Come journey with me as I whisk you away to 13th century Scotland for a Midwinter’s feast. We shall arrive at Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. This is the home of the Clan MacKay—the Dragon Knights. Their bloodline is steeped in ancient Celtic mythology. Though they respect the new religion that has swept across their land, the Dragon Knights continue to honor the old ways. Midwinter is a celebration of light and warmth here within the walls. The doors have been left open for all to enter in peace. Once you step inside, you are drawn to the holly boughs with ivy, bay, crimson-berried yew and fragrant bunches of rosemary.
The torches cast a welcoming light as you proceed onward. As we enter the Great Hall, you are met with boisterous laughter and gaiety. A bard is recanting the tale between the aging Holly King (representing the darkness of the old year), and the young Oak King (symbolizing the light of the New Year). Some of the older lasses have chosen to weave a sprig of holly onto their gowns and they nod at you in passing.
Candles illuminate the hall in a soft glow as you make your way toward the feasting tables. The Dragon Knights and their wives are seated at a longer table near the hearth. Ale and mead are flowing, along with the tempting dishes you survey as you take your place. You are tempted by the trencher of wild boar stuffed with onions and cabbages to your right. Or maybe you would prefer the spiced apples and damson tarts.
The minstrels begin to play a lively tune and a few of the couples grasped hands to join in the merriment…
Excerpt from A Highland Moon Enchantment:
Onward they danced, twirling and swaying around the hall. Laughter filled Ailsa, along with Desmond’s touch. As the minstrels ended their song, she dipped a curtsy to all.
Fiona handed her a cup of ale. “You were wonderful out there. I’ve never witnessed my brother dancing. He’s good.”
“Thank ye.” Ailsa drained the cup, relishing the cool liquid.
Desmond returned holding two plum tarts in his hand. “By the Gods, these are delicious. Who made them?”
Fiona tried to snatch one from his hand. “Brigid. They’re a favorite of Duncan’s.”
He shook his finger at her. “Nae. I brought one for Ailsa.”
Fisting her hands on her hips, Fiona pouted. “But none for your beloved sister?”
“Ye wound me.” Handing her one, he added, “Ailsa and I will just have to share this one.”
Pleased with his gesture, Fiona kissed him on the cheek. Taking the offering, she was about to take a bite, when Alastair approached from behind her.
“’Tis good to see ye are eating.” He placed his hands around her waist.
She laughed when he nibbled on her neck.
“Come, Desmond. Let us eat our fare away from the lovers,” Ailsa suggested and tugged on his arm.
Snorting, he complied and followed her out of the hall and near the entrance. When he held the treat out to her, Ailsa took a bite.
Closing her eyes, she savored the sweet fruit and crust. “Mmm…”
“’Tis good.” He whispered softly.
Desmond’s tongue teased the edges of her mouth, and snapping her eyes open, Ailsa yearned to have him kiss her.
PLUM TARTS aka…DAMSON TARTS***
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
2 pounds firm, ripe plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Combine the flour, almonds, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and the egg yolk. Mix by hand or with an electric mixer, until crumbly.
Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch springform or tart pan. Arrange the plums in the pan, skin side down to form a flower pattern; begin at the outside and work your way in.
Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture evenly over the plums. Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it’s lightly browned and the plum juices are bubbling. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and transfer tart to flat plate.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
***Damson: A small fruit with vibrant, dark blue skin and a strong sour flavor. Damsons are similar to plums. They have a large stone (pit) and are often juicy, but tend not to be eaten raw due to the tartness of their flesh.
(Photo above by John Morgan taken at Urquhart Castle)