Yesterday was my first day without classes for a fortnight and I was definitely in holiday mood. The Troubadour and I started the day with a trip to Ingin Brae – translates as Onion Hill! but I don’t want to go all Parliamo Glasgow on you – to collect some wild garlic which is just coming alive. Great pungent aroma in the car on the way home. Then I attended a workshop organised by Local Food Works, at the beautiful Falkland Estate, and led by Stella Colleluori, a local chef, caterer and food event sytlist. The workshop, ‘Spring Larder’, was about using whatever’s fresh in the immediate area right now; and we proceeded to make cheese and spinach tarts and lamb souvlaki. Stella also made a batch of tzatziki to go with the kebabs.
Local Food Works is a Climate Challenge funded programme, and they run monthly workshops on the use of local products, as well as a food market and community meals. Their aim is to support the growth of local food producers and also to reduce our carbon footprint by making good food more locally available. Certainly we’re blessed with some great artisan food producers in Fife, and for our tarts we had locally milled flour, local butter, milk, cheese and cream, local spinach and garlic … and even local smoked sea salt. There’s a lot of inventiveness going on and as you can imagine it was a pleasure to work with these lovely ingredients.
For the souvlaki we had lamb from Minick’s, a local butcher, lean and tasty. We threaded up the skewers with red and yellow beetroot slices, and leaves of onion; all marinated in Scottish rapeseed oil and cider vinegar, with thyme, rosemary, and a little mint that had just poked its head through the soil that morning. The beetroot, Stella confessed, was an experiment in the interests of keeping the whole dish local. She hadn’t tried them on skewers before. I got the job of slicing them and although I kept them as thin as I could, I’d say they would have been better at least parboiled first. But hey, you have to try these things! The colours were beautiful so that’s half the battle. Stella was an inspiring and encouraging presenter and we were left with a great feeling for buying and cooking local – and not bothering too much about the calories!
On the topic of artisan food, I was delighted to hear via Twitter last night that Errington cheese is back on the market. I’ve been trying to check out the full story and it looks as if the legal challenge isn’t yet over; but all power to Humphrey Errington’s elbow for the fight he has had on his hands, and for sticking with it.
Finally, leaving you with a view of some of the spectators at Ingin Brae yesterday morning …
Had a good outing yesterday to the Cupar Farmers’ Market. Weather dry and brightish, just fine for mooching around the stalls. Maybe not quite fine if you were actually on duty behind the counter, I bet they all had multiple layers of thermal underwear and woolly socks. I met some of the producers I’ve been reading about recently – like this producer of chilli jellies, who started off his business in the family kitchen in Abernethy – our next village – and is now turning out loads of different flavours. Who would have thought there was a whole business to be created from chilli jelly?
Then there was the Real Hot Chocolate Company, giving out free samples which just go down a treat in a dry, brightish March. I bought a couple of packets, one in vanilla and the other with smoked chilli. Bit of a chilli theme developing here. I do think free samples are a great sales aid. Surely nobody could walk away without buying something after such a tasty wee mouthful?
The longest queue, as always, was at Spinks’ smokie stall. Spinks are one of the main purveyors of Arbroath smokies, and at he farmers’ markets they always smoke the pairs of haddock in the middle of the road, so you can see and smell them from miles around, and it’s very enticing indeed. I bought myself a wee smokie, and also a piece of smoked mackerel which I had for my supper last night. The texture of a freshly smoked mackerel is so buttery and firm, the flavour so sharp and mellow at the same time. I think this might be my Death Row Dish, should I ever be unlucky enough to need such a thing. The concentration needed to lick your fingers free of all that lovely oily fishiness would keep your mind firmly off the ordeal to come. More chillis with a mother-and-daughter business, selling all things chilli – I bought chocolate this time. And then a fantastic bready spread from this baker who had brought his wares all the way from the other side of Callander.
And finally, a great range of infused rapeseed oils from a farm just south of Edinburgh. I’ve written about rapeseed oil before. It’s really getting the artisan treatment these days, and is said to be just as nutritious as olive oil. My young Italian colleagues at Uni scoff politely at the idea of rapeseed oil substituting for the mighty olive; but one of these days I’m going to organise a little blind tasting and see how we come off. Furthermore, Supernature does tours at the farm where you can go and see how they press the seeds etc; so that’s a treat for after the exams. If anyone would like to accompany me I’d be pleased to organise a wee tour.
When I was at High School we put on a show one year – ‘Christmas Strawberries’. I can’t actually remember anything at all about it … which doesn’t say much for the excellence of the production – except that I couldn’t understand the title. Strawberries only grow in the summer (a challenge in Scotland, as according to Billy Connolly, we only have two seasons – June and Winter!)
There’s a great berry tradition here in Tayside – raspberries, most famously, but other berries too – and a rich tradition of whole families decamping to the Carse of Gowrie for a week in the summer, to work on the berry fields and earn a bit, have some fun, get some sun and meet up with old friends. Nowadays however, the bulk of the picking is done by Eastern European citizens on short-term contracts – hard, messy work which keeps so many of our industries going.
The current BREXIT discussions have made things very uncertain for these fellow citizens however. The politicians haven’t done anything to reassure them they can stay, now or in the future, even though many of them have been here for years. For farming, this is a huge worry, and many farmers are forecasting that they will be unable to recruit enough workers if this situation is not resolved. It has been said that our very berry tradition may be at risk.
So I was very happy to read in the Courier the other day of an Angus-based farmer who has developed a strain of strawberry with a growing season extended by three whole months. Abbey Fruits in Arbroath uses a biomass heating system with a wood-fired oven to warm the water and air in their polytunnels. This will give Scottish berries a better chance of competing with those from further afield. Apparently the first crop has already been harvested (and the weather outside tonight is very chilly, definitely not strawberry-season weather) and sold to Waitrose.
We don’t have a Waitrose anywhere near here but I wanted a photo of strawberries to illustrate this post, and went to Lidl at lunchtime. Their strawberries were from Spain – and I know Spain has had a weather-related poor harvest this year – £1.69 for 400g, pretty reasonable. They tasted better than I expected. Unfortunately my camera battery ran out at the crucial moment and I have now scoffed the strawberries! So no photo …
Crossing fingers that in our ongoing political turbulence, there’s room for someone to make a sensible gesture and confirm that our European workforce can stay among us.