A Scottish family recipe: The Clootie Dumpling!

Back when I was living in Edinburgh, I made good friends with a lovely woman named Marianne, aka The Crafty Granny (it's on her business cards, and yes, she is very crafty). She is a staple in the Leith Folk Club, one of my favorite venues ever, and she adopted me as her own during my time living abroad. As someone whose grandmothers died when she was very young, I loved having The Crafty Granny in my life (okay, okay, so she's not actually old enough to be my grandmother, but it's okay to pretend, right?).

Not long after we moved there, Marianne invited me over to her flat to learn how to make a special Scottish dessert she'd grown up making -- a recipe she tells me (and many others confirmed) that very few people nowadays know how to make.

Marianne hails from the Isle of Barra, grew up looking out on a castle in the sea, and has the most beautiful and lilting accent you've ever heard. She's also an amazing cook. What she shared with me that afternoon (and evening too, as it takes a while to cook) was an old family recipe for: the clootie dumpling.
Rather remote, no?

Unless you are Scottish, you are probably wondering what in the world a clootie is. It's an old Scots word (yes, "Scots" is a language) meaning cloth, specifically a rag or strip of fabric. "Cloot" is the original word, and "clootie" the diminuitive form. (I guess maybe it's a particularly adorable piece of rag, that it should deserve a diminuitive.) 

Anyway, a clootie dumpling is a dessert -- or pudding, if you're British -- and research shows that recipes vary from region to region.

I'm going to go with Marianne's recipe as the original, traditional clootie dumpling recipe, however, because do you see how remote Barra is? Full credit due, the recipe is Marianne's mother's, passed down from who knows how many generations before (cue a lone bagpipe tune and images of hills, stone circles, and the wind blowing through the sea). 

Thank you, Marianne (and cheers to her mother, Winnie Dunn), for permitting me to publish this recipe. Enjoy!

by David Caldwell. Hills in the Highlands. Sigh!


15 TBSP self-raising flour
4 TBSP sugar
3 TBSP suet (we used a vegetarian substitute)
1½ tsp mixed spice (a very British ingredient, find recipe for it here)
tsp cinnamon 
tsp ginger
handfuls raisins
1½ handfuls currants
2 TBSP treacle
1 carrot, grated
1 apple, grated
  1. Blend together all the ingredients and add enough water to bind.
  2. Place in a floured cloth (clootie) and steam in a pan of water until cooked about 2.5-3 hours. 
  3. Remove from cloth and dry out in oven.
I love this recipe for its simplicity and because "handful" is a measurement. That's my kind of cooking. Note the 3-4 hour process, however, and devote an afternoon to it -- preferably a cold, windy, rainy fall day, loaded with cups of tea and chocolate biscuits (the cookie kind, not the Southern brunch kind).

Let's walk through the steps with a little more detail and some explanation to poor Americans (like me) who may need some steps spelled out.

1. Blend together all the ingredients and add enough water to bind. (Straightforward enough, right?)

Here we have the lovely Marianne referring to her old recipe (I think she just got it out to humor me and share it, as I'm fairly certain she could make a clootie dumpling blindfolded):

Adding the treacle! Also known as molasses.

What it looks like before adding a bit of water...

...and after adding some water.

And now for the CLOOTIE bit! What in the world do you use as a clootie? They can be used and reused, so many families use the same ones dumpling after dumpling. If you're starting fresh, try any piece of thin-but-sturdy cloth (like a thick dish towel americans are used to is probably too thick -- think a tea towel or something similar). You can use a piece of muslin or even an old pillowcase (obviously wash it first). I'm guessing Marianne's was about 18-22" square.

Wet your clootie, then flour it:

Spoon the dough on the floured cloth:

Add flour -- you don't want the dough to stick to the cloth.

Here is Marianne gathering up the cloth and preparing to tie it together with a piece of string:

Plate on the bottom of pan, so the clootie doesn't stick.
Be sure to put a plate on the bottom of the large pot you'll be putting the cloth in. It'll prevent the cloth from sticking to the bottom of the pan while it steams for 2+ hours.

Add about 2" of water and bring to a boil before adding the dumpling.

Our trusty clootie contains the dumpling and is steaming happily in a big pot on the stovetop.

You should now be able to watch Braveheart in its entirety (182 minutes) before the dumpling will be ready. You may want to check to make sure the water hasn't entirely boiled away -- a delicate balance. You don't want too much water, just enough to see it around the sides.

 After 2.5-3 hours, remove the dumpling from the pan using heavy oven mitts or tongs. It'll be very hot!

Carefully untie or cut your string for the big reveal.
 Put an oven-proof plate on top of the dumpling and flip both the plate and dumpling over, so your clootie dumpling has a nice place to hang out while we all ooooh and ahhhhhh over its magic.

Wait! It's not done yet. You want the "skin" to develop nicely (that is the best part!), so put the dumpling into a warm oven to dry it out for at least 10 minutes, or until the surface isn't wet anymore.

We ended up bringing this final product to the Captain's Bar in Edinburgh's Old Town, where I was playing accordion for a traditional Scottish folk singer that night. We shared with several people in the pub, and, needless to say, there were no leftovers.
I'm also getting all sentimental and longing for Scotland now. Time to go cut up an old pillowcase.


  1. Makes me homesick it was our birthday cake with sixpence wrapped up in wax paper so you had to be careful. The left overs where fried in bacon fat for sunday breakfast yum yum I haven’t made one since the children moved away