Smells of Scotland hit the valley
By THERESA HOGUE
ANDY CRIPE | Gazette-Times
illiam Wallace might have faced some tough opponents in his day, but staff members of Mary’s Kitchen at the Linn County Fairgrounds had their own battles to fight Saturday as they faced a long line of hungry Scots, all growling for scones and tea.
The annual Oregon Scottish Heritage Festival has been at the fairgrounds for four years, and each year the menu has expanded, under the guidance of Mary Wallace Kelsey, granddame of the festival and emeritus OSU faculty member of nutrition and food management. Thus, the title “Mary’s Kitchen.”
Just after noon on Saturday, Kelsey was whisking around the kitchen, looking a lot calmer than she likely felt. A number of kitchen volunteers had just left for the day, and the kitchen was suddenly getting slammed with customers. As the line grew, and the pace grew more frantic, it almost appeared that cookies and meat pies were flying off shelves of their own accord.
Kelsey said the festival started producing its own food around seven years ago, when it was located at the State Fairgrounds in Salem. At that time, the festival had a tiny facility to use and could hardly fit the staff in to cook and serve up meals. The Linn County location offers a lot more room, although staff members still do their baking in other locations, and only do the meat preparation on site. “This is our most ambitious menu,” Kelsey said of the long list, which included shepherd’s pie, Scotch egg plates and a rainbow of scones. “It’s all Tracy’s (doing).” Tracy Johnson, former military cook and baker extraordinare, was whisking past in his kilt, hauling huge trays of shepherd’s pies and shouting congenially for everyone to get out of his way. The Lacomb man’s speciality is scones, and he said the breakfast crowd was appreciative of his skill. “I believe it was my blueberry lemon scones that flew out the door,” he said. His mother, Sandra Johnson, raised her three sons at her side in her kitchen. Each son has his own cooking skills, but Tracy is her premier baker, she said. “He was my right-hand man,” she said of his early days in the kitchen. The family is of Scottish and English heritage, and has always celebrated their origins. Meg Finlayson was stacking cheese and bread on plates and recalling the days when the volunteer cooks had to grill bangers (sausages) on outdoor grills at their former location. At one memorable festival it rained. “I remember having to use a pot lid as an umbrella,” she said. Finlayson traveled to Scotland in 1991 to visit the land of her ancestors and loved it. “I’d go (back) in a heartbeat,” she said. “I’ll go again, that’s a given. It’s a beautiful country.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of other fans of Scotland and its food waited just outside the kitchen doors for a chance to sample the ploughman’s lunches Finlayson was speedily preparing. Sometimes, celebrating your heritage means a little extra patience, but no swords were drawn during the lunch fray, and everyone seemed to agree that the shepherd’s pie was worth the wait.