The Hebridean Scots of the Province of Quebec
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Cooking & Food

The following essay is taken from pages 82-85 of "Memoirs of Dell" by John Austin MacLeod, unpublished 1972 typescript, 264 p.


I have often likened the people of this community and the surroundings to the children of Israel when the Lord led them out of the land of Egypt. That is, each Israelite, each morning, gathered from the ground, according to his eating, a small white coriander seed which tasted like honey and was called "Manna." So that no one need ever go hungry. This condition existed for a period of forty years. (see Exodus 16)

- end of p. 82 - (Memoirs of Dell)

In Dell, no one ever need go hungry either as the flour barrel always seemed to have a never-ending supply of flour, and besides one could always whip up some buckwheat pancakes or Barley Scones.

Maybe what ties the above together, in my mind, were the words that my own mother used to say for grace, which I vividly recall and which she used to say in English, (Papa always said grace in Gaelic). Her grace was as follows: "We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food; for health and strength; for every good and manna to our soul sent down from heaven. Be given the bread of life, forever. Amen."

Much of the staple food which was grown and eaten was both unique and peculiar to that part of the country. Among the food of those rugged Scottish folk, which was adopted from the fatherland amid the heather, at that time, was the buckwheat pancake. It is questionable if there ever was another place on earth where people ate buckwheat pancakes which were actually cooked upon the bare stove top. Also, it is expected that it is the only food ever consumed that was of that particular taste and color. Its ingredients were simplicity itself, which consisted of buckwheat flour a pinch of salt and a little baking soda mixed with cold water. Its color was an off-shade green. However, if made with milk they were cooked in a greased fry-pan. The first mentioned were the better and more popular. If eaten with fresh fried pork they were really choice. They were almost as good with just plain butter, sometimes "treacle'' would be used.

The Barley Scone (it should always be spelled with capital letters!) was another one of the staple foods and was a by-product of the area. In olden times the grain was sown by hand, threshed by flail by hand and then ground into flour by hand. Barley flour was always made into scones and baked on the top of the stove, giving off an aroma, never-to-be-forgotten by one who had had the good fortune of being practically raised on them.

- end of p. 83 - (Memoirs of Dell)

They were eaten with butter and were supposedly better tasting if buttered on the side they were first cooked on, the smoother side.

"Marag" was the name given to home-made sausages. They contained barley flour, spices and I am not sure what else was added. The skin of the marag was actually the intestines taken from a freshly butchered animal. That of a pig was considered best. Following a butchering one or more neighbouring women would appear, and with the assistance of the man of the house would proceed with the making of the marag. Resulting in a real appetite satisfying food.

Cranberries -- whenever I see cranberries in any form, I recall them in the only way that I knew then in my childhood, which was in the form of a smooth paste, which looked in color, and, in consistency, like faded ketchup. As such, they were preserved, used for pie fillings and also eaten as sauce.

Each fall dear Aunt Annie, Papa's sister, who lived in Canterbury, would send us a half-full potato bag of freshly picked cranberries. In the raw state they were a mouth-puckering bitter fruit. Mamma would cook them up and they made a wonderfully tasty dish.

Sunday night supper in wintertime was always light, with desserts of preserved wild strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, also whole crabapples with cloves, rhubarb or maybe just jelly.

At mealtime we kids served our own plates and we were compelled to clean off our plates before we were allowed to leave the table or have dessert. If we misjudged our capacity and gave ourselves an over-abundance we were told that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.

Lunches often consisted of just plain "a-ran agus e-eem."

- end of p. 84 - (Memoirs of Dell)

In the spring of each year the farmers bought two small six-week old piglets (uithcan) to raise until fall, to be then butchered for their own use. By that time they would weigh around two hundred pounds. The first fall of snow was usually the sign to bring the lives of these creatures to a close.

Many farmers forecasted the forthcoming winter weather and the length of the winter by the spleen of a freshly butchered pig. If the spleen would be long and fat a long hard winter lay ahead, but, if short and thin, they calculated that a mild winter would be in the making.

The above presents an opportunity to relate the following, at the butchering of a pig, the bladder in many cases, was known to have been saved for the purpose of using it for a money bag, a tobacco pouch, even for the making of a balloon for the kids, which was blown up by means of a straw.

Several days following the butchering the carcass would be cut into pieces and some of it put into a barrel, the remainder, the hams and sides would be taken to Watson's place in Scotstown, who would smoke and cure them. The process would take about three weeks. The results were the most delicious hams and bacon that there ever was. In the springtime as the weather was moderating the uneaten portion of the meat was salted down in a barrel so as to keep it in an edible condition.

Beef was treated in much the same way, that is, in the springtime it was preserved. As for the beef, two neighbours would go together on the butchering in the fall and each would take a front quarter and a hind quarter. At that time if beef were bought by the quarter, the front sold for eight cents a pound while the hind sold for ten.

- end of p. 85 - (Memoirs of Dell)

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Last Updated: May 23, 1998