Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Scotch Pie

Sitting in the warm glow of an open fire, full of smoked salmon, cream and cheese. Alone but for the occasional bubbling of a bucket filled with fermenting fruit, a glass of ice cold Highland Fresh and a highly processed slice of carrot cake. Yesterday’s potentially murderous 600 mile drive turned out to be surprisingly pleasurable, which I can only attribute to the skilful avoidance of Welcome Breaks and Motos. A flask of strong coffee, a litre of water and a healthy supply of Haribo chews for the Eldest. That is not to say that I resisted the temptation of roadside grease.

The Motor Grill in Ballenuig is an institution. It is as much part of my trips back here as sitting on the midge-infested river bank at sunset having a fly rollie or, on this occasion, a fat hooter from the huge bag of grass I didn’t forget to pack. The precise form of delivery has varied over the years, but I seem to be converging on the ultimate in guilty pleasure: a scotch pie, chips and beans.

A scotch pie, for anyone left wanting, is a puck-sized case of oil-based pastry filled with minced lamb fat, gristle and salt. It came in a large microwave-friendly plate saying “horrific” in every known language, and I immediately set about seasoning it accordingly. First the vinegar: heavy on the beans and a splash on the chips to help stick a few tens of thousands of crystals of cheap salt; followed by ketchup and/or brown sauce for the pie. You barely need to rest your knife on the rim of one of these fuckers for it to start sinking into the sloppy crust, a dirty oozing arsehole-like vent in the top giving you a sneak preview of the insipid grey matter within, which starts to spill out the sides helped along by a glistening coating of grease and oil.

You don’t eat a scotch pie, it performs a combination of evaporation and dissolution on the tongue leaving nothing but a clammy thick layer of fat in the back of your throat. The acidic tones of the tomato- and brown-sauce helps sooth the pain, as does the mug of warm milky powdery coffee and two slices of economy white toast spread with value marg. It would have to be finished off with an Embassy Red for it to classify as a true Highland Classic. But having wolfed it down in a matter of minutes I felt like a king; it felt like I was going home.

Not that this is what I have been eating since arriving. This morning I was handed two fat vacpacks of best smoked salmon and asked if I was cooking, so I made some pasta with a mornay-like sauce of egg yolks and cream, shallots and wine based, tossed with the firm pink fish and spinach from the garden. Some nutmeg and pepper to finish, and served with a salad of garden leaves with a simple lemon dressing and a hot loaf of rosemary and olive-oil encrusted bread. There is a salmon with my name on it in the freezer too, just packed up whole and untouched in a carrier bag and stuffed any which way but loose into a drawer, Highland style. And there is a hunk of best pork from a pig called Gladstone. Cooking a few meals in return for not having to deal with my children seems a fair deal to me.

The drink is bubbling away beside me, chemical bonds being formed that will one day cause someone to sit fully clothed in the shower wishing they hadn’t moved up here, that their life had gone differently; or perhaps providing the perfect accompaniment to a simple summer lunch of bread, salads and cheese that will never be eaten outside either on account of the midges, the hurricane or the fact that the dour culinary culture of this heathen land has branded such eating practises “for pricks”.

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