Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Any work for Aiken-Drum?
Any work for Aiken-Drum?"
~ The Brownie of Blednoch, William Nicholson, 1825
The "brownie," a chocolatey cross between a cookie and a cake, shares its color and name with the brownie of folklore, a legendary creature originating around Scotland and England. A Brownie is reckoned as "a personage of small stature, wrinkled visage, covered with short curly brown hair, and wearing a brown mantle and hood". Brownies like to attach themselves to a household and aid in household tasks; however, they do not like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for eiher small gifts of food such as porridge and honey, or for a seat by the hearth. They may abandon a household if gifts are reckoned as payments, and they particularly despise gifts of clothing . The Brownie of Blednoch refers to the literary ballad in which a brownie named Aiken-Drum comes to town looking for work, helps many of the townspeople with their tasks, but mysteriously disappears, after a misguided woman feels he is under compensated for his efforts and makes him a present of a new pair of pants! Recipe included that a Brownie would NOT turn up his nose at: Chocolate brownies stuffed with shortbread!
The Brownie of Blednoch
Although National Brownie Day celebrates the popular "brownie," a chocolatey cross between a cookie and a cake, the sweet dessert version shares its color with the brownie of folklore, a legendary creature originating around Scotland and England.
A brownie resembles the hob, similar to a hobgoblin, "a personage of small stature, wrinkled visage, covered with short curly brown hair, and wearing a brown mantle and hood".
English brownies generally like to inhabit houses (usually in attics or holes in the walls) and aid in household tasks. However, they do not like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts of food. They especially enjoy porridge and honey. They may abandon the house if their gifts are reckoned as payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them. They appreciate having a seat, close by the fire, left unoccupied for their sole use.
Scottish brownies, ùruisg or urisk, in contrast, may also live outside the house in streams or waterfalls and are less likely to offer domestic help. The ùruisg enjoy solitude at certain seasons of the year. But around the end of the harvest, they may became more sociable, and hover around farmyards, stables and cattle-houses. They particularly enjoy dairy products, and tend to intrude on milkmaids, who would make regular libations of milk or cream to charm him them or gain their favour.
The Brownie of Blednoch dance refers to a literary ballad of the same name, by William Nicholson (1782-1849).
Here is a summary of the ballad's plot:
In the town of Blednoch the people are gathered in the town square one day when they hear the sound of humming coming up the road and see a strange-looking, bearded man approaching. As he gets closer the townspeople realized he is humming "Any work for Aiken-Drum? Any work for Aiken-Drum?" Granny, the wisest person in town, recognizes the man as a "Brownie" and explains to the townspeople that Brownies are the hardest working people anywhere and had simple needs.
Aiken-Drum asks if the townspeople have any work he can do and says he does not need money, clothing, or fancy living but just a warm, dry place to sleep and something warm to drink at bedtime. The town blacksmith gives Aiken-Drum a horse blanket and allows him to sleep in a corner in his barn, and each night Granny brought him a warm drink. From that day on, the townspeople are amazed at the deeds he performs, often without being asked. A farmer finds his sheep had been led into the barn just before a storm. The town church finally gets built. One sick resident has Aiken-Drum show up, clean her entire house, and cook soup for her. The baker finds his wagon wheel repaired on the morning he is to deliver goods to town. Even the kids love Aiken-Drum, who often builds fires and sings songs and plays games with them.
Everyone is extremely pleased with the Brownie's work. Except Miss Daisy, who thinks it's unfair that Aiken-Drum isn't better compensated for his outstanding work. The other townspeople try to convince Miss Daisy that Brownies are driven by the love of their work for others and not by material things, but she can't be swayed and one evening while he is out working she leaves him some new pants.
In the morning, Aiken-Drum is gone and never seen again.
The quite fearsome namesake painting "The Brownie of Blednoch,"by Edward Atkinson Hornel (1889) hangs in a collection in the Glasgow Museums. Click here to see.
Or click the more friendly illustration of Margaret W. Tarrant's (1888-1959) - "The Brownie's Christmas Card" for a decadent brownie recipe made with Scottish shortbread!