Recently an OUTsideIN blog fan was saddened to learn that the foods eaten to celebrate the Scottish New Year holiday, Hogmanay, do not include any part of a hog (see Hogmanay Kindness,)December 30, 2020. Like many people, this gentleman assumed that the presence of a food name in a word indicated food rather than something else, which is a linguistic quirk that fascinates the erudite squirrels in my brain.
My first Christmas away from home was far from the difficult and suffering places I’ve seen in this world, spent in Scotland at the splendid 18th-century country mansion of Finlaystone Estate with the highly civilized MacMillan family (who are my clan mates but not direct kin). Finlaystone is the site of a 14th-century castle. John Knox performed the first Protestant Reformed communion service there in 1556, and legendary Scots poet Robert Burns dined there often in the late 18th century. It was rebuilt as a Georgian mansion in 1764 and has been carefully maintained and upgraded (including electricity and modern plumbing but no central heating) by the Kidston and MacMillan families since 1872.
“We’re 14 for brekkers [breakfast] this morning,” Jenny explained as we set the massive dining room table with antique Blue Willow plates and ornate sterling silver flatware, “because we’ve six guests, plus the usual workers, slaves, Sir Gordon and Lady M.”
Already distressed by the prospect of frying 14 eggs, I suddenly realized that my presence might be an inconvenience rather than a help to the MacMillans. “So this wasn’t a good time for me to arrive here, was it?”
“No, no. Don’t worry. It’s just family. The MacMillans’ son John, his wife Belinda [pronounced “Bline-dah”] and their smalls [children], and Belinda’s parents. Lord Lumley-Webb was in the Army with Sir Gordon, and Belinda was once a slave. They’re all here for the Hunt.”
“Yes, it’s shooting season, you see, so if it goes well, we’ll soon be dining on pheasant. Do you like pheasant? I’m not very keen on it, but the MacMillans adore it.”
Jolande saw me shivering and said, “Come here by the Esse and get warm.”
It was my first chilly morning at Finlaystone and I had no idea what the Esse was, but I joined Jolande beside it and did appreciate the warmth. While Jolande explained the daily breakfast routine, I happened to notice a skillet of burning bacon and without much thought, reached over and pulled it aside. The bacon and its tantalizing fat simmered down and I turned back to Jolande, who terrified me by telling me that there’d be 14 for breakfast that morning so I must fry 14 eggs. I glanced at the Esse and realized it was a stove. I would have to fry eggs on this stove? How? Where were the burners? Did it even have burners? Fourteen fried eggs?! FOURTEEN?!