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!!

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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?
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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!

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren November 1, 2009 at 11:02 pm

These look fantastic! I love the name – it has such strong imagery that I’m sure it would be perfect for Halloween =D. I’m glad Maude approved!

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Jennifer Joray February 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Hi! Thanks so much. I’m Scottish (Mother is 100%) but unfortunately don’t have many of my family’s trad. receipes. My mom just made all this stuff from memory, and although she’s only 72, doesn’t use fat, salt, sugar, or pretty much anything else that makes food good anymore :(. She doesn’t remember how to re-create these receipes that I grew up on (I’m only 34…). “Fly Cemetaries” IS what her mother, Helen Mackersy, called them, and that’s what my mom grew up with in Scotland. I have a little girl who’s turning 3, and another girl on the way. We’ve been cooking and baking together since she could hold a whisk, and she’s starting preschool tomorrow. I’ve been compiling lists of fun snacks and foods to include in her lunchbox. This is one receipe I will be making soon! Thanks. :)

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S. November 2, 2009 at 2:47 am

They look great, and I love that they’re little squares of dessert– it makes you feel less guilty after scoffing a bunch, which I’m sure I would do! I really want to try these now…

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Valérie November 2, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Haha, the “make the pastry” instruction had me laughing! My mother is the exact opposite: she gives me too much information when I ask her for a recipe. “Ok, next you sautée the chicken. Do you know how to do that? You take a bit of oil, but not olive oil, because that wouldn’t work for this recipe, and then you put it in the pan and wait for it to get hot, and then…”

Anyways, the squares look delightful! Thanks for sharing this traditional recipe with us!

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Violet Crown Kitchens October 13, 2010 at 5:32 am

These are beautiful. But “Fly Cemeteries,” my word! Yes, that’s awful. How to come up with a name that sounds good but is also traditional-sounding and reminiscent of the original? Hmm . . . Fly Sentinals . . . Currant Cemeteries . . . Fly Seminaries? Happy cooking! I’m loving your recipes AND your writing.

Chris in Santa Fe

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Jenn October 13, 2010 at 6:42 am

Thanks! Yeah I know the name is something, eh?

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larry March 29, 2013 at 1:29 am

my mother was scottish. her recipe was a little different. the pastry was a nice shiny light brown. there was no sugar on top and no apples. she called them simply “currant cakes”.

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Denna June 6, 2011 at 3:14 am

Loved your article but I was crushed to get to the end and not have a GF recipe for these! I hope you’ll get back to them sometime very soon and develop the GF version. Shortbread is one of my favorite things, and I would love to be able to make one that I could eat now.
My mom cooked like Maude! When I was first married she sent me a bunch of the “family recipes”. Most of them were lists of ingredients, sometimes with amounts or approximate amounts, however nothing about how to make them or what temp to bake them or anything more! Even complicated desserts–just a list of ingredients. They always made me laugh, she was a wonderful cook, and I guess just didn’t think about the fact that I had NO idea what she was talking about!
Thanks for the memories!

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Jenn June 6, 2011 at 7:50 am

Aww thanks – yes I would LOVE to get a GF shortcrust – it’s different from a typical pie crust, a bit in between traditional short bread and pie crust. I should definitely reattempt these here, currants are really easy to find and purchase whereas in the States it was rather difficult. Will def. post about it if I get a good GF version!

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John Yells December 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm

While searching for a currant recipe I ran accross yours. My mom who is now 94 and came to America when she was four always called a pastry like this one Fly Cemeteries also. Every Christmas my grandmother would make a version of this recipe. The filling was the same. but she choose a puff pastry curst sprinkled with confectioners sugar.

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Jenn December 22, 2011 at 5:46 pm

What a lovely story and memory! I love the idea of using a puff pastry crust, I may have to try that next time instead of the shortcrust I used here :)

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cindy Ewings March 16, 2012 at 9:41 pm

The recipe “fly cemeteries” received it’s name from Maisies grand sons. I know because I am married to one of them. I too have tried to make her recipes but it is hard when she used regular kitchen utensiles. It took me a while to get her scones to come out like hers
but I finally did and now my mother in law says they taste better than grandma’s (ha,ha)

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Diana McDougall May 18, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Any idea of how much water/cornstarch/currants for the filling? I can figure out how to bake them but need some help with the filling since I have never eaten them. Thanks!

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