Waste not, want not

Soup under way

All of a sudden it’s cool to be thrifty. I grew up with this notion, but it was never what you call sexy. I can’t tell you how glad it makes me to read Nigella’s comments about waste in her book ‘Cook, Eat, Repeat’. Despite her luxurious and (many times repeated) unapologetic delight in food, she cannot bear to throw things out. Sometimes you read this and you think, yeah, yeah, here’s somebody who has never wanted for anything in all his/her life. But the detail Nigella offered, the one that persuaded me beyond doubt, was the thing about butter papers.

Even buying a block of butter wrapped in paper is an adventure nowadays, since it all comes handily spreadable in a tub. And much of the paper on blocks of butter is of course a lining for a foil wrapper. Back in the sixties I remember there was always a pile of neatly folded butter wrappers sitting around the kitchen somewhere (we didn’t have a fridge till I was fourteen). Then whenever there were scones or buns or a cake to be made, the butter papers would be used to grease the tins. Simple! And Nigella still does it! Or at least she says she does, and why would I disbelieve her? It’s not the kind of detail you would know about unless you’d lived it. Thank you, Nigella.

There’s a risk of sounding smug when you say things like ‘waste not, want not’. The personal is also political of course, and I’m patiently waiting (and voting) for governments to find a way of addressing poverty. But nevertheless, you have to do your best with what you’ve got and I applaud all those food writers – the truly famous ones like Nigella and Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver – who enthusiastically publicise sensible ways of making ends meet. They’re our role models after all. And I honour all the hard-working, hard-up parents (mainly but not exclusively women, in my era at least) who taught us what we need to know about survival and satisfaction. Here’s to a day when we can all eat well. Cheers.

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Fairytale Cake

Jackson Pollock Jamaica Gingerbread

With all this talk of Elizabeth Sponge and whatnot, I would like to reassert the place of the magnificent gingerbread in the home kitchen repertoire.

Gingerbread is the one they make cottages out of (they, not I – I’ve tried. Mine fall apart. The glorious James Morton solved this problem a number of seasons ago on the Great British Bake Off by creating a rustic old gingerbread barn, held together with boiled sugar strands. Pure genius).

Gingerbread is the cottage where abides an allegedly evil old witch, watching out to lure your innocent children into her hot oven. (Although there are some great new adaptations of this story featuring a poor, starving old granny and two precocious little brats…) and a wonderful illustrated tale by Simon Armitage, entitled ‘Hansel and Gretel: A Nightmare in Eight Scenes’.

Gingerbread is pure Charles Dickens, hot, sweet and spicy to warm the fingers and tummies of the little workhouse orphans. Tuppence iced, penny plain.

And best of all, it’s easy to make. I have several recipes and they all taste great. As for the way they look – well, I invented the Jackson Pollock look (above) quite by accident last week to hand in to my former colleagues (ahem – I’ve retired from distillery tour guiding) and I haven’t heard of any fatalities.

Yesterday I tried a recipe from a new book, ‘Oats in the North, Wheat in the South’ by Regula Ysewijn. Yet another cookery book? This one enticed me because it’s full of historic recipes with a bit of context. From three or four gingerbread recipes, I chose one that would make little buns as a change from something you have to slice. It’s an 18th century recipe, quite intriguing. Even better, the instructions start with the magic words, ‘prepare the day before’. So on Tuesday, all I had to do was a bit of weighing and melting and mixing. It got left in the fridge overnight and by yesterday morning had taken on a lovely plasticine consistency, perfect for moulding into little balls. The fragrance is amazing – ginger of course, but threaded through with caraway and coriander and cloves. (They look a bit like a sweetie shop confection of my youth – Lucky Tatties – I suppose you could recreate that effect by burying a plastic toy inside but you might choke a child.)

In the hand, they’re quite heavy and on the outside, they’re firm and a little glossy. In the middle, though, they’re soft and chewy. One is barely enough.

Salad days a-comin

Tomatoes planted

I can’t take much credit for my homegrown tomatoes. Every year my octogenarian friend Judith comes and sorts them out for me, bringing plants from her own cultivation. The Troubadour does most of the early morning watering while I’m still in bed. I lend the odd hand, mainly post-harvest, in the kitchen.

This year I actually got down on my hands and knees to plant them myself, because I foolishly hadn’t anticipated the need for a new bag of compost when Judith came calling. That was a tricky and painful manoeuvre, requiring help to get back up again, so I reckon I won’t be repeating it until I get my new hip (ha! sometime in the next decade, I trust.) But no doubt the tomatoes will taste all the sweeter for my herculean efforts.

From left to right we have red, gold and black. Moneymaker, Sungold, and Black Russian I am told. There’s a beautiful tomato salad formulating in my brain right now. Do you like the milk carton watering can? I saw it on the Beechgrove Garden – a green-fingered mum teaching her kids to look after outdoor plants. You punch little holes in the lid. I thought it would be a useful feeder for diluting a smidgeon of Tomorite to feed my pansies. And eventually the tomatoes when they come on a bit, Judith will keep me right. Thank you Judith.

Cooking for Survival

On my doormat yesterday

Amid all the angst about Russian gas and how will the world keep itself going without it, I’m also hearing, on the R4 farming programme, about a shortage of sunflower oil; and the knock-on effect for growers of rapeseed in the UK. It’s all going to get dearer, folks; and I catch myself obsessing about my latest lemon drizzle cake recipe which uses a delicious lemon-infused rapeseed oil that I buy in my local fair-trade shop. People can be funny about rapeseed oil; someone should have given it a better name. But of course, it’s as nutritious as most other oils, and if you live in Scotland it counts as local – the new badge of honour.

On my doorstep lands an envelope, book-shaped, and I thought all my online book purchases had been delivered. I open it, and it’s a book of drawings and recipes entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Kitchen’, illustrated by Shuangshuang Hao and edited by Deborah May. I absolutely can’t remember ordering this, and as the cover tells me the RRP is £15.99, I’d have expected to remember it. The inside cover says ‘Kitchen Press’ (brilliant name) and the back flap gives info about a social business, based in Glasgow, called Kűche. It’s a beautiful book, and I read it from cover to cover. It’s not what I expected.

I’m a big fan of ideas about ‘tomorrow’s kitchen’ – what are we going to eat so that everyone gets a share? How are we going to grow things in the face of global warming, international warfare, corporate greed and finicky appetites? I love food, and I love writing about it; but much of the ‘foodie’ culture feels out of touch with the times. I applaud the BBC for the coverage they provide on the radio, on food and farming programmes; and the Observer’s monthly food mag also addresses some of these vital issues. But there’s a lot of head-in-the-sand stuff out there too in the world of food writing.

 What can I say about ‘Tomorrow’s Kitchen’, the book? At first I thought it was less about global food supply, and more about multicultural living – specifically the refugee experiences of people now living in Glasgow. There are lots of tales of how food can make you feel at home, and some really inspiring recipes for using Scottish ingredients in international dishes. Some of them, I might have written myself! It’s great to see I’m not alone in the way I shuffle around what’s left in the fridge at the end of the week. And there are some great recipes which I will definitely try – Baklava Pancakes, Neeps Gobi, Tattie Scone Paratha for instance. Lots more. Maqlouba, along with its yearning graphic story.

 As I work my way through the book, however, the tales grow darker; some are intensely moving. It’s a brave book; not what you’d call commercial. And people may find some of the stories a bit in-yer-face. This is not your everyday international cookbook full of sunny nostalgia. I find it challenging and inspiring. I don’t know what I can do about the dreadful situations recalled here except have a go at the recipes, repeat the stories, and write something which I hope will inspire people to go online and order a copy. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ and all that. So go on. Have a look.

‘Tomorrow’s Kitchen’: ISBN 978-1-9163165-0-8

Every distillery in Scotland

Dornoch Castle bar: just one shelf

Recently the Troubadour and I had a very nice lunch in St Andrews, courtesy of a voucher gifted by his son and daughter-in-law at Christmas. It was much appreciated. We don’t get out much! At least following Lockdown that’s how it feels – like many people, we’re now making up for lost time.

St Andrews is just a half hour away from us and the Kinettles Hotel was just around the corner from Toppings, a fabulous bookshop. So we had a good browse then an enjoyable lunch in good surroundings. The decor was kind of industrial-stripped-back; maybe a little daunting but the Dram and Haggis bar soon filled up and it was all very cheery, with good service. There’s a ‘but’ coming though.

On the billboard outside they state they have ‘a whisky from every distillery in Scotland’. But when I asked, they didn’t have ours. ‘Ours‘ is just 25 miles down the road and has been winning global awards for its wonderful 3 year old. (This is not an idle boast – a ‘Gold Outstanding’, a ‘Double Gold’ and a Bronze for design in just the last three weeks). Now I know that it’s an ambitious claim Kinettles has made, and it’s probably hard to keep up to date with it – so why say it in the first place? And really, when it comes to it – they could surely manage to have all their local whiskies available, even if they occasionally run out of others (of course I’m biased).

By contrast, the Dornoch Castle Hotel at the end of January had a magnificent range of whiskies from Scotland and beyond. I don’t suppose they had one from every single distillery and actually I don’t care because they DID have ours! Plus a wonderful range of Thompson Brothers’ whiskies which I’d never really encountered before. Barman Ben was great at explaining them and handing the bottles over the counter for a scrutiny of their really beautiful labels.

The Thompson Brothers website is informative and down to earth and avoids some of the self-congratulatory smugness of some others. From Vhairi Mackay’s blog I discovered that we share a maltster in Auchtermuchty; as well as lots of other fascinating stuff. I’m a tour guide some of the time; I need to know these things! So, Kinettles – better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way round.

Hunger’s a Good Kitchen

Zoya Zelensky Vulpes Vulpes

A Varied Diet

I knitted this wee pyjama case recently for a foxy-loving nine year old. Whenever I knit a toy I do a bit of a story; this one demanded a Ukrainian symbol and it was easy to work out what had happened to her – she and her two friends Valentyna and Svetlana had escaped the bombing in Mariupol by stowing away on a freight ship on the Sea of Azov, and making their way steadily north west through Europe. Clever wee things.

I discovered that a leading fox charity has urged people not to feed foxes because in all the hardship cases they have investigated through the decades, they have never once found a starving fox. It seems foxes are brilliant scavengers and adventurous in their appetites. They will eat nearly anything. If you feed them they come to rely on unreliable donations and might themselves fall prey to predators.

Then I found the Centipede’s Song from James and the Giant Peach, by the redoubtable Roald Dahl:

I’ve eaten many strange and scrumptious dishes in my time,
Like jellied gnats and dandyprats and earwigs cooked in slime,
And mice with rice – they’re really nice
When roasted in their prime.
(But don’t forget to sprinkle them with just a pinch of grime.)

There’s a lot of research going on worldwide into insects as part of the solution for world hunger. Lots of cultures eat insects out of choice, not just necessity. It is widely accepted that food insects generally provide an excellent source of protein, fat, and micronutrients. And have you seen the price of cheese recently?

Just sayin.

Local and Lovely

Feasting at Falkland Estate

Mango and Passion Fruit Popsicles – remains thereof

Above is ‘after’ and I’m putting this pic up here to show what a satisfied bunch of diners we were last night. ‘Before’ will come to you in due course, and it would be fair to say that some of us puzzled a little over how to eat such delicate little dainties. As you can see, we figured it out.

The occasion was a dinner at the Stables in Falkland, Fife, sampling the best of local produce and brought to us by local chef and all-round creative, Stella Collelluori. Just because it’s Scottish food produced nearby doesn’t mean it has to be Scottish in style. Last night’s menu was Sri Lankan and the four course meal (preceded by Amuse-Bouche) was a delight to the eye as well as to the stomach. Here’s Stella, bringing our little popsicles:

Our main course was a venison curry served with coconut greens and turmeric rice. The daft-lassie question came from my own lips: ‘Gosh, is this the leaves off coconut trees?’ Silly me, it was local kale jazzed up with coconut from … er… well actually I don’t know, I’ll have to enquire about that one, but I bet it wasn’t Falkland Estate. Surely I’d have noticed coconut palms swaying in the breeze on one of my strolls.

The venue at the Stables is very comfortable and relaxing. Each table for six is set within a horse stall, with the manger above and the original stone flooring and wooden panels still in place from over a hundred years ago. You sit down beside total strangers and emerge as friends – it never fails. A few fairy lights and some dangling ivy, with your own bottle opened and poured, and you’re ready for a delicious night out.

Stella’s is the brain behind the Falkland Rural Enterprises Ltd Meal Kit, and last night’s curry is in fact available to order from their online shop. Everything you need to produce something rather different, with the joy of knowing exactly where your ingredients came from.

Convinced by last night’s pleasures, I signed up this morning for some Falkland grocery shopping. It isn’t cheap, and I would say their website needs a bit of streamlining; but the range is fairly comprehensive. At this time of year the fruit and veg offering is minimal, as is to be expected. I’ve ordered some venison burgers and local cheese and a couple of bottles of Cairn O’Mhor, some mustard and a few other bits and pieces – a cheeky wee bar of chocolate, naturally – and have to go and collect it all next Thursday between 4 and 6pm. Hopefully not forgetting to take my own egg box. I’ll let you know how I get on – I’ve mentioned above that it isn’t cheap – but my goodness, even shopping in your usual out-of-town supermarket isn’t cheap these days. I’m hoping that the undoubted quality represents excellent value for money, and if last night was anything to go by, I won’t be disappointed.

Sadly my photo of last night’s fabulous dessert didn’t come out very well. Okay, I forgot to take a photo in the rush to get it down my neck. Savour the description on the menu instead: ‘Cashew and Cardamom Brownie served with Chai Tea Toffee Sauce and Luvians Ice Cream.’ Yeah. You’d have been just as distracted. It was fab.

I’ll leave you with the starter (just to keep the back to front theme going). Do give the Stables a try. You need to keep an eye on availability as it’s an occasional pop-up restaruant rather than a fixture. So worth it!

Chilli, lime and ginger pork with coconut pancake and brinjal pickle
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Red-Eyed Meg

‘Getherin her broos like getherin storm – nursin her wrath tae keep it warm!’

Not your standard Burns Supper

I’ve written about this event before, though with Lockdown and whatnot it’s been a while. Still, I was delighted to be invited to another of the Giffordtown Village Hall’s magnificent Alternative Events last Friday, and even more delighted that the programme was to feature Tam O’Shanter – the Shadow Puppet version. Our good friends Doug and Jan Wightman are at the centre of this village-led extravaganza, with other members of the band in ready support, and it’s a feast for all the senses. Bring your own bottle, and the tickets are hot.

Yes, there was haggis, and a great rendition and ritual stabbing thereof. After the meal, the evening jollied onwards with a great range of Scottish songs and poems that don’t get such frequent airings. As I’ve said many times re Burns – other songs and poems are available. Jan sang a lovely song I’d never heard before, with a chorus which went ‘Ye canna mak a singin bird oot o a hoodie craw.’ If anybody knows it, please let me know. YouTube isn’t yielding on this one.

A lady claiming to be well in her nineties (but surely not) gave a fantastic oration of ‘The Rumour’ – made famous many years ago by the indescribable Andy Stewart. Some of his material was excellent, and this poem takes you on a tour right round the many accents of Scotland. We had a rousing performance of the Kelty Clippie, and I’m sorry but I didn’t catch the singer’s name. Dave Burnett gave us Michael Marra’s poignant Dundee song, ‘Hermless‘; Pete Shepheard addressed us with two songs from his extensive collection; and there was more.

Best of all though was the Tam O’Shanter. Jan had made the puppets and with help behind the curtains, manipulated them to great effect, keeping Kate’s hands in swiping distance of Tam’s face and not his genitals; Steve and Rosa accompanied on piano and fiddle; and Doug read the great tale from Burns’ own hand. It’s the best of Burns’ work, spiky and scary and so realistic – you have to wonder whether there were elements of memoir in the lines about Tam the drinker and womaniser, getting his comeuppance. Delighted to see there’s a full recording of this on the village hall’s website. Watch it: you’ll never see a better version.

Busman’s Day Out

Running on steam – an image from the past at Glenkinchie Distillery

It’s a great thing to be able to combine your love of history with your part-time job; and even greater when you get to go on a paid trip with your colleagues and see how other people do it. Yesterday, my dear Tour Guide chums and I had the pleasure of visiting Glenkinchie Distillery near Tranent, south of Edinburgh, and it was a joy altogether.

Glenkinchie is owned by Diageo, probably the biggest drinks-maker in the world; and we at Lindores Abbey are just toty by comparison. So I daresay we approached the event with mixed feelings – because of course you have your pride and you don’t want to be utterly outclassed. And yet, you also want to be impressed because let’s face it, Scotch whisky is a huge attraction worldwide for tourists, and we’re all very proud of that and would like to know that every visitor, to any distillery, gets a great insight into how it’s done.

Entrance hall – early ‘unofficial’ equipment used by unofficial distillers!

It was fun to see an example of the original type of equipment which was used in the days before taxation was generally accepted. Illicit distillers could quickly dismantle and hide their equipment if they saw the Exciseman trudging up the glen on his pony. ‘Whisky? What whisky?’

Porteous mills – famous for never needing repaired or replaced

Porteous mills are massive, and were so good that the company went out of business because they lasted forever. This one handles 20 tons of barley at a time if I remember correctly; our little one at Lindores takes half a ton and we run it four times to get our two-ton mash. I remember on one of my earliest tours, a group of Diageo staff from Blair Atholl distillery in Pitlochry came on a visit and when they saw our still room they laughed and proclaimed ‘how cute!’ They meant small, of course. I remember sniffing inwardly and noting, ‘size isn’t everything.’ But Porteous mills will always be impressive.

There’s a full-scale model of Johnnie Walker’s distilling process which was displayed, working, in this famous exhibition

The model that was built for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition is still on show at Glenkinchie. It isn’t now working, although it could do if required; apparently back then they were able to load the barley in at one end, mill, mash, ferment and distil twice – so that at the end of a single day’s exhibition-strolling, it would deliver you a little dram of newmake spirit (not whisky as it hadn’t been casked and stored for three years). It must have been a wonder to behold – even now, just resting, it looks fantastic.

Enviable suite of tasting rooms – had us all gagging with jealousy

This is always the cheeriest part of a tour. We enjoyed three drams and a cocktail from the Glenkinchie range – the 12 year old, the Tattoo edition, and the Gold Reserve. The cocktail was made up of the 12 year old with raspberry lemonade – long, pink, cold and sparkly. Very pleasant. After the three drams you couldn’t easily taste the whisky and I thirstily knocked mine back. Then we toasted our fellow tourists – a group from Poland, doing great things right now for Ukrainian refugees. One of them gave us a remarkable rendition of a native American chant. Unexpected things often happen on distillery tours, it’s very bonding. We thanked our tour guide Willie for a most memorable and enjoyable experience; and went for lunch. Giancarlo’s in Tranent since you ask – also excellent.

In the bar, much later, we exchanged our thoughts on the big boys of the trade versus Little Us. There’s no getting away from it, Glenkinchie has a wonderful visitor centre, with all the weight and tradition of Diageo behind it. The tour was excellent, and greatly to be recommended. But we modestly concluded that our tour is also excellent in its own very special, personal way. It’s all good.

History of Childhood Exhibition I – Schooling in Dornoch

We’ve just come back from a family history searching weekend in Dornoch, where my mother’s father’s family lived and worked throughout the 19th century. The Dornoch Castle Hotel was very accommodating, and arranged for us to visit the History Links Museum, usually closed at this time of year. It’s great to see such a comprehensive and insightful approach to the preservation of local history; and having just read this article I am more intrigued than ever. Well done to Lynne Mahoney and her colleagues; we will definitely be back to further our researches.
I am fascinated to see that my grandfather, an apprentice gardener, would probably have received very part-time schooling until the age of 10, when the 1872 Education Act made school more accessible. This will help to explain how his older sister became an outdoor servant/herd at the age of 11!

historylinksdornoch

My name is Lynne Mahoney and I am the Curator at Historylinks Museum in Dornoch. The museum’s vision is ‘Keeping the Dornoch Story Alive’ and part of my job is to research and curate new exhibitions. Exhibitions at Historylinks are always a collaborative affair with input from the museum committee, volunteers and the local community.The ‘Childhood in Dornoch Parish’ exhibition was a real pleasure to work on, it fed into my love for the eighteenth century and for toys! Reading the memoirs of young people from Dornoch as far back as the 1700s was a privilege and I wondered if, when they were writing all those years ago, they ever imagined how their words might be used in the future.

Last year we made the difficult decision to close the children’s room at Historylinks due to Covid restrictions. The room was a space in which our younger visitors had…

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