Dining With The Sterkarms

The Pudding

           If you're like me, you only eat the meal so you can get to the pud.

           Oh, stop pretending – you know very well that you’ve chosen your pudding before your starter – a simple task for me, as it’s just a matter of deciding what has the most chocolate in it.
          In The Sterkarm Handshake, the pudding is a great disappointment to Windsor, as it’s simply a repetititon of the creamy, buttery ‘grewts’ the meal began with, but served with honey and berries instead of raw meat.

           The Sterkarms could probably have honestly claimed to ‘not have a sweet tooth’ since they would rarely, if ever, have eaten anything sweeter than honey and fruit – and their fruit would have been closer to the wild varieties, seasonal, and much less sweet than the kinds we have today.


          Honey was seasonal, and although stored for use throughout the year, was relatively scarce and valuable and wouldn’t have been used with the carelessness that we use sugar.  Poorer Sterkarms, unless they had the time and skill to keep bees, would have counted themselves lucky to taste it on ‘high days and holidays.’

           Sugar was available, but in the early 16th Century was only just beginning to be produced in bulk, and it was still, like other spices, extremely expensive.  The soft sassenachs might have been going mad with it down in London until every tooth in their head was black, but I doubt if the fashion for it, or much of the stuff itself, was yet to be found on the Borders.

         So, for this Sterkarm dessert, you can either serve groats again, with honey, small wild strawberries, raspberries and bilberries – or may I suggest something a little different, that very ancient British pud, frumenty?
Isn't that tempting, eh?
Isn't that tempting, eh?

          I’ve no doubt the Sterkarms enjoyed frumenty on many another day.  Perhaps they thought it too good for Windsor.  (Isobel didn’t want to waste her spices on him.)

          You take 140g of cracked wheat, or bulgar wheat, or semolina.
          Half a litre of ale.
          Two eggs
          A couple of handfuls of raisins.
          Half a teaspoon, or a large pinch, of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
          Three to four tablespoons of single cream.
          Honey or sugar, some water to top up and – if you’re feeling really extravagant – a pinch of saffron.
          Soak the wheat overnight in the ale.  Most of the liquid will be absorbed.
          Put the wheat in a pan over heat, and add a little more ale, or water.  Add the spices and boil until the wheat is soft.  The smell is pretty wonderful.
          Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little, then add the raisins and stir them in.
          Then add the cream and two beaten eggs.  Don’t add them while the mixture is too hot, or the eggs will cook like scrambled egg.
          Return to a low heat and cook.  Add sugar or honey to taste – and the saffron if  you’re using it.

          You can add nuts, or berries when you serve it.

          Hazelnuts, or 'cobs', the Sterkarms would certainly have had. They're native to Britain, full of protein, and have been a staple of the diet since the Stone Age. Walnuts would have been more expensive, almonds even more so.

         Bilberries, in season, would have been plentiful. Blackberries and, possibly, wild strawberries and raspberries.

         Frumenty was also served with meat, such as venison or pork, as well as being a sweet dessert.

          For the Sterkarms, this would have been a real luxury, celebratory dish, something only for special occasions, such as Hogmanay, weddings, christenings and such.  Eggs, cream, fruit and honey were all seasonal - something we tend to forget - and therefore prized.  The spices and raisins would have been extremely expensive.  About the only thing that was common-place was the ale, which was drunk instead of water – and even though ale would have been brewed every week, and was served at every meal, it still represented hours of work.