In the winter of 2017, I was invited to give a talk about British puddings at the University of Aberdeen. It was minus 10 degrees, so I warmed the attendees who had braved the snow with hot, steamed plum pudding. On my walk across the great ‘granite city’ the next day in search of the local fare, the Scottish photographer Del Sneddon pointed me towards the Aberdeen buttery. It brought me to a bakery in a side street that I probably wouldn’t have walked into if not for my search for rowies. The elderly shop lady was proud to tell me all about rowies, for which the bakery was famous.
At first glance, a rowie looks a bit like an unfortunate croissant that you find in the bottom of your bag, crushed by a bag of apples or a stack of books. But it is when you taste a rowie that you learn about its appeal because it has the richness of a croissant with a bonus of extra heartiness through the addition of lard.
The rowie is a pillar of working-class cuisine and was traditionally eaten for breakfast by workers and fishermen, who could benefit from an extra layer of fat to keep them warm or keep them going. In 1917, the bakeries were briefly forbidden from baking rowies as a result of the introduction of war bread and price controls, much to the dismay of the bakers and their customers. Even the unions protested, stating that the rowie was not bread as defined by the regulations and that it was an important part of the working-class diet. In the Aberdeen Evening Express , it was written that the workers’ breakfast consisted of porridge and milk, followed by a cup of tea and a buttery rowie.
Every bakery has its own way of making rowies, so it is difficult to establish a recipe. To make rowies you have to push the butter and lard mixture into the dough with your fingertips, just like the Italians do with olive oil while making focaccia. This process ensures that the rowies become soft rather than crisp.