Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shortbread Baked to a Fiddle Tune ; with the CD of a Spirited Scottish Song Playing, She Works Butter and Flour into a Soft Ball

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shortbread Baked to a Fiddle Tune ; with the CD of a Spirited Scottish Song Playing, She Works Butter and Flour into a Soft Ball

Article excerpt

Steam fogs my kitchen windows as I slide octagons of Scottish shortbread onto a wooden cutting board. The toasty fragrance of butter and flour lingers over the counter, and Scottish fiddle music fills the room.

Over the years, I have experimented with various shortbread recipes gleaned from cookbooks and slim pamphlets published in Scotland and Ireland. But eventually I discovered that none compares to the shortbread recipe passed on by a family friend.

Chris Penman and her husband immigrated to America before World War II, bringing with them their thick brogues, a stack of Kenneth MacKellar records, and recipes from the Scottish Highlands.

Mrs. Penman joined my mother's sewing circle in our Presbyterian church. When, as a girl, I attended those gatherings with my mother, I listened to Mrs. Penman describe how bagpipe music sent tears down her cheeks, and that nothing tasted better with a cup of tea than her shortbread.

She introduced the church members to lemon curd, black bun, and, at Christmastime, her special shortbread. After sampling her sublime cookies, all of the women craved the rich shortbread that melted on their tongues, and naturally they begged her for the recipe.

"You must use real butter," Mrs. Penman warned as she passed out the recipe cards. "And after you measure the ingredients onto a breadboard, you must knead them together for 30 minutes. 'Tis tradition to shape the shortbread into rounds. When friends break off a chunk, their fingers meet, a reminder of the love linking their hearts."

Even before I set up housekeeping on my own, I baked shortbread for my college friends. And although I was accustomed to kneading bread dough, my arms grew weary the first time I squeezed and rubbed the crumbly mixture between my fingers for half an hour.

Still, like any repetitive work, the moments devoted to kneading allowed my mind to slide into memories of Christmas caroling and numerous church friends who had wrapped their arms around my childhood. …

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