As Bendigo's second annual Scots Day Out draws near, event director Chris Earl gets a taste for the Scottish flavour of central Victoria...
The kitchen is Peter Barker’s domain when it comes to whipping up taste-tempting Scottish delicacies.
He’s pretty good at catchin’ and cookin’ Scotland’s national dish the Haggis for inclusion on the menu at private gatherings.
And he delivers the immortal Address to the Haggis by poet Robert Burns with so much flair, excitement and passion that he is the No 1 choice of many groups around the state to recite the famous ode.
January can be a busy time as Caledonian societies, Army units and Masonic Lodges mark the anniversary of Burns’ birth each January 25.
The Haggis, served with neeps and tatties (that’s potatoes and turnips to yet-to-be initiated) and washed down with a wee dram of good single malt whisky, forms the traditional celebration.
But Peter’s presence at any Scottish event is an indicator of an even more tempting treat to come. He is regarded by many as the best makers of Athol Brose in Victoria – a sweet, creamy whisky-based liqueur that includes oatmeal and honey and dates from the Scottish land battles of the 15th century.
The kitchen of his Golden Square home becomes a mini-production line to make sure anyone claiming a connection with Scotland can enjoy the smoothness of Athol Brose.
Peter says it takes about 90 minutes over a 24-hour period to make a fine batch of brose, allowing for taste-testing of course, and another hour or two in the refrigerator for chilling (see below for a basic recipe).
“It’s all about achieving a beautiful consistency – no lumps – and a fine blend of the flavours that come from the whisky, honey and oatmeal,” said Peter, who has perfected the art of making Athol Brose over many years.
“Athol Brose is served chilled but it gives you a wonderful, warm feeling.”
Peter’s interest in all things Scottish started as a young side drummer with pipe bands in Bendigo before playing with army and police bands around Australia, often acting as their drum major, and then returning to Bendigo more than 25 years ago.
“My uncle was a pipe band drummer and drum major. I grew up surrounded with the sounds of bagpipes and drums and all things Scottish,” he said.
“All these years later, I still fill with pride and passion when I to hear fine Scottish music played well by a pipe band, see young dancers display poise and grace doing the highland fling or read the words of Burns and the other great Scottish writers.”
While Peter will not be whipping up haggis for Bendigo’s big celebrations at Scots Day Out next Saturday – he says the delicacy prepared by Pacdon Park is one of the best he has ever tasted with “just the right amount of pepper” – he will be in action judging the Athol Brose competition.
“I’ve been told there is a big challenge on among a number of Scottish kitchen wannabees in Bendigo and from around Victoria who think their drop is better than Barks’,” Peter said.
“I will be the best judge of that!”
Pacdon Park's Jane Arrowsmith will be among the stalls next Saturday selling Scotland’s national dish.
It’s the haggis that first captured her taste buds as a young English rose heading to the west coast town of Glenfinnan for Easter holidays.
“I would wonder what this strange but delicious food was that I was being served,” she said.
Jane's husband, James, established Pacdon Park, a speciality Echuca-Moama smallgoods manufacturer, with chef Peter Tonge 12 years ago.
“When we started making our British smallgoods, the demand from the Scots for haggis was so great that we had to look into making it. I would use those early memories during taste testing and it would always remind me of those fun holidays.”
Jane and James tracked down a butcher’s traditional haggis recipe through a friend in Glasgow.
“We tweaked it using ingredients we could source locally. In the early days we employed backpackers and our Scottish ones were integral in the early tasting sessions to ensure authenticity, including just the right amount of pepper,” she said.
“All ingredients in our haggis are local or from farmers’ market friends where possible. We get pork from Thyra Creek Pig Farm, Mathoura, the beef suet is from Warialda Belted Galloway Beef, Clonbinane and the pluck for the haggis comes from Womboota Pastoral and other local sheep farms. “
The haggis, a thrifty Scottish dish, is gaining new devotees. It was a massive hit Bendigo’s Scots Day Out with Peter exhausting his stock in just a few hours.
“I think the love of all ‘nose to tail’ cooking and using the whole animal is increasing, so that includes products such as haggis. People are much more willing to try it than even a few years ago,” Jane said.
But does the Pacdon Park haggis have a name? “I would like to say we name each one but there are far too many for that these days,” chuckles Jane.
“Haggis has evolved, and although it is still eaten traditionally with neaps and tatties (potatoes and turnips) it is now popping up on breakfast menus and even as canapés in restaurants.
“We have one restaurant which serves a chorizo and haggis canapé which is delicious! We even have supplied the British army on operation in outback northern Australia so our little haggi are popping up everywhere!”
The popularity of Scottish cuisine in Australia owes much to the enterprise of Jane, James and Peter, the Poms from Lancashire, attracted to Australia and Echuca-Moama by James’ godfather, as Jane says “also a Pom”, who had a pig farm in Bunnaloo 50km north of Moama.
“That’s where we first began production in a converted dairy on the property. As the business grew we needed access to town amenities and a workforce so we moved to Nicholas Vineyards in Moama in 2010 where a similar dairy was specially kitted out for us."
Jane said there were challenges running a speciality food manufacturing business in the country.
“The biggest is distance - it’s a long way to travel to gather the odd ingredients or to deliver to our metropolitan customers.
“But we just love living in Echuca-Moama, the town has been very good to us and we would not have been able to start out with zero cash behind us in a city.
“Low rent and the goodwill of the country people has really been our making.”
The Pacdon Park haggis and its other speciality lines are joining other regional products in restaurants and markets around Australia.
“We love our haggis and events like Scots Day Out in Bendigo are helping grow its number of loyal fans – Scots and all – who keep coming back for seconds,” said Jane.
“We’ll be there serving up more haggis to the eager crowd –just like being in Glenfinnan all over again!”
Pacdon Park will be among the stalls in the Taste of Scotland area at Scots Day Out on Saturday, February 8.
The free community event runs from 10.30am to 5pm in Rosalind Park and will feature competitions for the best Athol Brose and best shortbread with entries being accepted until the day.
More details at www.scotsdayout.com
WHAT IS ATHOL BROSE – A BASIC RECIPE
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3 cups water
1/4 cup (3 ounces) honey
1 cup whipping (heavy) cream
2 cups whiskey
1. Put the oats in a straining bag and place the bag in a deep bowl. Add the water and let the oats steep overnight.
2. The next morning, squeeze the water out of the bag. Put the liquid in a pot/pan, add the honey, and heat gently until the honey dissolves. Remove pot/pan from heat and let cool slightly.
3. Stir in the cream, then add the whisky.
4. Bottle and refrigerate until cool before serving.