Friday, 9 July 2010

Tablet Trials

It was my eldest brother's birthday recently, and I decided that I would make him a present. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I happened to be skint that week (!). It was going to be an entirely altruistic gesture of sibling love. I set about thinking what I could make him that he'd really like. That would really mean something. That he could get lots of pleasure from. (That wouldn't cost much for basic materials!). Hmmmmm......... Then it came to me..... I could make him a batch of TABLET!

Now, those of you unfortunate enough to be born outwith the ancient and beautiful country of Scotland may not be clear about what tablet is. Let me enlighten you. It is a confection made with sugar, butter, milk and condensed milk. It is so gut-rottingly sweet that it should probably have it's own Newtonian substance category of sweetness (it probably does actually, I should look it up).

Making tablet is very simple:
1)Melt the butter and sugar together in a pan on the hob.
2)Add the milk and condensed milk and gently bring to the boil.
3)Simmer for 20 minutes.
4)Take the mixture off the heat, pour into a bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon for 3-5 minutes.
5)Pour into a tray and allow to cool.
6)Once cooled, score into cubes for serving.
That's it! - easy! And my brother LOVES tablet (it's just way too sweet for me).

My kitchen had other ideas though. I've come to the conclusion that my kitchen doesn't actually realise that it is, in fact, a kitchen. It thinks that it's part of my sitting room, and sulks 'cos it gets neglected. In Feng Shui terms, it has a personality disorder. So it doesn't cooperate.

Having told my mum of my cunning plan, I borrowed a cookbook from her - "Ma Broon's Cookbook" ("Ma Broon" being a character of a favourite strip cartoon family in a Scottish daily newspaper), got home and , braced by a sloe gin (my favourite alcohol of choice at present), set to work. I went like this:

1)Heating sugar and butter on hob - check!

2)Adding milk and condensed milk and gently bringing to boil - check!

3)Simmer for 20 minutes - hmmm - in the recipe it tells you to test if the mixture is ready by dropping a dod of it into a cold glass of water. The mixture is meant to assume a "putty-like" consistency, solid enough to roll into a ball in your fingers. Mine didn't - it just stayed sticky, and liquid. So I left it to simmer a bit longer, then tried again (when I say "simmer" what I mean is "boil", my gas hob being in cahoots with the kitchen, only has two settings - "boil" and "off"). Nope - no putty like consistency was forthcoming. So I left it a bit longer - 40 minutes in total, before I got bored and decided to move along to the next step regardless:

4)Take the mixture off the heat, pour into a bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon for 3-5 minutes. - Sounds fine, until you actually try beating what is, in effect, SCALDING HOT SUGAR!
In an effort to be REALLY CAREFUL pouring the SCALDING HOT SUGAR into a bowl, I spilled some down my trouser leg. I only noticed this when I looked down to see what was causing my feet to stick to the floor. That was when I also realised that I'd dripped some onto the floor as well as my trouser leg. Deciding to leave the cleaning-up till after I'd finished what was meant to be an easy recipe, but which had already taken the best part of an hour, I carried on, moving around the kitchen accompanied by "Creature from the Black Lagoon" sticky sound effects coming from the area of my feet.

Beating the scalding mixture for 3-5 minutes. I did my best, for at least 6 minutes. It didn't help that the cookbook gave no directions, not even a hint, of what this was meant to do to the super-hot, super-sweet stuff. I gave it a couple more minutes beating because, by this time, it had become "the enemy".

Then I looked for a tray to pour it into. There was a surprisingly large quantity of mixture, and I don't have many containers that would take it all, so I improvised with a large, square pyrex dish. Then waited for it to cool. Scalding hot, mainly sugar type dishes take a surprisingly long time to cool. So I usefully employed the time by having another sloe gin. Then I had a brainwave - I'd put the pyrex dish OUTSIDE to cool! Excellent! Covering it with clingfilm so that neither the neighbourhood cats nor the tame local hedgehog could burn their mouths trying to eat the stuff, I set it on the patch of communal grass outside my house. And had another sloe gin.

Half an hour later and the mixture wasn't noticeably any cooler (but the level of sloe gin in the bottle was noticeably lower!).

Checking it the next morning, it had at least cooled, but was runny. So runny that any attempt at scoring it into squares to serve up as cubes was out of the question. (Please note, at this point I DIDN'T have a sloe gin, but a cup of tea - I'm not an alcoholic after all!).....(but I was tempted!)

I left it for 24 hours, just to give it time to think about how uncooperative it was being, and the chance to see the error of it's ways and repent. It didn't make any difference. Nothing seemed to make any difference.

Now, I happily admit that I'm not the world's greatest cook. I tend to like recipes that are "a handful of this" and "see what you've got in your fridge", all in one pot things. Without boasting, I do make really tasty soup, and delicious stews. I have also made "prop" food whilst working in the theatre that would make your mouth water to look at (even had birds come down to peck papier-mache bread at one outdoor performance, but that's another story...). But I'm not a BAD cook. I know this because I've lived in many flats and houses, each with kitchens that had their own quirks, and am aware at how an environment affects one's cooking. My last kitchen was a joy to work in. No matter what I cooked, or how I cooked it, the kitchen seemed to smile, sing a happy song, and produce something wonderful out of whatever I threw into the pot.

This is why I know that it was my kitchen's fault that the tablet wouldn't set. The kitchen wants to be part of the sitting room. It doesn't like cooking.

The labour intensive disaster that was meant to be tablet was in no way influenced by the fact that, apparently, I should have used a thing called a "sugar thermometer" (wouldn't it melt?hahaha!) and that tablet needs to be poured into a metal tray (not pyrex) and, above all, that the secret to good tablet is in the beating with a wooden spoon. Who knew? Certainly not me. It seems to be common knowledge among other would-be tablet makers though. Turns out that tablet, far from being an easy to make recipe, is actually a highly complex chemical reaction!

Well, you learn something new every day! Who'da thunkit!

My brother was delighted at the kilner jar of "Tablet Spread" I gave him for his birthday. His partner looked a bit puzzled, but she is English, so I wasn't sure if she was puzzled because she hadn't heard of tablet before, or because she had heard of tablet and couldn't work out why it wasn't presented in hard little cubes, as per the usual way of serving. I explained my reasoning that, if you can have spreadable chocolate, why not spreadable tablet? She didn't quite look convinced. By this point my brother had opened the jar and was scooping out and eating the mixture with his finger, a look of sugar-induced glee on his face!

This was how I came to invent "Tablet Spread - a Unique Twist on a Traditional Scottish Recipe, Specially Designed for Stewart on the Advent of His Birthday"!

(This is my local sweetie shop - where I should have just bought ready-made tablet and saved myself the trouble!)

1 comment:

Alistair said...

You left out the bit where you succinctly but relentlessly battered it with a spoon whilst showing it to me. I thought I might possibly get an honourable mention for mental support during the "creation" of the stuff, however I suppose I'm not important enough to mention in your lah-dee-dah blog.