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Chrissie

Chrissie MacKenzie, Port Henderson

Small in size, large in personality – Chrissie, Port Henderson; a huge person in tiny shoes!

I, along with my entire family, think a little note about Chrissie MacKenzie herself should be an essential part of this website. So here it is.

Chrissie was our Great Aunt, her greatness came in many forms, including fun, generosity, kindness, tolerance and feistiness. But in size she was tiny – or as they say in these parts she was ‘awful wee’! The same can be said of her succession of beloved dogs; always dash hounds, for as long as any of us can remember. These little companions followed her everywhere and cried like tortured souls from the minute she left them until they sensed her imminent return. A testament to the love she gave them. (The fact that local children often threatened to leave home and go and live with Chrissie was another.)

With her long hair always tied neatly in a small bun at the nape of her neck, a mischievous shine in her eyes and a smile for everyone she met, Chrissie was a much adored character throughout the Gairloch community. The sight of her at the door as we drove through the gate would always make us instantly forget the miles we had travelled and eagerly run for one of her hugs!

The first meal, usually dinner, was always one of those little experiences in life that you look forward to. It was a chance to catch up on ‘goings on’ and all the news and events that had happened in the community since our last visit. But aside from this, that first meal was memorable and longed for, largely for the fact that Chrissie was a fantastic cook.

Having spent all her working life as a cook in service, mostly for very wealthy families, her reputation earned her a position with a family who moved in royal circles. Consequently; one afternoon, Chrissie found herself providing afternoon tea for the Queen!

Later on in life she worked in various restaurants and hotels in Northern Scotland – including the nearby Badachro Inn, which was entered into the Eagon Ronay Guide during her time there. Chrissie’s simple yet delicious food was legendary. And her baking – well, there are simply no words to describe the contents of the tins she would unveil at morning and afternoon tea – and regularly present to the neighbours and anyone else she felt could do with a tasty little pick you up.

Due to an unspecified ETA on our first night; caused by the number of stops we made during the journey, such as salmon counting at the Pitlochry Salmon Ladder, lunch and tea breaks at long favoured spots, stag sightings, trout spotting and numerous toilet stops, Chrissie would usually prepare one of two dishes that simply improved from waiting in the pot; Scotch Broth or Steak and Kidney. Both of which were delicious. The steak and kidney recipe, Chrissie keeps as her secret but the Scotch Broth we are happy to be able share with you in our small collection of favourite’s below.

I could write for hours about Chrissie but we need to remember that, sadly, this wonderful lady isn’t able to greet you at the doorstep anymore. So I shall sum her up in one last little testament to her selflessness. Having decided, with the boldness that few of her age can muster, she stated one day that due to her failing sight, she had “become a danger to herself” and would very much like to go and spend the rest of her days in the old folks home in Gairloch. This plan was swiftly implemented – Chrissie never was one to procrastinate!

The next time I visited Gairloch, Chrissie had happily become a resident at the aged care home in Gairloch, where she shared her remaining years with friends of old and surrounded by people she loved and who loved her. One of my last and most wonderful memories of my Great Aunt was going to visit her in the home and being asked to bring her some of her delicious homemade marmalade from the larder at the croft on my next visit. This I did but as I dutifully handed her a jar she exclaimed with horror; “Is that all you’ve brought?”. Stupidly, I’d forgotten; Chrissie’s nature was instinctively to give to others – and who knows a Grandmother or Grandfather who doesn’t love a good dollop of homemade marmalade on their toast in the morning? Her intention was to feed the entire home with the stocks she had made before she came!

This was our Great Aunt Chrissie. This was the person who has filled Chrissie’s Croft with the love and welcoming that you feel from the moment you walk through the door. To keep this wonderful place and its history to ourselves would be selfish so, as a family, we have decided to share it with you as we are sure Chrissie would have wanted this way. Enjoy!

A FEW OF CHRISSIE’S (and our) FAVOURITE RECIPES

CHRISSIE’S SCOTCH BROTH

2 onions
3 sticks celery
2/3 carrots
⅟₂ turnip (swede)
2 potatoes
3 oz pearl barley
Fresh parsley and a bay leaf
2 pints of liquid (fresh stock, or use stock cubes)
Plenty of salt and pepper and pinch of herbs to taste
2lbs shoulder of lamb – or – 1 whole chickenPut a little oil in a very large saucepan and sear the meat to brown. Turn it regularly to brown as much of the surface as possible – take your time. Remove it from the pan onto a plate.

Place the pearl barley in a bowl of boiling water and set aside to soak. Chop all the vegetables very finely – (half a centimetre cubes if possible). In the same large saucepan place a large knob of butter and a little more oil if needed and fry the onion, celery, carrot and swede (but not the potatoes) for a few minutes, until the onions are softened.

Replace the meat in the pan with the vegetables. Add the stock, bay leaf, herbs and seasoning (except the fresh parsley) and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for an hour (chicken) or hour and a half (lamb) – the timing is very relaxed but keep checking the liquid level does not get low. Strain and rinse the pearl barley and add to the pan with the chopped potatoes and simmer for a further 30 minutes until the pearl barley is soft.

It is traditional to serve the broth by removing the meat from the pan and keeping it warm in the oven (covered). Taste the broth for seasoning (the vegetables absorb a lot of the salt) and finally stir in a handful of chopped parsley. Serve the broth as a soup, with fresh bread and butter. Follow that by serving the meat as a main course, with mashed potatoes and cabbage. It’s a very hearty meal!

Alternatively, you can just have the meat as a main course and keep the broth for the following day. Two meals from one pot!

GINGERBREAD

½ lb plain flour
4 oz margarine
4 oz syrup
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Melt margarine, syrup and milk in saucepan. Put dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix both together in the bowl and beat until well blended. Pour into a loaf tin and cook in a moderate oven until a skewer comes out clean.

AUNTIE CHRISSIE’S SHORTBREAD

4 oz butter
1 oz icing sugar
1 oz caster sugar
1 oz cornflour
4 oz plain flour

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add flour and cornflour mixture (sifted).
Divide into two cake tins. Press into tins, not quite to the edges. Prick the top and mark the edges with a fork for decoration. Bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes.
At this point I’ll share with you that the debate never ended as to whether Chrissie’s more traditional recipe or our Nanna’s ‘millionaire’ version was the best shortbread recipe – so we’ll give you both so you can decide for yourselves!

NANNA’S MILLIONAIRES’ SHORTBREAD

Base:
6 oz plain flour
2 oz sugar
2 oz butter
4 oz flour
Filling:
1 small tin condensed milk
4 oz sugar
4 oz margarine
2 dessertspoons syrup (not heaped)
Top:
Melted chocolate

Cream sugar and butter together. Add flour and press into a greased Swiss roll tin. Bake until golden brown.
For the filling; melt all ingredients together, stirring occasionally. Then boil for 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Then remove from the heat and beat. Pour onto the base and leave to cool.
Cover the top with melted chocolate once cooled.

PANCAKES

Chrissie and Nanna shared this one and they were always an essential menu item whenever the hostess trolley was wheeled out! As with the Clooty Dumpling below, these little pancakes are also a fantastic addition to a fry up.
1 egg
4 oz plain flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
Good ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Good nut of butter or margarine
Small ½ dessertspoon syrup
Little milk and a drop of water

Melt margarine, sugar and syrup. Put dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well and pour in the melted mixture and stir. Add the milk and a drop of water then beat well.
Pour spoonfuls carefully onto a hot griddle pan. Turn them over when bubbles start to appear and cook until golden.
Smear with butter and jam or jam and cream – heaven!

CLOOTIE DUMPLING

No collection of our Aunty Chrissie’s recipes would be complete without this classic little gem of an entry!
½ lb self raising flour
¼ lb sugar
¼ lb margarine
1½ tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 egg
Drop of milk
1 dessertspoon treacle
1 packet mixed fruit

Mix everything together in a large bowl. Wet a dumpling cloth ( or a tea towel) and sprinkle evenly with a good handful of flour. Pour the dumpling mixture out onto the cloth and tie up the corners securely in a knot.
Put an old plate in the bottom of a large pot of boiling water so the dumpling does not touch the bottom of the pan. Carefully lift the dumpling into pot and simmer for 3 hours with the water three quarters covering the dumpling.
Serve with lots of custard.

This wonderful pudding is also a fantastic addition to a big breakfast before a day of fishing, hiking or exploring. Simply pop a slice or two into the pan with your bacon and eggs and fry until the edges are crispy. We guarantee you’ll love it!