Hush a bye don't you cry, Mammy’s off to the WRI

Wednesday 11 July 2018
Originally published on the Scottish Women's Institutes website as a guest blog post

My maternal grandmother Jean Benzie was what I’d call a stalwart of the SWRI. Born in 1900 she was an active member for over 50 years. From the 1930s to the 1980s, she sewed and baked her way through Institutes in Turriff, Culter and Dingwall, along with holding various positions and participating in drama and singing events. My Mum vividly recalls her singing a WRI themed lullaby ‘The Goat of The Rural’.

Hush a bye don't you cry, Mammy’s off to the WRI, 
Here am I, what a guy, oh for the wings of a dove to fly
Off she goes powered nose, all dressed up in her Sunday clothes
Left alone, all on my own, I’m the goat of the Rural.

Jean Benzie

She entered all the competitions be it baking, crafts or the bulb show along with the monthly competitions at the branch meetings. Nine times out of ten she was a winner! It got a wee bit embarrassing when she won the top award with most points for three years running ending up with a trio of identical deerskin handbags! After this she instead turned her hand to completing her proficiencies but unfortunately due to illness, was unable to get her SWI judge’s bar. Sadly despite searching we can’t track down her SWRI brooch, medals and ribbons. However, her WI skills certainly served her well over the years and even when she was well into her eighties she delighted visitors at her bed & breakfast business with her hostessing and baking skills.

Ardmiddle SWRI - 1950's

Membership skipped a generation as my Mum never joined the SWRI. I fear perhaps she got fed up of having to travel in the boot of the car whilst all the bulbs and baking went in the back seat! However her ‘Rural’ upbringing certainly flourished as she became a cookery demonstrator with the Hydro Board, was involved with the Young Farmers’ Club and an active participant in her local agricultural society’s Flower Show and ‘Seed and Root’ show.

Furthering the SWI tradition, my younger sister has recently joined her local Institute after moving to a new town. It’s been an ideal way for her to get to know people with similar interests. Admittedly she is one of the more youthful members of the group, but hasn’t found that a barrier as all the members have such a wide range of skills and experience. It’s given her an excuse to bake, to try her hand at flower arranging and learn some new crafting skills. Following in our Granny’s footsteps she’s already exhibited in the Federation bulb and baking show and the handicraft shows, even picking up a coveted double gold star. She is currently waiting patiently for next year’s schedule to appear so she can start project planning - and she continues to dream of winning a deerskin handbag.

Sam and Jean Benzie
On the cakestand are Ministers Slices, Shortbread and Cornflake Biscuits

My own interests in food have certainly been influenced by both my mother and grandmother and I often turn to a trusty SWRI cookbook when looking for a recipe, particularly if it’s something more traditional. I’ve got a couple of handwritten books of my Granny’s recipes and have shared her Shortbread, Ministers Slices and Cornflake Biscuits with my readers to great acclaim. On my blog and social media I’ve carved out a wee bit of a niche for quirky Scottish recipes which combine tradition with a modern twist. Exactly what the SWI aims to do as it introduces changes to widen it’s appeal to a broader reach of women. A couple of my most popular creations are Tunnock’s Teacake Rocky Road and Irn Bru Pulled Pork. However if like me you are a fan of gin, then Moules Écosse is a must try. As the name might suggest it’s Mussels cooked in Scottish Gin and Tonic.

Jeannette Benzie - Hydro Board Cookery Demonstrator

Getting back to basics, what could possibly be more traditional and Scottish than oats and oatmeal. My Granda Sam Benzie ate it for breakfast every single day. I’ve stepped away from brose and porridge with a modern twist on these traditional ingredients by using them as a coating for chicken nuggets. Oven baked with spray oil rather than fried and with all the health benefits of oats, my Spiced Oaty Chicken Goujons are a winner for both young and old. How about serving them with a traditional SWI chutney?

The SWI is Scotland’s leading member based organisation created by women in 1917, designed to bring women together, with a vision to welcome every woman in Scotland to join them. They are here to educate, to share, to campaign, to learn, to socialise, to build a community and of course, to have fun. From life skills and arts and crafts to raising awareness of current affairs affecting women and helping inform government issues, the SWI is proud of its heritage and future vision.
Fancy being part of the SWI. Join them to learn how to make that perfect scone… and a bit more too!

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