Fly Cemeteries – Learning How to Bake the Irish…err…Scottish Way

by Jenn on November 1, 2009

in Cookbooks,Desserts

Warning – this post is NOT gluten free!!

The title is fitting for the day after Halloween, no?  My only guess as to why these are called “fly cemeteries” is that all of the currants in the filling look like a bunch of dead flies.  In reality, it’s a shortbread-like sandwich filled with a thick currant filling.  Quite tasty, actually.  I had never had currants before – they kinda look like raisins, but I really liked their flavor.  The apples and currants made it very sweet without even needing to add sugar! Well, I did on the top anyways.  Sugar makes it pretty :)

maisieThis recipe was created by an old family friend, Maisie.  Maisie was  from Ireland, and while she was alive  (she passed away about 15 years ago) she was specifically known for making this traditional dessert, fly cemeteries.  In fact, they were so well known that it made it into the church cookbook! Actually, she hated that name and refused to call them fly cemeteries.  I’m not sure what she called them, but that’s what everyone knows them as.  Ha, can’t say I blame her.  After all, “fly cemeteries” doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it?

It was requested of me to make these for a tea service done in “Scottish fashion” today, which was really fun – once I figured out what I was doing.  But then, that is half the fun of baking, right?

You see, while there is a written recipe for Maisie’s Fly Cemeteries, she never actually wrote anything down.  So the recipe is a combined collective guess of what should be done based on how several different people watched her make it.  Unfortunately, everyone’s impression of how to do them is a bit different, so the recipe is a tad vague.

And then of course, one of my other friends, from Scotland however, Maude, heard that I was going to attempt Maisie’s Fly Cemeteries and gave me some very specific instructions.  She told me that no one has ever gotten the pastry recipe right and that I should use this other recipe instead for it – she then handed me a little book called Bake the Scottish Way and flipped it open to a specific page.  “Here, use this for the pastry crust.”  Ok, got it – use Maisie’s Irish filling, but this Scottish pastry crust.  Is there a difference between the Irish and Scottish styles of this dessert? I have no idea.  But Maude will know if I got these right or not, and she will definitely let me know whether or not she approves.  Best to follow her instructions!

Maisie’s recipe looks simple enough – currants, apples, cornstarch, and water for the filling.  Ok.  Directions? Also simple.  Fill pan with water to 1″ above the currants and boil with the apples.  Hmm….like so?

Haha, yes I know better than that.  I assume that means peel the apples, dice into small pieces, and then add to the pot.  Not too hard to figure out.

Now onto the Scottish shortcrust.  The entire directions said to make the pastry using 12 oz. flour and 6 oz. margarine (1st substitution – I don’t use margarine.  Real butter it is). Yep, that’s it.  Hmm.  By my 2nd attempt I had figured out that “make the pastry” means:
1. soften the butter.
2. beat the butter.
3. gradually add in the flour until you get crumbs.
4. gradually add cold water a tbs. at a time (about 6 tbs. total) until you get a dough you can roll
5. roll out your dough on a floured surface and then place in your ungreased pan.

Haha – glad that was clear! I obviously don’t know enough about standard Scottish baking practices.

But don’t worry, I will make this clearer for you.  You shouldn’t have to make this multiple times to figure out all 5 steps that are just assumed when someone says “make the pastry”, lol, because I just did that work for you.  Unfortunately I did not have enough filling left after my 2nd attempt to work out a gluten free version, but next time I will! One might experiment with adapting a GF crust recipe though…

So how did they turn out?  They were a huge hit!  Everyone raved about them, and my friend Maude even said, “They are spot on.”  It’s good to hear that they were done correctly and to know that these were authentic (well, as much as an Irish/Scottish combined recipe can be)! I hope that Maisie is looking on somewhere and that she is proud of my attempt to recreate her fly cemeteries!