Positively Scottish Humans of Oz: Gillian, making tablet as a Tartan Treat

In this series of regular articles, our Melbourne-based correspondent meets the Positively Scottish Humans of Oz.

“Gie us something that clamps yer teeth the gither, an adds inches tae yer hips.”

These days, Scots are (in)famous for eating more sweets than any other people in the world, though that’s not always been the case. Historically, Scottish cuisine was fairly bland, but all that changed when sugar started being shipped from the West Indies in 1680.

By the early 18th century, tablet had become a firm favourite in Scotland, with the first mention of the confection appearing in the household book of Lady Grisell Baillie, who encouraged the purchase of “taiblet for the bairns”.

Not that you needed further reason to indulge in Scotland’s most popular sugary snack, but it seems tablet was indeed once esteemed for its medicinal properties. According to The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia: “These preparations are chiefly valued for their agreeableness to the eye and palate…Some likewise esteem them, medicinally, as light restringents; and look upon them, not undeservedly, as an excellent addition to milk in phthisical and hectic cases.”

While the recipe for tablet has changed slightly over the years—now incorporating condensed milk and butter—this melt-in-the-mouth morsel remains a much celebrated and iconic sweet in Scotland. Though variations of the recipe appear in cookbooks around the world, it is believed traditional Scottish tablet originally made its way to Australia from Dundee sometime in the late 1930s. Almost a century later, Gillian Larocca, 35, originally from Motherwell, caters to the sweet-toothed Australian Scottish community through her business, Tartan Treats.

I actually learned how to make tablet when I was in Australia. I made a batch and just sat and ate the whole lot. I didn’t make any more for ages until one day I was talking to a woman at the shop where I buy my Irn Bru, and she told me she was getting some tablet in from Scotland.

I mentioned to her that I make my own and she asked me to make her some, so I did. I realised that maybe there’s a need for this in the Scottish community here. Now I’ve got three regular shops I sell it to, as well as festivals and markets. I also do weddings, Burns suppers, the Highland Games and the Battle of Bannockburn.

To make tablet, you just throw all the ingredients in and boil it. Milk, condensed milk, butter, sugar—that’s it. But it’s all in how you make it. There’s a secret technique, and I’m not telling anyone!

I also make macaroons, potato scones and soda scones, but tablet is the best seller. The Scots love it because it’s more sweet. Macaroon is definitely an acquired taste, but a lot of Australian people like it because it’s not as sweet.

I’ve just started a business course and I’m trying to build up my business as much as possible. I do it for my daughter, Hannah, who is two-and-a-half. Her father and I met when I was backpacking from Sydney to Cairns on a holiday to Australia in 2010. I went back to Scotland for four months to sort stuff out, then moved with him to Subiaco in Perth. He was working on the mines. We separated in March this year.

In Scotland, I worked full time as an environmental health officer but it’s hard to get that kind of work here in Australia because it’s very specialised. Right now I want to work from home because I have a toddler, but it can be very isolating.

I don’t have a lot of friends and no family here, so I need to try and build a life for Hannah now. I need to make sure she is looked after.

I do love Australia and would like to see more of it. I have been to a lot of places and still want to explore more when my daughter is old enough to appreciate her country.

This is not where I expected to be in my life, but I’m determined to make a go of it for Hannah. I just need to focus on her.

Australian Scots craving a taste of home can order here.

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