The Scots do not celebrate a formal Thanksgiving day as we do in the United States, but they are thankful all the same. The characters in A Highland Pearl, gave thanks for their blessings of family, food, life, and country. In 1508 A. D., the time period of the story, food was abundant in the burns, rivers, lochs, firths, ocean, and forests. Oats and barley were the staple crops of the day and were grown in the runrigs (a section of land the villagers farmed) . Most Scots of old lived in simple dwellings with thatched roofs called black houses. The inside walls were black because of the smoke from a single fireplace in the center of the room. Smoke vented through a hole in the roof, but much of the soot accumulated on the walls of the home. All food was cooked over the open fire, some in a large kettle and some baked on the coals. Peat was used for fuel.
Below is a recipe taken from the cook book entitled, Favourite Scottish Recipes, published by J. Salmon Ltd., Sevenoaks, England.
4 oz. self-rising flour 2 oz. caster sugar
½ teaspoon salt 1 generous tablespoon golden syrup
4 oz. rolled oats 4 oz. butter or margarine
Oatmeal for sprinkling
Originally, black treacle (molasses) would have been used in this recipe.
Set oven to 350*F or Mark 4. Grease a 7” cake tin. Melt the sugar, syrup and butter in a saucepan and remove from the heat. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and add the oats. Pour the cooled syrup mixture on to the dry ingredients. Mix well. Press the mixture into the cake tin and sprinkle with some oatmeal. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until light golden brown. Mark into slices, allow to cool in the tin and then turn out and break up on a wire tray.
The family lived in one room of the black house and slept in box beds along the wall. Their livestock occupied the second room during the winter. Most of the cattle had been rounded up during the autumn months and driven to markets in the south. The sheep were kept for their wool and sometimes mutton to pay rents to the laird.
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Excerpt from A Highland Pearl
Finally, the signal to stop sounded from the lead when the loch came into view. The warriors led their mounts to the water, dismounted, and drank first from the cool water, then let their horses drink. Those on foot lined the banks of the loch to drink their fill, while the cart drivers drank then filled leather bags with water for their horses. They wanted to avoid the carts getting stuck on the muddy banks. Tavish jumped from his horse, then helped Maidie and Sven dismount. He took the reins for both horses to lead them to the water.
“I’ll bring you a drink, Madam. You and the lad sit under this tree until I return.” He pointed to a nearby oak, spreading its branches with an inviting shade.
Maidie withdrew a small bundle wrapped in clean cloth from the pocket of her arisaid. Nellie, being so thoughtful, had wrapped some of the cheese and bread from the morning food tray for Sven and her. The two made themselves comfortable on the damp leaves under the large birch tree. The scent of blooming heather filled the air. With the lifting of the mist, Maidie could see the hills, now covered with the last lavender blossoms of the season. The small white heads of tansy peaking between the purple heather lined the bank of the loch.
She sat for a moment drinking in the beauty of the Highlands before carefully opening the small bundle and handing Sven a piece of cheese, which he gobbled down. His face looked drawn, tired. She nibbled on her piece, then they ate the bread. Tavish soon returned with the horses and a leather bag filled with water. Sven and she drank thirstily. Maidie stood to stretch her legs, looking for a place to relieve herself, while Sven ran to the loch to watch the ducks. Tavish stood close by, ready to assist in every way. She spotted a patch of brushwood, and walked in that direction. Maidie quickly took care of her personal needs and returned to the group.
“How do you fair, Madam Munro?” Gavin approached her.
“I fair well, but Sven is uncomfortable on the back of my horse. Tavish will carry him for awhile.”
“Aye. Mayhap Sven would like to ride with me at the front of the line.” Gavin looked sideways at Tavish whose face remained expressionless. The warrior knew not to question the tanist. “Sven will ride with me. I’ll teach him the art of skillful riding.”
“I rather Sven stay close to me.” Maidie’s heart raced with the thought of Sven riding with Gavin.
“Then you shall ride beside me.” He searched her face. “’Tis settled then. Tavish, get the lady’s mount and help her upon it while I fetch Sven. Time we were going.” Gavin mounted his horse and rode toward the loch.