The Orkney Housewives Farmhouse Broth

By Bernie Bell

Helen’s recipe for a heartening lentil soup , reminded me of the tale of the Orkney Housewives Farmhouse Broth. It’s part of a longer story, which I might get round to typing up someday – for now, I’ll just tell the  tale of when some Orkney housewives, gave Mike a cookery lesson.  There isn’t a recipe – just a story…………..

The background to the tale, is the second time we came on holiday to Orkney, and we had found a lovely old langhouse to stay in, in Harray parish.

Perfect little house, prefect location………..

The Langhoose view from window Bell

A bit too much activity from the ‘dead folk’ for my liking, but it was some of that activity which produced the Farmhouse Broth.

One evening, Mike said he’d make tea, so I went to have a bath, leaving him in the kitchen.

It’s Mike’s story, and he wrote it down a few years later, as part of the longer tale that I was writing for someone  – so, I’ll type up his words……..

“We were lucky with our holiday.  It was generally a fine September, still enough at times for the midges to rise up.  However, as ever on Orkney, it was not all unbroken warmth and sunshine, and it was certainly cold enough one evening for us to want something warm and sustaining for our tea.  So, I decided to make soup.

Without much idea in my head of what exactly I would do, I started to assemble promising ingredients, and cleaned some vegetables.  It was not until I was stood at the stove, melting some butter in a pan, that I became aware of a presence, or presences, close by me.

It was by now the second week of our stay, so I was able to recognize the nature of what I was experiencing, and to be comfortable with it.  We had also been there long enough, I think, for the ‘people’ in the house to be comfortable with us, and perhaps even to like us, for the feeling I got was one of benign interest.

It resolved into three women, not young, not elderly either – comfortable, capable sorts, long skirted and aproned, not seen, but sensed.

And I started to feel guided by the three women looking over my shoulders and clustered around me:  “Stew the potatoes in the butter now”. “Add a little milk, not too much….”  I went with the flow and let myself be guided.

I wish I had written down the recipe afterwards, though perhaps that wouldn’t have been right.  All I can remember is that potatoes, carrots and lentils were involved.  The result was a thick, tasty and sustaining stew/broth, something along the lines of the soups handed out at the end of Harvest Homes and Ceilidhs, though perhaps a little thicker.

At the end of it I felt hanging in the air the words “Not quite how we would have done it, but no’ bad – for a man.”

Overall the feeling was of interest, with perhaps a little amusement at the idea of a man cooking.

I think that perhaps lentils would not have been their ingredient of choice – maybe would not have been available to them in their lives – but they were a substitute for something else that we didn’t have in the house, and they certainly knew what to do with them.

And now back to Bernie……….”

What Mike produced, was what I’d call a Farmhouse Broth, very fitting for the time and place.  I think maybe lentils replaced split peas, or pearl barley?  It was very tasty!

I have the whole tale of our stay in that house, as I kept a copy of the hand-written version which I sent to, let’s say ‘an interested party’.  It’s a long tale and I’ve been putting off the task of typing it all up, but now this has prompted me, and ….I might shift myself to do so!

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5 replies »

  1. Bernie, are you sure Mike hadn’t been on the 100+ proof from Scappa or Highland Park, LOL?

  2. Thank you for sharing the good feeling of humanity in this precious words.
    Not legacy, no awards, the award of being person rather than personality.

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