This is the time of year when many Shetlanders turn to a good plateful of taatie soup and reestit mutton. With Christmas and the New Year behind us and Up-Helly-A’ to come, as well as just for folk coming “in about da nicht” for a tune or a good sheeks, what could be more welcoming or warming?
This month I am also writing about pastry. For some of you who do not have the time or patience or “coodna be buddered wi aa da kerry-on” then please go straight to the shops and buy a block of puff pastry. I think that all-butter pastry has a far superior flavour but I have had difficulty in finding it locally – so do “sharg” at the management if you can’t find it.
I was first taught to make flaky pastry at the “Institute” with Lorna Ward in the early 70s. She was a stickler for organisation and a formidable teacher and I have never forgotten the processes, proportions or rules.
It is flakier than rough puff but not quite as complicated and tricky as puff pastry. The combination of butter and lard after much experimentation gives an excellent balance of flavour and a lovely flaky crumb. Vegetarians can substitute white vegetable fat for lard. You need to allow several hours as the pastry should rest in the fridge for a good half an hour at least twice during the process. However, this can be fitted in with other tasks – so if the wadder is foul then get organised and have a go. It is a most satisfying set of procedures and the results are delicious. You will not be disappointed.
Back to the reestit mutton. In the weeks before Christmas the first stages of our “national dish” begin. The mutton to be reestit will be a fine hog – maybe 18 months or a bit older certainly after their “hard teeth” are through (they replace the “lambing” teeth.) Most of the sheep sold as lamb are the younger, usually peerie animals with sweet and delicious tender meat.
These hogs have an altogether different bone structure, they are bigger, heavier and the flesh has a stronger flavour with a creamier white fat. The animals are cut into manageable sized pieces – tees (legs) shoulders and muckle pieces of the ribs and belly. (The fine peerie rib-bones are best eaten by being picked over in the privacy of the kitchen with fingers only, fat running down the chin, plate of taatie soup and a fine warm bannock at the side and not in a hall in your best Up-Helly-A’ “froak”!)
The mutton lies in a brine pickle (strong enough for a taatie to float) for two to three weeks. One Shetlander I spoke with, from the Wast Side explained that before being put into the pickle, “coorse saat” is rubbed into the meat which helps the uptake of pickle into the meat. They also use the “floating egg” method to check the level of saat. When the egg lifts with the air pocket uppermost then the saat concentration is just right. If the egg tilts on its side then the pickle is “ower saat” and needs adjusting.
Next, the meat is hung up to dry, which takes about four weeks. The tradition of hanging the meat above the peat fire has now mostly gone – but it would be such a great thing to revive and at least one local butcher has given it some consideration. Could there be a market for “premium peat-smoked traditional reestit mutton”?
Once you have your piece of reestit mutton which is almost always on the bone – it needs to be covered in cold water and brought to the boil. Lower the heat and allow it to simmer for a good half an hour or so. It is important to taste the water and if it is ‘ower saat’ pour off some or all of the water and replace with fresh water. Many folk do this the day before making soup so that the fat which rises to the top can be allowed to “sturken” and easily lifted off.
The taatie soup then, is made by adding sliced onions and medium sized cut up pieces of taatie, neep and carrot to the mutton in the pot. Add water to cover the meat and vegetables by about two inches. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.
After a good hour the meat and vegetables will be done. The meat can be lifted out and cut into small pieces to eat with the soup.
It is likely that the pot will take several re-heatings as folk come and go over an evening’s celebrations. Health and safety?!
REESTIT MUTTON PIES are made by Shetland butchers and I know that Anderson Butchers’ ones are very popular for a quick and substantial bite. They use reestit mutton from lambs reared in Kergord by Brian Anderson. The pies have shortcrust pastry underneath and a puff pastry lid they contain lamb as well as reestit mutton, together with taaties, onions, neeps and carrots.
This recipe for flaky pastry makes a large batch which can be halved and frozen for another time – or make a tray of lovely sausage rolls
- 400g plain flour
- 150g butter – at room temperature
- 150g lard (white vegetable fat for vegetarians) at room temperature
- 150-175ml cold water
- A good pinch of salt
- Lemon juice – a good squeeze (The lemon juice helps the gluten to stretch which gives good flaky layers)
- Firstly mix the two fats on a plate and divide into four portions.
- Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and rub in one quarter of the fat until it is incorporated evenly.
- Add the water and lemon juice and mix with a palette knife carefully until an elastic but not sticky dough is formed. This will need a little judgement so don’t add all the water at first. Knead very lightly.
- Roll out to make a large rectangle with good square corners. Use a little flour as necessary.
- Cover the top two-thirds of the pastry with the second quarter of fat – evenly in small dots.
- Fold into three by bringing the lower third (with no fat) up and the top third down.
- You can now see how the pastry will become beautifully layered.
- Press the pastry firmly with the rolling pin both at the edges and across the length. This will help to distribute air.
- Give the pastry a quarter turn clockwise. Chill for at least half an hour.
- Roll out, then repeat twice more so that all the fat is used up.
- Do a final extra roll-and-fold – refrigerate again – then it is ready to use.
Reestit Mutton Pie
This pie is a little lighter with cut up reestit mutton, diced carrots, neeps and taaties, some onions and a pastry lid only. For four to six people – depending on hunger levels.
- 350g carrots – cleaned and diced
- 350g neep – peeled and diced
- 150g taatie – peeled and diced
- Two large onions roughly chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- A small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- 250g cooked reestit mutton cut into pieces
- Prepare the filling by cooking the vegetables in some reestit mutton stock and add a good handful of chopped parsley with the meat according to the size of your dish.
- If you can, use a pie dish with a lip – a china pie dish is good and the traditional Falcon enamel dishes are still available and are excellent.
- Light the oven to 220°C – good and hot.
- Roll out half the above quantity of pastry and use the pie dish to mark out and cut the lid to the correct size.
- From the trimmings, cut a half – inch wide strip, moisten the lip dish with water and lay this round the dish. Make some pastry leaves or other decoration with the rest of the scraps – they are too good to waste.
- Add the vegetables and mutton and use enough brö to keep the filling moist.
- Carefully lift on the lid and use water to press it firmly on to the prepared edge.
- Flake up the edges using a sharp knife and make an attractive fluted edge with your thumb.
- Add the pastry decorations and make a hole in the middle to help steam escape.
- Beat a small egg and brush all over the top – but not the fluted sides as you want them to rise.
- Place near the top on the oven on a baking sheet and give it a good 20 minutes to get the top of the pastry a good golden brown.
- Reduce the heat to 150° and give it a further 45-55 minutes. Lay a sheet of baking paper on top if it is browning too much.
- Enjoy this fine pie with some lightly cooked Shetland Kale or another green vegetable.
For vegetarians, (no lard in the pastry) Use the same combination of vegetables and add a bayleaf and half milk/water for the brö. Then add cubes of any good crumbly white cheese – Artisan Shetland Cheese is usually available in Scoop Wholefoods and would be very suitable. Cook as above right.