Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Dysart shortbread and yoghourt cake

November 12th, 2016

dsc03838IT’S UNCANNY the way the planets align and things coincide. I came across an e-mail from a reader in Canada that I had saved from December 2007. What had prompted her to contact me was the recipe in my first book, Man with Two Dogs, A Breath of Fresh Air from Scotland, for the Doyenne’s rowan and apple jelly which has been the accompaniment to so many fine meals, especially game dishes and lamb.

Margaret wrote that she picked rowans in Toronto, after dark, in the grounds of a large insurance company and made her mother’s rowan jelly to the same recipe as the Doyenne’s.

Her mother was picking wild raspberries in the bush country outside Toronto and thought a neighbour was picking at the other side of the patch because she heard a cough. Walking round to have a chat she was confronted instead by a black bear tucking into the wild harvest. The bear seemed unconcerned with the interruption and wandered off quite peaceably.

Just last month I came across Holy Doupies, a bygone Scottish name for shortbread. It intrigues me, for I’ve known the word doup, meaning buttocks, since I was a child and I’m having difficulty understanding the rationale behind the expression – but that’s the fascination of old language.

The connection is that my correspondent had sent me the recipe for her great-grandmother’s Holy Doupies (she did call it shortbread) which she cooked in wee metal tins brought out from Scotland.

Sent to me in time for Christmas in 2007, I reproduce the recipe here for today’s Courier readers to include at their Christmas parties. Ingredients: 1lb salted butter; 1 cup caster sugar; 1 cup rice flour; 4 cups plain flour. Method: Blend the softened butter and sugar together, add the rice flour first, then the plain flour and press into a greased baking tin. Cook at 140°C for about an hour or until golden brown. Slice into fingers and leave to cool.

The Doyenne has just made her first batch, and I’m pleased to report that it is traditionally scrummy – soft and buttery. So, great granny’s shortbread recipe has returned to Scotland from whence it left nearly 90 years ago.

I don’t know Margaret’s age but, reading between the lines, it seemed she had emigrated as a young girl with her family to Canada in 1927 and lived there since. But, as she told me, her heart was still in Scotland. She wrote that she had given instructions that, if she should die while on a visit to Scotland, her own daughter was to put her ashes in a Jenners’ biscuit tin and “chuck it into the North Sea from Dysart harbour” – the Fife fishing village where she was born.

She ended her e-mail with some generous comments and it was gratifying, reading them again, to think that this column should resonate so eloquently with an exiled Scottish lady far from her spiritual home – “Your descriptions of the countryside are so vivid I can almost smell the air. Your seaside sketches are superb and your Scottish words that I thought only I knew bring tears to my eyes. Thank you, thank you…”

Actually – thank you, Margaret.

First efforts
I gave my Man with Two Dogs talk to the residents of Hanover Court, the retirement housing complex in Inverbervie. As usual at the end of these talks there is a cup of tea, a bite to eat and a chat. Ally Ironside, a resident, provided a Yoghourt Cake which he had made himself. He gave me the recipe and I’ve tried my hand at making it and, for my first attempt at baking, I’m pleased how tasty it turned out too.

The recipe is measured by volume and not by weight. Ingredients: Small tub natural yoghourt. (Pour contents into a mixing bowl, wash and dry the tub and use as a measure for) – 1 x vegetable oil; 3 x self raising flour; 2 x caster sugar; 3 eggs; generous squeeze of fresh orange.
Method: Mix the ingredients thoroughly into a stiff batter and pour into 2 x 1lb greased or lined loaf tins and bake at 150°C for 50 minutes or until firm and brown on top.

Call of winter
News at the beginning of the week that the A939 Cock Bridge to Tomintoul road was closed due to snow, announced more surely than anything the arrival of winter. I had enjoyed the last brisk, sunny mornings of the Indian summer out walking with Inka first thing.

Out with him last thing the tawny owls have been vocal. I’ll hear a male bird calling, hooo, hooo from one wood and a female’s sharp reply, kee-wick, from another. And they wake me early in the morning just before dawn begins to break.

On Tuesday night a single pink footed goose flew low overhead, calling constantly, hoping to make contact with the pack it had become separated from. Was it wounded and couldn’t keep up with the rest of them? I’ll never know, but it was a desperate, sad sound trailing on the frosty air.

Written on Saturday, November 12th, 2016 at 10:07 pm for Weekly.