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Margaret Brown, Moray hotel baker dies age 74

Famous for her shortbread, pancakes and tablet she worked for Nairn's Golf View and Newton hotels.

Margaret Brown, whose baking graced the tables of some of Scotland's finest hotels.
Margaret Brown, whose baking graced the tables of some of Scotland's finest hotels.

From a school dinner supervisor to a hand crafting delicacies for silver service Moray hotel customers, Margaret Brown was every inch a master baker.

Born in High Blantyre, Lanarkshire on April 11 1949 she was one of three children for Grace and George McAlpine. A joiner, George had to continue working when his wife died.

Margaret left Hamilton Academy to take over the running of the home, caring for her dad and two brothers following her mum’s death.

School dinner lady

When it was time for her to begin a career she started working for Lanarkshire Council supervising the provision of school meals across the county.

“On one occasion a wee boy came up to her. Miss McAlpine, I’ve eaten all the melon, he said. And so he had. Skin and all,” said Eric Brown, Margaret’s husband.

Margaret Brown baking with grandson George.

Margaret met Eric, who came from Troon, while he was lecturing in Business Studies at Motherwell College. The pair would see each other in the catering department at lunch time where he would take a break and she would share a packed lunch with her friend.

Love at first sight, they were married in High Blantyre Parish Church in 1971.

They would go on to have two children, Elizabeth and Stuart.

Mrs Brown’s apple pies

In 1971 Eric became deputy general manager at the newly built Bruce Hotel in East Kilbride. The first new build hotel opened after the war it came complete with a Danish Coffee Shop.

Margaret was enlisted to bake apple pies.

“Before she knew it, it was listed on the menu as ‘Mrs Brown’s Apple Pie’,” said Eric.

From East Kilbride the couple moved to Nairn.

Promotion to resident manager for Eric, at the Golf View Hotel found Margaret baking all the cakes, scones and pancakes for afternoon teas in a tiny kitchen of the management flat where the couple lived.

Ever the hard worker

More than just a work pursuit she was also renowned in Moray for her church coffee mornings and Rotary Club culinary contributions too.

When the hotel chain bought the Newton Hotel in 1979 Margaret was then the main baker for two 4-star hotels.

One of Margaret’s famed wedding cakes which she also handcrafted with precision. Photo by Mike Ward of Ladybank.

“Fortunately we bought a house with a kitchen five times the size of the management flat so her workspace wasn’t the challenge – baking enough for the people in 100 bedrooms was!” added Eric.

A move to St Andrews

In 1981, Margaret began baking for the Rusacks Hotel in St Andrews where Eric was managing director. Managers had to drive to their home with stacking tins and boxes to collect cakes and pancakes daily.

The move to St Andrews also facilitated a greater involvement in the local church, Hope Park Parish. When she wasn’t baking for the Guild or teaching Sunday school Margaret found time to serve as an elder.

The “baking machine” she used throughout most of her baking career.

While there she was also involved in Inner Wheel, becoming president of the St Andrews branch twice.

Together Eric and Margaret made a formidable team in the world of hospitality. Where Eric managed top tier establishments, Margaret provided exquisite baked goods.

In the late 80s Eric became founder and co-owner of Balbirnie House in Markinch, along with three financial partners. The popular venue was a top wedding location, no doubt helped along by Margaret’s freshly baked shortbread for every room, every day.

Penguin pursuit

“The same was true in 2001,” said Eric, “while I was planning a gala dinner for the centenary of the Captain Scott RRS Discovery, for Hilton in Dundee. Margaret went the extra mile.”

Shown at a Burns Supper in the Hilton Hotel Dundee, host Eric Brown – general manager – and his wife Margaret, front right.

In fact, the family did.

Desperate to create 350 bespoke penguin-shaped shortbread biscuits for each black-tie guest the pair went in search of a suitable cookie cutter, however none could be found.

“My son Stuart eventually went to a blacksmith for scrap metal and he fashioned it into the shape of the distinctive bird. Margaret then meticulously handcrafted each piece of shortbread.”

Shortbread specialist Margaret Brown in action.

The feat didn’t just create a wonderful evening for guests – it sparked a fascination for penguins for Margaret and Eric. The couple since filled their home with more than 150 penguin ornaments and trinkets from all over the world, and even enjoyed a cruise to see them in Antarctica.

Charity work

Margaret was also a prolific charity worker. Whether taking part in marathon-length Moon Walks, Perthshire Pink Ribbon events or caddying for a friend on dialysis while driving her all around Scotland, she raised thousands of pounds over the years.

Granny to 15-year-old George, an up and coming international skier, family was always important to Margaret.

Margaret, right, with her grandson George and daughter Elizabeth.

Son Stuart followed his mum into catering, while Elizabeth is the deputy head of Albyn lower school in Aberdeen. There her mum’s tablet and scones earned a reputation of their own in the staff room.

Celebration of Margaret’s life

Margaret passed away suddenly on May 16, age 74, after just a few months of troubling symptoms.

A celebration of her life took place on May 31 at the church where she worshipped in St Andrews, then on to the Rusacks Hotel St Andrews where she was once the chief baker.

Margaret and Eric Brown who worked together for decades in Scotland’s hotels.

Expressly stating that there were to “be no sausage rolls at my funeral” Eric made sure all her favourite foods were served instead. Mourners tucked into little cups of Cullen skink, mini prawn cocktails, scones with cream and jam, and as she was partial to a glass of bubby or a G and T, a gin and champagne bar was also open.

‘Legendary baker’

Eric added: “Margaret and I both lost a parent early so though we both worked hard we also had a mindset of celebrating every day because you don’t know how long you have.

“We did that in life and we did that to mark her death too.

“My wife went through life with a quietness about her. She was humble, never complained, didn’t tell anyone she wasn’t well.

“We will miss you Margaret Brown but we will never forget your legendary baking nor your radiant smile!”

You can read the family’s announcement here.