Dining With The Sterkarms
This is how you make it.
Take two and three quarter cups of sour cream, and simmer in a closed pan for about fifteen minutes.
Simmering a pan of cream would have been much harder for a Sterkarm cook than for us. The ‘closed pan’ would have been of iron, with three little legs, so it could sit in burning peats. A large amount would have been hung, in a cauldron, above a fire, but that much would more likely have been made with milk or water.
While your cream is simmering on the peats, take one and a quarter cups of oat-flour. This can be pin-head oatmeal, or porridge oats ground very fine. The grain the Sterkarm used would nearly always have been oatmeal. They were semi-nomadic cattle-herders rather than farmers, and ate a very high-protein diet: meat, milk, cheese, eggs (when they could get them) and fish. They made great use of wild food, such as nuts, berries, sorrel, cress and mushrooms, but farming came second to cattle, and they grew little in the way of arable crops. Oats grew better in rocky northern fields than wheat. Wheaten bread was a luxury, rarely seen and eaten by few. (Fife only became 'the bread-basket of Britain' after the Agricultural Revolution and great changes in farming methods.)
How the Sterkarm cook judged when the cream had simmered for fifteen minutes, I’ve no idea, I doubt they had any way of telling the time. This is why I never have them speak of minutes or seconds: they say, ‘in an eye-blink’. Cathedrals had great public clocks, but most people still regulated their day by the sun, rising at first light, going to bed when it was dark. In between, they did what they had to do, regardless of the hour. Perhaps the cooks had sand-glasses of different sizes – or perhaps they judged the heat of the cream from experience, as smiths judged the heat of iron by its colour.
Serve with the fat you skimmed off poured over the groats. Accompany with raw dried meat, such as smoked ham or lamb, or tongue, or dried fish.
I’ve eaten this and it’s tasty. It looks quite forbidding, granted – ‘a smooth paste’ with ‘pools and rivulets of yellow liquid’ running through it - but tastes good.