TO OAT CUISINE
AN old Scottish verse proclaims that while a song can cheer a sorrowful heart or soothe a crying baby, "the music for a hungry wame (belly), is the grinding of the quernie." The quern was a stone hand-mill used for oatmeal and although the millstones at Montgarrie Mill near Alford in Aberdeenshire are water-powered, the "music" they make when they start up again this month will be just as welcome.
"Our family have been making oatmeal here since my grandfather bought the mill in 1894," says master miller, Donald McDonald. With his sister Rhea he is guiding the mill back into full production since its purchase by Carol and John Medlock who farm 121.5ha (300 acres) at Laurencekirk.
"You could say we know our oats," laughs Carol. "Weve been supplying top-quality oats for racehorses for nearly 15 years now so the mill seemed like an appropriate diversification as well as being an important part of our heritage which we wanted to support."
* Last in Britain
In fact Montgarrie Mill is the last British mill to make oatmeal using flat-kiln dried oats, an old-fashioned process whereby the oats are laid out on a steel plated floor at the top of the mill which is heated by a smokeless, anthracite-fuelled furnace. The oats lie on the floor for four hours and are turned by hand-shovel twice in that time, a specialised process which according to Mr McDonald makes the flavour of the oatmeal unique and contributes towards its "nutty and crisp" texture.
The oats pass through various mill stones and sieves to be cut and polished, producing fine, medium, rough and pinhead oatmeal and the Medlocks are intending to add an organic oatmeal to the mills traditional range.
There has been a mill at Montgarrie since Jacobite times and the present one dates back to 1880 as does the waterwheel which powers it. Described as an "overshot bucket" type, the wheel measures a massive 25ft in diameter, is four and a half feet wide and is driven by the Esset water along the length of which at one time there were at least seven mills, including a woollen mill.
"Weve had a terrific local encouragement," says Carol. "People like the idea of the mill staying in production. We already have a loyal customer base which we intend to expand."
* Dietary staple
The Scots have long used oatmeal as a staple in their diet. Few these days will be making "tartan" which F Marian McNeill in her book The Scots Kitchen says was a "kind of pudding made of chopped kail and oatmeal", or "brochan", a "gruel flavoured with onions and grated cheese", but it is still extensively used to make traditional porridge and oatcakes, and is becoming increasingly recognised as a valuable source of natural fibre and folic acid.
Recipes recommended by Mr McDonald include Montgarrie salmon steaks (salmon brushed with whisky, coated with oatmeal and grilled), oatmeal stuffed breast of lamb and crunchy apple dessert.
"And I can personally vouch for scrumchy Scottish cookies," says Carol. "Easy to make and definitely scrumchy!" Music to the ears, no doubt, of customers past, present and future.
100g (4oz) butter/margarine
150g (6oz) fine
oatmeal of Alford
75g (3oz) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g (6oz) raisins, sultanas, cherries
Beat butter and sugar together, add beaten egg and vanilla. Add dried sifted ingredients and fruit. Shape into 20-24 balls, roll in pinhead oatmeal, place on a greased tray and bake 180C (350F, Gas 4) for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
Heavy work horses on way back
AFTER teetering on the edge of extinction, heavy work horses now seem to be attracting sufficient support to ensure their survival.
That is the least that mankind can do in return for the faithful service given by draught horses in times of war and peace through the centuries.
Their history, care and uses are covered comprehensively in a lavishly illustrated 246-page compendium* on the working horse. Edited by Diana Zeuner and including contributions from 24 acknowledged experts in their particular fields, it will be welcomed by all those who still breed, work, show or just admire the heavy horse breeds and their contribution to civilisation, before internal combustion engines made them nearly redundant.
Chapters include choice of breed from Shire, Clydesdale, Suffolk Punch and their crosses to Ardennes and Percherons of Continental origin.
There is sound advice on choosing and keeping a working horse, veterinary care and the all-important art of farriery. Harness variations for the working horse are described in detail, followed by their use as singles, pairs or in multiple hitches.
Horse-drawn machinery and equipment, competition ploughing, correct training for horses and those who work them, road driving, the care of horse drawn vehicles, transport and the law, are all given the attention they deserve.
There are major chapters on working horses in forests, a role they can still play to perfection, followed by preparing for show, the art of showing and plaiting up.
An excellent and informative book plus an admission from the reviewer, who once walked miles behind a team of horses in the 1940s before tractors become universal. In company with many contemporaries, he couldnt get on a tractor fast enough. **
*The Working Horse Manual, edited by Diana Zeuner (£24.95) from Farming Press, Miller Freeman UK, Wharfedale Road, Ipswich IPI 4LG).