The inspiration for Bluebell Butter Tablet of Maine originated during our 2009 spring holiday on the Hebridean Island of Islay off the southwest coast of mainland Scotland. While exploring the island, one of the first of many discoveries my husband and I made was an item we purchased at a village store, called tablet.
Feeling travel-weary and in need of a snack to sweeten my mood, I couldn’t resist the squares of fawn-colored confection in wee cello bags near the check-out. Back in the car, we tasted pure heaven—buttery sugary grit melting on our tongues, renewing our smiles and energy. Once on our way, it wasn’t long before I pilfered the bag to savor another square. We had no difficulty re-stocking our tablet supply as it was available in all the village stores on Islay. We also sampled different flavors of loose tablet while attending an art exhibit at Islay Ales brewery.
Upon returning home, I surprised myself when I succeeded in making a lovely batch of my own tablet. Then I realized I’d simply recreated the beloved confection my Canadian grandmother made throughout my childhood. It called to mind many holiday eves spent in her clean, bright kitchen where we’d combine those few magical ingredients—sugar, butter, and condensed milk in a pot, bringing the “potion” to boil. With heads bent in silence over the stove, we scrutinized the bubbling cauldron, anxiously awaiting a sticky, soft ball to form in a cup of cold water. At last, once the mixture was poured into a pan to set, the cooling pot and mixing spoon were handed over to me to scrape off a few licks of the rich, golden crystals. After dinner the following day, my brothers and sisters and I nibbled on generous hunks of the grainy, blond blocks our grandmother called fudge, but what was essentially tablet, its distinction from fudge being its firmness and grainy texture, as opposed to fudge’s soft, smooth creaminess.
I have no doubt that the original, centuries-old tablet recipe came to Canada with our Scottish ancestors who emigrated there, eventually finding its way into my grandmother’s hands.
Why the name “Bluebell”?
The bluebells, Campanula rotundifolia, were in bloom when we visited Scotland last May. Everywhere we travelled, their violet blue bell-shaped blooms carpeted grassy slopes and fern laden forests, painting an enchanting and unforgettable portrait of Scotland’s spring landscape. Like other wildflowers such as thistle and heather, bluebells are synonymous with Scotland. And the sound of all those Bs, Ts, and Ls in our name will surely swirl as deliciously around your tongue as our tablet will.