in the  two fats until they are like fine breadcrumbs
  3. drop the treacle into the flour, add the eggs and begin mixing, adding some of the milk
  4. mix the bicarbonate of soda with a little of the milk and add it last
  5. put the mixture into a greased (not lined) tin and bake in a slow oven. I set the temperature at 350 degrees (ºF, 175º C, gas mark 4) For this quantity it took 3 hours to bake

And, by the way if you are wondering if half a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda is really enough, it is.

I love the way Janet writes – I think it may be partially transcribed from her radio slot on ‘A Morning Call’ where these recipes were originally shared.

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