The stars of the silver screen may have been in LA for the Oscars last Sunday evening, but Avonbridge was really the place to be.
While the great and the good were gathering at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the 85th Academy Awards, the Braes village’s parish church played host to the 10th annual World Clootie Dumpling Championship.
The event is one of the most eagerly-anticipated dates in the local calendar and this year saw a bumper entry of 15 dumplings from large and small to round and not so round.
And the trophy for the best clootie dumpling went to (dramatic drum roll) - great granny Rita Morgan from Slamannan.
She now joins clootie dumpling royalty Mary Inglis (78) who won the very first competition a decade ago. Mrs Inglis has been a regular in the top three over the years and was third in 2013.
Rab Hunter (78), from Rumford, who entertained the expectant 80-strong crowd in the church on the spoons alongside accordionist Jock Moffat from Kincardine, was second.
It’s his third second place finish alongside two other third places.
However, Mrs Morgan (65) wowed the taste buds of the wily judges to be crowned World Clootie Dumpling champion at the first time of asking.
“I’ve been asked for years to enter, but this was my first time,” said the proud winner, who has two sons, four grandchildren and one great grandchild who she hopes will take up her love of the dumpling.
“This year I said ‘just go for it’, I’m not getting any younger. I don’t know what was so special about mine. My granny made them before me and I’ve been making them for such a long time too I suppose so practice must make perfect.
“It came out of the pan at three o’clock and I prefer to have it cold with butter, or fry it for breakfast. It’s delicious.
“My recipe came from my granny’s, but there’s a few changes. I’m sure she’d be proud that I won. Hopefully I can pass the recipe down the line too.”
Aileen Thomson, one of the church’s parishioners who helps organise the event, explained why the World Clootie Dumpling Championship is the one and only.
She said: “some of the elders came up with the name to make it sound more exotic and it’s worked. Everyone looks forward to it every year.
“We haven’t had any entries from China or the USA yet, but there was one from Paisley this year. It’s all a big bit of fun and it’s a brilliant night for the church and the community. Something a wee bit different.”
This year’s youngest contestant, church parishioner nine-year-old Calum Stephens from Harthill, said: “Last year mine was too hard and this year it was too soft. Maybe next year I’ll get it just right.”
Between 80 and 100 people turned out for the event in Avonbridge Parish Church. The judging was done secretly in the back room while Jock and Rab kept the rabble in the church entertained on the spoons and accordion with renditions of ‘Scotland The Brave’ and other traditional toe-tapping tunes.
All that was missing in the end was a piper to pipe in the winning clootie dumpling to cap off a quintessential Scottish night.
Entries in the world championship are scored on taste, shape, colour and texture and judges on the night Isa Gibb and Ruby Waugh had a tough job picking the winner.
They fastidiously studied each of the 15 dumplings laid out in front of them and marked them all out of 10 for each category expressing the merits of each one as they went along.
Isa said: “Once they come out of the cloot they need to have a good skin. That involves a wee bit jiggery-pokery and the rounder they are the better too.
“You can get recipes off the internet and you can make them in the microwave too. It doesn’t have to be done in the oven.
“There’s different ways to eat it as well. You can eat it like a cake with custard or something or fry it for breakfast like a lot of people do.
“They used to be used a lot for birthday dumplings when thrupenny bits would be put in them and if you got it, it brought you luck.”
The church’s minister Reverend Sandi McGill didn’t do a dumpling herself, but brought along the Paisley entry which was cooked by a friend.
She praised her flock for another unique year at the World Clootie Dumpling Championship.
She said: “We have a small but enormously courageous congregation here in Avonbridge and the clootie dumpling championship is the highlight of the year.
“There was a lower number of entries last year and that could have been seen as a downward trend, but to have 15 this year was amazing.
“It’s great to see everyone make the effort and bring along their entries on a cold night in February and, even though they were all good entries, there can only be only one winner. It is the World Championship after all”.
The traditional Scottish pudding is called a ‘clootie dumpling’ because it’s made in a cloth which used to be known as a cloot in this part of the world
Ingredients include flour, dried currants, sultanas, shredded suet, treacle, dried breadcrumbs, caster sugar, butter, egg, milk, mixed spice, baking powder, salt and some syrup (regional recipes differ)
To make you bring all the ingredients together and place in a cloot that has been boiled, wrung out and sprinkled with flour
Tie the cloot up so it’s round then boil for three to four hours. Take it out and dry it off and see how well it’s turned out
A clootie or cloot in Scots tongue is a strip or piece of cloth, a rag or item of clothing
The saying “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot” is a warning not to shed any clothes before the summer has fully arrived and May flowers are in full bloom