Thursday, 29 January 2009

January 2009

New Year - or Hogmanay - as we call it in Scotland, came in with a sneeze this year. The family and I all had ‘flu and a very nasty version of it too. Thank goodness we had a plentiful supply of remedies in the medicine cabinet, soup in the freezer, and split logs in the woodshed. Unfortunately, family and friends scheduled to visit over the holiday season had to be put off for their own protection. We missed them dearly but hope to see them all soon for some serious catching up.

The snow on the hills and the short days of January don't seem to faze my hens, who to everyone’s delight, are all still laying! The ‘girls’ can be seen trooping off across the fields behind the cottage like arctic explorers, returning only for their corn at lunchtime and their cosy beds at sundown. Despite the bitterly cold weather, they seem very happy and carefree in their environment - as all hens should. If, like me, you care about how chickens live in the commercial meat and egg producing world, you might like to consider joining Hugh F-W’s Chicken Out Campaign, at

'Kylie enjoys being free-range'

I don’t shoot, but January is still part of the shooting season for pheasant, partridge, woodcock, ducks and geese, and as we live on a shooting estate, I am often offered and gratefully receive a brace of birds for the family table. Last week, unusually, I was offered a goose which had been shot off the Solway Estuary. I have not prepared one before but I was up for the challenge. I must admit to having felt a little sad every time I saw this once graceful bird dead and hanging in my outbuilding, but we do eat meat, and therefore I must accept and respect where our food comes from. It was a Pinkfoot, an Icelandic migrant, and not a large goose compared to some breeds and so, after a couple of days, I plucked it and prepared it for the oven. The family are in for a treat!

Me holding up a Pinkfoot Goose shot on The Solway Estuary

The 25th of January heralds Burns Night. This year it is the 250th anniversary of The Bard’s birth. Burns Suppers are held all over Scotland and indeed the world. Traditionally, a cooked and steaming haggis is addressed in Burns style with the poem, ‘Fair fa' your honest sonsie face, Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-race,’ and then ripped open with a dirk or a dagger before being served up with mashed tatties (potato) and neeps (turnips). During the supper, Burns’ poetry is read out by tartan draped laddies, who comment on the lassies present, while lots of whisky is consumed to the tune of the bagpipes. The customary reply from the lassies, you’ll be pleased to hear, often takes the form of a retaliatory strike before the dancing commences. Oh, I do love a good Burns Supper!

With regard to the presentation of the humble haggis for our family table, I tried to be a little less traditional and a lot more adventurous this year. I have devised a haggis recipe based on the good old-fashioned cottage pie. The ingredients and method are listed below - and, just so you know my ‘Haggis Bake’ really has been tried and tested, I took a photograph (see below) of the finished result. I would urge you to try it. It’s an easy and substantial January dish and everyone in the family said it was absolutely delicious!

Haggis Bake.
You will need:
One medium haggis (I’m using a traditional Macsween of Edinburgh haggis).
800 gms lean Scottish steak mince.
One large onion.
Two tbsp plain flour.
Tin of chopped tomatoes.
One and a half pints of beef stock ( I used OXO cubes x 3)
Potatoes (peel as many as you think you will need to cover a large shallow oven dish) then slice lengthways into medium thick slices and part boil.

Brown the minced beef in a large pan with the chopped onion. Add the flour. Stir and cook until the flour is absorbed. Add the tinned chopped tomatoes and the beef stock. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cover.
Cook the haggis by following the instructions on the wrapper. For this recipe I used the microwave method. Chop up the cooked haggis and add to the minced beef and gravy. Stir and add boiling water if more liquid is required. The oats in the haggis will absorb a lot of the liquid and you should allow for this. You probably won’t want to season the mixture as the haggis is well seasoned.
In a separate pan, parboil the sliced potatoes for about 5 minutes. You want them half-cooked and still firm. Drain in a colander. Transfer the beef mince and haggis mixture to a large shallow oven dish and arrange the slices of potato on top.
Brush with melted butter and pop into a moderately hot oven. This would be the middle shelf of the roasting oven for an range cooker or 190 degrees/ gas mark 5 for a conventional oven. Bake until bubbling and golden brown for approx 30-40 minutes. Serves 6 generously. Enjoy with seasonal vegetables like ‘neeps’ and carrots.

Haggis Bake

Thanks for reading my January blog. Please feel free to leave a comment, as I’d love to know your thoughts on it. I’ll be back on the last day of February with more cottage chat and hopefully another bespoke recipe. During February, I’ll be watching out for snowdrops and other signs of spring in the garden and looking forward to the ever-so slightly-lighter evenings. I always notice a big difference after Burns Night has passed.
NB All rights reserved. Extracts and photographs may not be reproduced in any form except with the permission of the author.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Welcome - Blog Intro

Welcome to A Year In A Country Cottage. ©Copyright

This is a personal blog created to record a year living in a small stone cottage deep in the Scottish countryside. My family and I (husband and three teenage sons) have lived in this once derelict cottage, which used to be a shepherd's bothy, for almost twenty years now - and having moved here from the city – we love it. The views from the cottage are breathtaking, no matter the weather or the time of year. In the summertime, the garden produces flowers and vegetables. In the wintertime, we can be snowed in and it is important for us to be as self-sufficient as possible. As well as our teenagers, we keep four hens, Madonna, Kylie, Beyonce and Britney, and two West Highland doggies, Polly and Ruby.

My plan is to update this blog on the last day of every month.

As a keen cook, I'll tell you what's cooking on my Aga and I'll share with you my own exclusively developed recipes. I’ll talk about the weather, my hens, and my dogs, and note the progress of whatever I’m managing to grow in the garden. I'll include lots of photos and blog about all the joys and achievements, the trials and the tribulations, of living a country lifestyle.

So, if you’d like to drop in now and again, I’d be delighted - and even more so if you decided to leave a comment!

These photos are of the Nith valley on a bright day and also on a bitterly cold day, in January 2009, as viewed from the dirt-track outside our cottage and from the hillside behind it: First photo by Janice - the second photo taken by #3 son, while out sledging.

See you on the 31st January...?


NB All rights reserved. Extracts or photographs may not be reproduced in any form except with the permission of the author.