Atholl Brose: nectar of the Scots.

flag-mini-Scotland Until recently, I knew "Athole-Brose" as a dreamy, soaring song by the Cocteau Twins, a Scottish alternative rock band "known for complex instrumentation and atmospheric, non-lyrical vocals." Yep, Wikipedia summed them up nicely. The Twins' mysterious lyrics and quirky song titles like "Ella Megalast Burls Forever" and "Spooning Good Singing Gum" make for a pretty unique musical experience.
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But this post is about liquor, not music. The original Atholl (or Athole) Brose is a sweet-ish libation stirred up from three traditional Scottish ingredients--honey, oats, and whisky--into a creamy heady broth, or "brose." Whiskipedia (the encyclopedia of whiskey!) explains that "... brose is a Scottish form of brewis or broth, deriving from the Middle English browes ... Brose is oatmeal with boiling water or milk poured over it, and Atholl Brose is a mixture of oatmeal, whisky and honey." NOTE: Whisky = Scotland ... WhiskEy = everyone else.
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Sound weird and unappetizing? You're right ... it DOES sound weird and unappetizing. However, if you like Irish cream type liqueurs, you'll probably like Atholl Brose. And remember that oats are a heart-healthy superfood, so you might actually live longer quaffing some Atholl Brose now and then. Or daily.
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Some Atholl Brose recipes call for just the oats, whisky and honey, resulting in a clear(ish) brew, and some add measures of heavy cream for a slightly more substantial liqueur. If the cream is whipped and mixed with toasted oats, the Brose becomes dessert. In the interest of truly thorough research, I made both.
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For lack of a better term, oatmeal gets sort of goopy while it's cooking, but it's the goop that helps create an oatmeal "liquor" which is the base for Atholl Brose. Soaking rolled oats in water for a short time, then straining and pressing out the liquid, yields an opaque, oaty essence that comes to life with honey and whisky (who wouldn't!).
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I found that rolled oats were best as they produce more of the essence (goop, if you will) than steel cut oats, which is my new favorite oatmeal.
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If this talk of oatmeal is giving you flashbacks to gluey gray globs served by your ever-lovin' mum on cold school mornings, wait! it gets better, honest. Once the oatmeal essence is extracted, stir in some honey (the clover variety is fine, but if you can get your mitts on Scottish heather honey all the better), a slug of whiskey (again, Scottish whisky would be swell but I used Irish Bushmills--highly recommended by my father-in-law for novice whiskey drinkers like us) and some heavy cream. Mix, chill, pour, sip ... ahhh. It might remind you of egg nog, although it's not nearly so thick and sweet, and it would be fine sprinkled with some cinnamon or nutmeg--like a drunken oatmeal cookie. But it's tasty all on its own.
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When you crave something fluffier and desserty, whip up the cream first, then beat in the honey-whisky mixture and stir in some toasted rolled or steel cut oats. Top with a few berries and a sprinkling of oats. You'll have a sweet whisky cream with some pleasant chewy substance to it.
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As for what put the Atholl into this brose ... back in the mid(ish) 1400s in or around Blair Atholl, Perthshire--smack in the middle of Scotland--the 1st Earl of Atholl was at the business end of a Highland rebellion being carried out by the 11th Earl of Ross. Knowing his Scottish kinsmen's taste for spirits--and oats, and honey--the Earl of Atholl poured all three down a well that the Earl of Ross liked to drink from, creating an irresistible and intoxicating nectar: Atholl's Brose! I can't help but think that was an awful waste of good pantry staples. But sure enough, No. 11 drank the heavenly mixture until he was sufficiently impaired and easily captured by No. 1. Hooray! What this means in the vast history of Scotland, I'm not sure, but since my mother discovered we are distantly connected to the lineage of Atholl and the Clan Murray, I'm siding with the 1st Earl on this one. A visit to Blair Castle will certainly be on our Scotland itinerary someday.
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When you're done here, scuttle over to YouTube and have a listen to "Athole-Brose." Then stir--or whip--up a batch of Atholl Brose, and feel your oats. You just might feel a bit friskier after a helping!
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I found this recipe for Atholl Brose via Kate Shea Kennon of She says it is "attributed to the Royal Scots Fusiliers from André Simon's 1948 A Concise Encyclopædia of Gastronomy: Section VII, Wines and Spirits." The oats need to steep overnight, so start the recipe the day before you want to sip. How those fusiliers found the time to mix up Atholl Brose I don't know, but I imagine it kept them warm and satisfied during cold military marches.

Atholl Brose Liqueur
Makes one serving--can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or multiplied as needed to fill up a well

1/2 cup oatmeal, ideally "old fashioned" rolled oats (not instant)
1-1/2 cups cold water
3-1/2 oz. whiskey
2-1/2 oz. cream (heavy whipping or half-and-half)
1/2 oz. (1 tablespoon) honey

Mix oatmeal and cold water in a jar or measuring up; cover and let steep overnight. The next day, place a mesh strainer or two thicknesses of cheesecloth over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the strainer or cheesecloth, catching the liquid in the bowl. Press as much of the liquid from the oats into the bowl as well.

Give the resulting liquid a good stir, then pour 3-1/2 oz. of it into a large glass. Add the whiskey, cream and honey. Stir together well. Recipe can be doubled, because you want to share the brose with a friend, right?

* * * * *

Whipped Atholl Brose
4 servings, more or less

The whipped version is equally tasty, with chewy nuggets of toasted oatmeal to keep your mouth busy and your tummy satisfied. It works beautifully as a dessert. Recipe adapted from
Foodness Gracious, a California food blogger. He's a Scottish ex-pat, so he must know what he's talking about. Hopefully the heart-healthy effects of oatmeal counter the heavy cream. Don't think about it! Just eat and enjoy.

1/3 cup rolled "old fashioned" (not instant) or steel cut oats
1-1/4 cups whipping cream
3 tbsp honey
2-3 tbsp whiskey

In a large non-stick skillet, carefully toast the oats over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pan from heat and pour toasted oats into a small bowl.

Pour whipping cream into a medium bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer on high speed until it forms soft peaks. Mix the honey and whiskey together until the honey dissolves; pour into the whipped cream and continue beating a few more minutes. The cream should still be soft, not stiff. Stir in the toasted oats. Chill for 30 minutes and serve in small bowls. Top with berries, a sprinkle of oats, thin cookies (Pepperidge Farm
Bordeaux cookies would be nice) or whatever inspires you.

Tha sin glè mhath! (Scottish Gaelic for "Excellent!" Or so I'm told.)

Feel your (steel-cut) oats.

flag-mini-Scotland flag-mini-Ireland An Englishman and a Scotsman were discussing oats. The Englishman, with his nose in the air, said, "In England we feed oats to our horses, and in Scotland you feed oats to your men." To which the Scotsman replied "That's why in England you have such fine horses ... and in Scotland we have such fine men!"

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The weather is cooling off wonderfully here in the midwest. After yet another hot, humid summer, it’s bliss sleeping through the night under a warm flannel sheet with the window open, and waking up with an appetite for hot cereal, especially a bowl of my new favorite--steel cut oats.
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Remember those gooey, comforting globs of (by the time you got to the table cold) rolled oats you had for breakfast before school? Such memories! These are different and, in some ways, better and more grownup. Steel cut oats have a nice chewy texture with some of the familiar and comforting gooeyness, but much less glueyness, of regular oatmeal. They also take longer to cook--steel cut oats are whole oat groats chopped (well, cut) into little nubs rather than steamed (essentially pre-cooked) and flattened like rolled oats, so it takes a while for boiling water to plump them up: about 30 minutes, and well worth the wait.
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The long cook time for steel-cut oats means they’re not exactly a convenient work day breakfast. They require some patience and stirring (clockwise, according to tradition), better for a slow Sunday morning while sipping your coffee or tea. To enjoy them during the week, I make a batch before bedtime by boiling water and oats together for 10 minutes, then turning off the heat, covering the pan with a lid, and letting it sit overnight. By morning the oats have absorbed the remaining water and all that’s needed is a few minutes of re-heating. Leftovers are plopped into a plastic container and stored in the fridge--they heat up nicely on the stove or in the microwave.
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Oats like cool, wet weather so they thrive in the U.K. as well as countries like Russia, Canada, Finland, Poland and the American midwest. And although Scotland grows more barley than oats, oatmeal seems to strongly characterize Scotland’s culinary culture, alongside heather honey, whisky, and salmon. Scottish and Irish cookbooks are full of recipes calling for oats--pheasant, herring and fish cakes rolled in oats, leek soup thickened with oats, an oatmeal-onion stuffing called skirlie, fruit crumbles, boiled puddings, bannocks, cranachan, oatcakes, the hearty oats-whisky-honey liqueur known as atholl brose (blog post coming soon!), haggis, stout, and of course traditional oatmeal porridge.
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For an authentic Scottish oatmeal experience, use a wooden spurtle--an approximately foot-long stick with a rounded tip used to stir the oats while they cook (that rounded tip helps you keep cooked oats from hiding in the corners of the pan). Then only salt on your cooked oats, no brown sugar or milk, and each spoonful is dipped into a separate bowl of cream before eating.
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I hope the Scots forgive me for not following those serving rules--what is oatmeal without my splash of evaporated milk and drizzle of honey or some brown sugar? Sometimes a sprinkling of toasted walnuts, and when the price is right a handful of blueberries or blackberries. That would be three "superfoods" in one bowl! Oats, blueberries and walnuts are superfoods--that is, they are not only awesome because they taste so good, but they are extra awesome because they have been proven to do super things for your health. Oats, for example, help lower cholesterol and have minimal impact on your blood sugar, while blueberries and walnuts have antioxidant and anti-imflammatory benefits to help prevent cancer and other diseases. You could just about almost live forever eating superfoods. (NOTE: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. But it's true--forever. Almost.)
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We've been eating oatmeal throughout the summer (except when it was, like, 97 hot humid degrees out) and it is all the more satisfying now that fall is here. And this winter, when the weather turns truly frosty, I may even add a warming slug of whisky to each bowl. Although it's possible I might not wait until then.

P.S. You've seen those nice looking cans of McCann's Irish Oats on grocery store shelves, yes? The ones that go for oh, about $4.50 per pound? Well here's a secret: you can get bulk steel cut oats at Whole Foods for $1.39 a pound. Bargain! That won't take your whole paycheck. You'll live longer and have more money in the bank. Oatmeal is super, indeed.

Steel Cut Oats, Two Ways

Way 1 (30-minute method):
Serves 4, recipe can be halved

4 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
dash of salt

Bring water to boil in medium to large saucepan. Add oats and bring to a boil again. Let mixture bubble and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally (with a spurtle, if you've got one!). Reduce heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 20 minutes. Serve hot with milk, cream, yogurt, honey, sugar, bananas, berries, etc.

Way 2 (overnight method):
Serves 4, recipe can be halved

4 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
dash of salt

Bring water to boil in medium to large saucepan. Add oats and bring to a boil again. Let mixture bubble and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally--clockwise of course. Remove from heat, cover with lid, and allow to stand overnight on stove or in refrigerator. In the morning the oats should have fully absorbed the remaining water. Warm oats over medium heat (or in the microwave, if you must). Serve with the usual toppings.


The fall of the year.

A basket of apples by the back door
beneath the sweater pegs
The autumn winds lift along the street
A pair of dancing legs ...
~~ from "One More Colour" by Jane Siberry

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If you were up very early this morning--at 4:04 a.m. CST--you might have caught the autumnal equinox. You wouldn’t have really seen anything but you would have been awake when the sun passed over the equator on its way to make spring and summer in the southern hemisphere while we enjoy fall--or maybe you say autumn--and (some would say "are subjected to") winter. And today we will see approximately equal ("equi") hours of day and night ("nox") before days start getting noticeably shorter.
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I have heard Americans disparaged, usually by the British, for using the word "fall" in place of autumn. Fall makes sense, though, doesn't it? Autumn descends and temperatures fall, leaves fall, apples fall, acorns fall, crops fall, darkness falls, the year falls away. Plenty of falling around this time of year.
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In days of olde ("olde" is about 1500ish and prior), autumn was referred to sensibly as harvest. When people moved into cities and away from traditional farming lifestyles, the season called harvest became autumn (from the French "automne"), and harvest referred strictly to the act of harvesting, not the entire season. The phrase "fall of the leaf"--to denote autumn--was shortened to fall, a term British settlers eventually introduced into American English. While fall seems more common here and autumn more common there, I've always preferred autumn, a word I find pretty and poetic. But I'm not snobby ... either is fine with me.
Signs of fall sedum
Although the flowers in my garden begin to fade and die at this time of year--except mums and sedum, which are just blooming--I feel most alive with the changing colors and cooler days, especially after a hot, sticky, mosquito-ridden summer. I am always happy to tuck away my summer wardrobe in favor of jeans, long sleeves, socks and cozy fleece jackets.
Autumn mums

Fall is unquestionably my favorite season--I love the crisp air, the smell of dry leaves, the crunch of dry acorns under foot, sipping mugs of hot apple cider, the possibility of fires in the fireplace, pulling a warm flannel sheet over me at night. If I could be a tree it would be a sugar maple, so I could wear those blazing oranges, reds and golds every autumn. Plus, spookyfun Halloween is in October. And my birthday!
Autumn maple tree
Best of all, fall is the time for all things pumpkiny (I already have a baking pumpkin to make Harvest Pumpkin Salad for our equinox dinner), maple-syrupy, appley, hot cidery, soupy, Halloweeny ... but not yet. For now I want to enjoy the transition from summer to fall/autumn.
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To welcome the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, here is a pleasant tune called "The Fall Song" (that link takes you directly to the song) by my very own brother Mark (that link takes you to his bikey blog). I hope you take a listen and enjoy while you are celebrating the change of season.

So, what do you think--fall or autumn? Happy Autumnal Equinox!

Peach and blackberry crisp.

flag-mini-American Oh no, summer is almost over! Did you enjoy lots of seasonal fruits while they were available? We did -- plenty of ripe nectarines (my favorite), blueberries, at least one watermelon, some cantaloupe, and most recently peaches and blackberries baked into a nutty, juicy fruit crisp.
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Fruit crisps and cobblers seem to be uniquely American desserts -- who doesn’t associate peach cobbler with southern cuisine? And in my childhood we made applesauce and ate endless apple crisps after a day of early fall apple picking.
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According to What’s Cooking America, crisps and cobblers evolved from early settlers, who adapted their favorite Old World meat-and-pastry dishes to New World produce and cooking methods. The Brits brought recipes of sweet or savory fillings cooked (or "cobbled") together with a crust or biscuity topping (which some say resembled cobblestones), from which we Yanks created some of our familiar pot pies and cobblers. And their fruit "crumbles" became our crisps.
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Variations on the fruit-and-dough theme can be found in recipe boxes and church cookbooks throughout our fair land, with folksy names like brown Betty, buckle, grunt, pandowdy, slump and sonker. Say, how about a generous helping of blueberry sonker!
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To enjoy summertime fruit without a lot of preparation, there is (almost) nothing easier than the fruit crisp, or “crumble” to my U.K. relations. Unlike fruit pies, which require two thinly rolled crusts, crisps need only a sweet crumbly oatmeal-butter-flour mixture which is sprinkled over the fruit -- much easier for casual cooks than rolling circles of dough, then draping, pinching, poking, and praying the bottom doesn’t come out soggy and the top doesn’t brown too quickly. Okay, it’s not that tricky, but crisps are, by comparison, much easier!
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Peeling and slicing fresh peaches is easy, and tossing them with a little sugar and whole blackberries, blueberries, raspberries or whatever else strikes your fancy is even easier.
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You’ll have to put a wee bit of elbow grease into the topping, but not much. Cutting butter into flour can be satisfying, in a repetitive-motion sort of way. I use a pastry blender, but you can slice at it with two knives, a fork, or just dig in with your hands and work it together with your fingers. Then stir in sugar, oats, nuts (I like toasted almond slivers) and spices, and you’ll have a nice mixture that is either crumbly or might resemble loose oatmeal cookie dough, depending on how soft your butter is. Sprinkle evenly on the fruit, or pull off small globs and plop them around the fruit as evenly as possible. (I popped a few of those globs into my mouth first, for testing purposes. Yum.)
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In 30 minutes it will cook into a beautifully golden, crispy top with juicy stewed fruit underneath. Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream go wonderfully with fruit crisp, but we ate it straight up, with some tea on the side.
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If you want to savor the last weeks of summer, make some crisp with whatever summery fruits are still available at your farmer’s market or grocery. Or try pears and apples, to acknowledge the coming of fall. And in a few weeks, as we wave down the sun on the Autumnal Equinox, we can start thinking about heartier cold-weather fare ... like anything with pumpkin! But for now, summer.
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Peach and Blackberry Fruit Crisp
Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Be creative with fruits and spices in this recipe -- fruit crisp is very versatile!

4 cups sliced peeled peaches (about 4 medium peaches)
1 cup blackberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix fruit gently with 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl until sugar dissolves. Pour into an 8- or 9-inch round pie plate or baking dish.

Combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon/spices in a medium bowl. Work butter into flour until mixture resembles course crumbs (or, in my case, until it resembles cookie dough). Mix in oats and nuts until well combined. Sprinkle over top of fruit until evenly distributed.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until fruit is tender and topping is golden and ... crisp. Serve warm, with ice cream or whipped cream if you're feeling naughty.