In every family, there are certain red letter days, unimportant to the rest of the world, but of great significance to those involved. Such a day for our family is the first Saturday of every September, when we attend the Dalmally Agricultural Show. Dalmally is a village in Argyll, in the southern highlands. It is in Dalmally that my heart lives, specifically in a big white, gabled house with a huge garden running down to the river Orchy. We lived in this house when I was a child, and I still yearn, daily, to live in it now. The village of Dalmally has myriad childhood memories and family connections. Mum's family come from there, my parents met there, and many of my relatives still live locally. To have a weekend every year, when we attend the show, and have a big family ceilidh in the evening, means that Dalmally Show weekend is a much anticipated date in our family calendar.
The Dalmally Show was introduced on the show website this year thus:
"Saturday 5th September 2015: Dalmally proudly presents its annual agricultural show; a celebrations of rural community and local produce. This is a well attended show where you will enjoy a range of attractions including the agricultural events on which the show was founded many years ago. These include judging of highland and commercial beef cattle; black face sheep, poultry, dogs, baking, preserves, horticulture, photography, painting, shinty match, trade stands and more"
(view from the show ground)
At the show, we don't go and see the bulls, sheep or poultry being judged, nor do we concern ourselves too much with the beer tent, or the live chain-saw carving or falconry displays. (This year there was even a modest herd of Alpacas on display, looking ruminatively over their pens at visitors.) We do watch some of the shinty (a particularly vicious highland game resembling turbo charged lacrosse, played by young men willing to die in the attempt to score a goal)
What we are primarily interested in is the Industrial Tent. This is where the cakes; biscuits, scones, jams, jellies, and crafts are displayed and judged. This tent is where a competitive spirit, dormant for 364 of the 365 days in every year, comes gushing forth like a well spring, and otherwise composed, gentle folks (like my wee Mum and me) reveal a hitherto unsuspected killer streak. The excitement begins in April, when the show schedule is sent out, and initial decisions are made about which competitions, or 'classes' we will enter. Then comes the preparation. Knitting, sewing or crafts are done first, and stored away carefully. Jams and jellies next; the best jar from each batch put aside for the show. Last comes the perishables; cakes, biscuits, scones, dumplings, pancakes, all made in the few days prior to the show, then transported north the night before (Dalmally is about 70 miles away), in tins and boxes, to finally be delivered to the show ground early on the morning of the show. Those of us who have spent the preceding weeks or months preparing our knitting, sewing, jams, crafts and cakes, lay out our entries, have a last fuss and fret over them, eye up the competition and leave, as the tent closes for a few hours for the all- important judging.
The boys enter competitions too. Now regarding themselves as too mature for the Childrens' tent, they take their chances with the adult classes, entering photographs, the occasional cake, bake, or craft item.
(the judges table, ready for action!)
After leaving our entries to be judged, we go for breakfast, discuss our entries (again), then return to the show late morning. By this time, the crowds have started to arrive, the pipe bands are tuning up, the smells of hot dogs, venison burgers, coffee and beer are adding their aroma to the distinctive whiff of cattle, and most importantly, the tents have re-opened after judging. Now we find out what, if any prizes we have won.
This year was a good year. Jacob got a 2nd for his 'item made of wood', a beautiful toolbox.
Sadly Isaac did not get placed for his beautiful lemon drizzle cake, but we all ate it after the show, and agreed it was the best non-winning lemon cake we had ever tasted.
I was not placed for my strawberry jam, or my carrot cake, or my custard creams, or my child's knitted pom-pom hat.
However I was a little more successful with my cakes.
My Celebration Cake, Lemon Drizzle cake and Black Forest Gateaux were all 1sts, and my Lemon Drizzle also earned a Special Award. These together meant that for the first time ever I won a cup, for the overall winner of the largest classes in the baking section. This was very exciting.
My preserves did quite well too.
A 1st for my raspberry jam (a lucky punnet of raspberries I think), two 2nds for spiced tomato salsa and matrimony jam (a jam made from two complimentary fruits, mine was cherry and blueberry), and two 3rds, one for lemon curd, and the other for fruit jelly (I made mandarin).
No photographs of Mum's preserves, but she did exceptionally well, and won a cup (also for the first time) for the most points in the preserves section!
On to handcrafts:
Highly Commended for my knitted wash bag and make up bag, and another for my quilt, which I hand stitched on holiday in the summer, and a 3rd for my button bracelet. I have never made a button bracelet before, and found it a little fiddly, but was happy to be placed 3rd.
My favourite entry, and the one I was most delighted to win, was in the class for 'best use of 1 metre of fabric'.
For this entry, I lined a vintage basket, and covered three books. I made a padded glasses case, a mug cosy, and covered a little tin for biscuits. I made a little caddy for a single teabag. I called my entry 'Tea, biscuits, and a good book'. I was delighted that Mum got 2nd in this class too, for her beautiful child's sun dress, with a little bag, and hairband, and covered hanger.
After the show, in the evening, we had a fantastic family ceilidh; all generations eating, drinking, singing, laughing and story-telling together. This too is an annual institution, and one we would hate to miss. The youngest family member there is 12, the oldest is my redoubtable Nana, who at 95 is the Matriach of the family. She attends the show during the day, and examines all entries with a learned eye. She has been winning baking, preserve-making and gardening competitions for more than seven decades; she knows a good entry when she sees it. She takes a note of exactly who has won what, remarks on how well deserved or otherwise the awards have been, and more remarkably still, remembers what prizes were won the year before. After touring all the tents at the show, she settles down on a camping chair to watch the shinty, which she follows assiduously, and at night, she attends the family ceilidh. She makes a small concession to her mature years by leaving before midnight, but when we visit her next morning, she is up, dressed and ready for an eager discussion about the show, local and family news (aka gossip) and usually sends us on our way with a few pots of her home made jam.
Next time I will share some more photographs of other, non-family entries to the show, and a few more views of gorgeous Argyll.