The setting of my mystery, The Secret of Lanark Island, is a fictitious island in Lake Champlain, south of Isle La Motte and west of “the Heroes” (North Hero Island and South Hero Island)—although, if you check the map, there isn’t room for an island there at all.
In the novel Lanark was settled by Scottish immigrants from Lanarkshire in the green heart of Scotland. Descendants of the original settlers still live in the small resort community and take their Scottish heritage very seriously indeed.
Lanark Island and its inhabitants are patterned loosely after my grandmother’s close-knit Scottish community in Buffalo, New York. My paternal grandmother, Flora Hannah Campbell, was born in Greenock on the Clyde and grew up in the tenements of Glasgow. In her twenties she emigrated, along with her parents and sister, to New York State, where she lived well into her nineties.
Everyone my grandparents knew had been born in Scotland, most from Glasgow or its environs. Even my grandfather from Aberdeen was a bit of an outsider—a status he seemed to enjoy. They spoke with thick Glaswegian accents and talked about lawn bowling tournaments and trips to Toronto for items they couldn’t live without such as English Rose tea and thick-cut orange marmalade and real oat porridge. They valued their privacy. “He keeps himself to himself” was the highest compliment they could pay.
Many of the surnames in my novel are taken from among this group—Arnott, Guthrie, Young, Hamilton. Like the Lanark islanders, they took great pride in their Scottish roots. Those less fortunates from other countries—even occasionally the English—were viewed with a thinly disguised suspicion. When my father announced his desire to marry a woman of Danish-Norwegian stock, my grandmother (trying her best to put a good face on things—he was in his early forties) decided that one of her ancestors may very well have been a Scottish woman taken back to Scandinavia by a Viking.
This is one of her recipes, a version of Dundee Cake without the citron. She called it Yum Yum Cake:
1 c. seeded raisins
½ c. currents
1 ½ c. chopped dates
2 c. sugar
2 c. boiling water
5 T. butter
Put this on to boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Cool completely. You can do this
the night before. Then sift together:
3 ½ c. sifted flour
½ t baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. cloves
1 t. salt
½ c. chopped walnuts or almonds
Stir into the fruit mixture with a long wooden spoon (it will be stiff). Add 2 T. whiskey (optional) and bake in a large loaf pan or Bundt pan at 350˚ for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Test with toothpick. Allow to cool before slicing. Glaze if desired: mix together 1 c. powdered sugar, 1 ½ T. water, and ½ t. vanilla or lemon extract.
Here’s tae ye!