Category Archives: Food

Menu planning


Bananagrams is a daily routine for the Troubadour and me, usually after breakfast. If you like Scrabble, you’ll like Bananagrams even better, or at least you will if you prefer creating  good words to thrashing your opponents! Some of my friends (she knows who she is!) find the whole competitiveness thing utterly alluring. Getting a two-letter word onto a triple words score is all that matters even if you have no idea what that word means … not me, my friends, I’m rubbish at Scrabble.  But cast your eye on this picture – such fun!

Not enough Cs in the pack though – I wanted to add avocado, garlic, coriander and Mexican (we allow ourselves one proper name each per game! So adaptable). C’est la vie. I got round ‘rocket’ by going francaise. Pretentious? Moi? Will try and remember to take some photos of the finished dishes and post them on here. It’s dinner for twelve hungry potters so let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Here’s a cautionary tale however:

DSCN0504Before you promise chocolate pistachio fudge (an old Nigella recipe, very easy and good), check you have a shop where you can buy ready-shelled nuts. I didn’t. I searched around and eventually had to buy pistachios in shells. My recipe called for 150g nuts and each of my packs had 200g (I bought two as I had no idea how much weight would be lost in the shelling). But now I do. Let me tell you, dear friends, that 200g of pistachios in shells amounts to 103g shelled nuts, a vast pile of debris for your compost heap, and two shredded thumbs. I have half a pack left but can’t face them. The troubadour can have them with his beer as a reward for going out, uncomplaining, to the shed to fetch the ladder for my aerial view photographs!


Food that gives you a hug


Friends who don’t live here probably get sick of me saying what a great place Newburgh is to live. However – look at this picture – it’s only celebrity chef Tony Singh, making burgers at a WI meeting in our own church garden! And assisted by Rosie, our soon-to-be Cub leader and herself a chef lecturer. Tony had been invited by the Rural, and set up an unassuming stall with his lamb burgers, veggie kebabs, seared salmon and loads of lovely salads. I thought I might be hallucinating but no it was definitely him. Who else sports a turban and kilt with such panache? We had a great conversation about Sikh hospitality, food poverty, and personal identity. What a warm, friendly, down-to-earth guy.

I liked him so much that I bought his book and he signed it for me – ‘To Helen: Keep it tasty’ or words to that effect. I reckon I’m going to work my way through his recipes, a bit like Julie and Julia. Well not quite – Julie cooked a new recipe from Julia’s book every single day for over a year, and I couldn’t keep up the pace. But I feel a change of style would be good for me – I’ve been so at home for so long with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, especially the vegetarian recipes, that I’ve maybe grown a bit complacent. So now it’s time to spice it up!

As soon as ‘The Hidden Gardens of Newburgh’ is done and dusted, I’ll be getting close and personal with the aubergines, the coriander and the ‘Holy Trinity’ (his words) of ginger, garlic and chilli. Tony Singh’s view of food poverty is that all the government policies are too unconnected, and the people who write the policies don’t have enough personal experience of going hungry. And unfortunately he doesn’t have the answer – no nice wee projects that I could hitch a ride on. So I think I’m going to do some kind of ‘Feed the World Buffet’ – in the generous-hearted, lively and tasty Sikh way – and I’ll be looking for people to join in  the fun! Maybe end of August? Watch this space!


Dinner Lady

School dinners – they’re never far from the news, and not often for the right reasons. My mother was a dinner lady, and back in the day, as I remember it, we were fed the best of stuff. I remember mutton stew, cold roast ham salad, beef olives, Scotch Broth and other bone-building delights. I wasn’t so keen on the desserts, especially the jugs of pink custard; or that horribly oversweet fudgy tart thing they used to bring out. I’m in a minority there – whenever I find myself in school-dinner-reminiscence company, that tart gets rave reviews. Can’t expect to like everything. (Although check here for an entirely different appreciation of the Pink Stuff!)


Nowadays though, it’s a different story. There’s been another wave of publicity around school meals. Some local authorities are pledging to make improvements to their verging-on-pathetic offerings, and doing something about the school-gate chip van. I know I’m old-fashioned in my sneery attitude to chips and pot noodles. The Wunderkind used to despair, oh fifteen years ago now, at this intractability, and the emotional blackmail regarding being one-of-the-crowd was a challenge to resist. But usually, I managed. Was he damaged for life? Surely not!


(Bronze pie and bridie by Tony Morrow)

A few years ago, a nine-year old child in Argyll blogged about her school meals to brilliant effect. The local authority was furious and tried to block her site but the publicity generated brought (grudging, perhaps) improvements in its wake. All she did was take a photo every day of what was on offer; and it wasn’t inspiring.

One particular angle on this caught my eye recently. Edinburgh City Council are introducing ‘meat-free Mondays’ in their schools; and it seems this is not only about health claims but around concerns re livestock welfare. Quality Meat Scotland has challenged this, calling for a better informed understanding of the realities of red meat production in this country. It seems the Council has put their reasoning in a press statement; but when I google ‘Edinburgh City Council press releases’, I find the message, ‘Sorry, there are currently no press releases.’ Really? I double-check, and try the archives – still no press releases. Amazing.

See the source image

Anyway, I think Quality Meat Scotland has a real-life challenge to respond to here. They need to get better at communicating their animal welfare credentials; we all need good information to lend to this debate. And in my view, they should be helping butchers to engage more proactively with the healthy eating debate. How about selling stew and soup packs with all you need inside – meat, veg, barley or beans, parsley, chillis or whatever else, packaged up with a recipe – so that customers can reach beyond the inevitable burgers and pies? If children ate better at home – if we all had higher standards – surely in due course education authorities put more money into the pot for school meals.

But please – no pink custard.





First shift

Just done my first stint as a tour guide at Lindores Abbey Distillery. It was brought forward because my colleague, John, cracked a hip immediately after delivering some training to me on Thursday afternoon. (I definitely did not push him!). Otherwise I’d have been starting next Saturday. There were to be six people on the tour today, but it was a busy morning and we ended up with seventeen.


There’s quite a lot to remember – significant points in the history, details of the barley, water and yeast, the equipment, the timescales, the temperatures, the ABV, what the codes on the barrels mean, where the toilets are … on the whole I think I did OK as a first-timer, but I’m looking forward to having a more fluent grasp of the story.

Above is a picture you won’t see very often – it’s the very first cask of new-make spirit, which was filled at the end of last year. Distilling started just before Christmas so there are just a few casks marked 2017, and as you can see, this is Cask 01, with the signatures of the Distillery Manager Gary, the owners Drew and Helen, and one or two others I haven’t identified yet.

The timing of this is both good and bad for me. Good, because my studies are about to end and I need some gainful employment; bad because I’m still writing up my dissertation and could have done with just another week or two of no extra duties. However it’s only a few tours before the magic dissertation hand-in date so I’ll manage. It’s been most timely that my research project is also about distilling – learning for each has reinforced learning for the other. Distillation is such a rich, fascinating field of enquiry however, that the more I learn, the more ignorant I feel! i.e. the more I know that I don’t know … Maybe that’s a good thing and it certainly keeps me on my toes. Here’s a picture of our low wines in the sensory lab at Abertay – after testing these five, we chose the best and gave it a second distillation and another testing. STV came and filmed us on the job last Tuesday; it’s been a week of brass-necking it.

FSCN0356.JPG That’s all for now; back to the chapter on ‘potential for commercialisation’. Only another week and a half and phew, phew, phew, it’ll all be over. And I’ll have time to learn more thoroughly the history, culture and provenance of my new place of work. And John, here’s wishing you a quick recovery!

Food Expo, Birmingham 2018

Just back from the above, in the company of my good friend Stella of Hatters’ Catering. It was really inspirational and  the networking was great. However for small businesses travelling down from Scotland, staying over etc – I guess exhibiting is quite costly in both time and money; is it worth it? Would I recommend it?


The Expo takes in five shows, incorporating all aspects of the trade through manufacture to retail. Our main interest was in the Farm Shop and Deli Show, but we had a quick look through everything else on our way there. One of the early exhibits was this delightful camper van, and we just couldn’t walk past it without having a closer look. TME sells thermometers – not glamorous but of course temperature is everything in food production, and this family-run company has invented a simple, modular system which can be used by all sizes of operation, and seemed to us to be very good value, even at entry level. If we were to open a deli, this is what we’d choose, and at only about £115 for a starter kit, giving us peace of mind re fridge and freezer monitoring and control, we reckon we’d be well pleased. However – the main point I’m making here is that they have managed to create a really inviting display from the most mundane of subject matter. The little fridge inside the van is connected up to their system so we could have a full demo; and we just had to pose a bit because how often do you get a photo opportunity like that?!

The next batch of photos are really about showcasing a product and making it attractive enough to stand out in the crowd.

DSCN0318.JPGDSCN0317.JPGThis stand was absolutely beautiful. They were selling natural food colourings – not such an exciting product – but they had such lovely vibrant displays of colour; and such delicious-looking ice cream with sprinkles and sauces, that we were tempted to stop and have a closer look, and sample their wares. I’m sorry to say however that I can’t find their card so can’t give you their name or contact details. Note to self: engaging your customers is great but don’t forget the basics!

Next was The Chilli Doctor: DSCN0319.JPGwe have good chilli-based companies near home and I wouldn’t really be interested in looking at some other supplier. What made me pause was the great big map at the back of their stall, showing where in the world all their chillis came from – a great visual, bringing the romance of travel to the product. Also they were offering dishes of boiled sweets flavoured with chilli, which was an intriguing prospect; and made you pause while you chewed, giving them time to draw you into their story. The sweets were deliciously hot, another conversation-opener.

A stall headDSCN0320.JPGed ‘Monte das Louzeiras’ was never going to attract our attention but they had a beautifully-packaged product, simply displayed and we had to stop for a closer look. This is a range of oils, vinegars, wines, herbs and honeys  from Portugal. The oil bottles pictured here had a blue, white and gold covering inspired by Portuguese tiles, reminiscent of the vast railway station in Oporto. Maybe not a covering; maybe the whole bottle was white. It would have been good to buy one and find out, but most of these goods weren’t on sale.DSCN0323.JPG

Jakes and Nayns is a company creating stuffed Naan-bread things which are a cross between a sandwich and a pie. They were giving out nice substantial slices of these, which were truly delicious; so again, the built-in pause involved in eating the sample gave the stall-holders the chance to tell you about their product. What was interesting about this, apart from the delicious flavours, was the recyclable packaging and the good shelf life on the pies. ‘Taste the world in your hands’ was their strapline, and the pie-sandwiches are already in the supermarkets and selling well.

DSCN0326.JPGBy this time we were thirsty, so the next stall was well placed to assist us. There was no shortage of beer, wine and spirits among the exhibitions, but the familiarity of the Peaky Blinders name stopped us in our tracks and again, the stallholders were generous in their sample offerings. We wondered how they had managed to get the use of the name of the famous TV series; and it seems that the first episode of the first series was shot in this company’s brewery. By the end of the first day’s filming it was apparent that this show was destined to be a huge hit, so the CEO got straight onto the internet and got the rights to the name for his products.


This next photo is of a stand called ‘Dragon’, and features cheeses made from all over Wales. They’ve used various Welsh icons like the daffodils and the slate on which to display the cheeses; and they also had lots of conveniently-packaged information and little samples of the product. The stallholder was very knowledgeable about the different types of cheese and the stall was pleasant and attractive.

Then, needing a little rest, we found some tables and benches and plonked ourselves DSCN0330down – only to have waiters bringing out platters of deliciously-thin crackers, and moistly cool cheeses. The great Patricia Michelson arrived on a podium in front of us and was introduced to great applause: we’d happened by chance on a talk about how to store and display local cheeses in your deli, if only you had one. Her story is good; how she started her business when skiing in France, fell in love with the local cheese, and brought home a vast wheel of Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, which she sold from her garden shed. Her talk was all about how to display cheese for good sales effect, and she had a series of photos of cheese stalls taken mainly from England with some further afield.  This included Iain Mellis’s in Edinburgh, which was nice to see. She spoke with great warmth, enthusiasm and modesty, and 45 minutes passed in the crunch of a cracker. My photos didn’t come out very well but here are the gorgeous artisan loaves which formed the backdrop of the ‘talks’ area.


The next talk was about English wine. Still seated in the same place, the napkins were whisked away and we were given large fold-out maps of the English wine regions, along with blank tasting-note pages. This was a two-handed talk by Julia Trustram Eve of Wines of Great Britain Ltd, and Neil Phillips, ‘The Wine Tipster’. We were treated to four successive English wines, and talked through the tasting of each, in a hugely informative, collaborative style. By the end of this presentation, you really felt you had learned something, as well as tasting some beautiful wines. For example – they pointed out from their map that there is a swathe of vineyards curving along the south coast of England; these chalky geological conditions apparently disappear under the English Channel and come out again in the Champagne region. Climate change plus the developing expertise of English winemakers has enabled them to produce delicious wines which stand alone without the need for comparison with French or other wines. Both these presenters were great communicators and together they gave a wonderfully engaging slant on the greatness of English wines, and why we should buy and drink more of them. I was definitely convinced.

After all this we felt it was time to find Scotland. But where was she? As it turned out, all the Scottish stalls were clustered together around aisle G. I know we missed quite a few, and it was now 4pm. The generosity of the samples being offered seemed looser and bigger, and we spent our last hour in a delightful slew of new and recently established distillery products. So we had Boe’s gins, including a delightful violet one; Lindores Abbey Distillery’s Aqua Vita, about which I have previously waxed lyrical, and here made into a long drink with ginger beer and a slice of lime; the wonderful Cairn O’Mhor’s fruit wines, yum yum; Strathearn Distillery‘s wonderful gin, rum and whisky; and perhaps the  most recent kid on the block, Never25 and their three lovely eaux de vie, in strawberry, apple and raspberry. The show finished at 5pm and we seemed to be the last to leave at around 5.45. It was a great day.

Now this has been a long post and I don’t want to outstay my welcome. But for those contemplating taking a stall, I’d say – take as much space as you can afford and use it well, with a really dramatic central theme/prop. Give plenty good quality information, and generous samples to keep people slurping and chewing. Have really engaging, welcoming staff. And give lots of story, regionality, provenance and good humour.

The English Wine presentation showed the great benefit of an overall body which can showcase a range of products to best possible effect, generating positive responses to the whole range and encouraging people to take a punt. Maybe Scotland Food and Drink will be able to come up with a strongly supportive platform to help our great produce take its place at a bigger table.

How to make an omelette

A couple of weeks ago I was in Luvian’s wonderful Bottle Shop and deli in Cupar, browsing the serried ranks of gin and whisky bottles. I could have bought a £200 bottle of rare Finnish vodka, in a bottle the size of a fish tank. But instead I chose a couple of bags of pasta and some oatcakes … anyway as I was counting out my pennies I spied a postcard on the counter advertising an event at something called ‘The Auchtermuchty Food Museum‘. Auchtermuchty is about five miles from home and I was astonished to find an apparent foodbookophile right on my doorstep. I know I’m not alone in having spent far too much time and money collecting food books in my life; but a whole museum dedicated to the art? Entranced, I planned to visit immediately.Image result for the proclaimers Auchtermuchty

(Here’s an image of Auchtermuchty you might not have expected – it’s where the Proclaimers – Sunshine on Leith, Five Hundred Miles etc – grew up.)

It so happened that an event was planned, in Ladybank Station’s ‘Off the Rails‘ artspace, where the Troubadour has performed with the Jook Band on occasion. So I bought a £5 ticket for ‘How to Make an Omelette’, and went along yesterday.

You have to understand that Off the Rails is bijou. Nevertheless some amazing artistic things have taken place there, and yesterday was no exception. I was met by Chris Duffy, the cookbookophile, who invited me to have a quick browse while he called the rest of the guests downstairs. All around the room were glass cases with themed collections of food books and memorabilia; paintings and other objets d’art gracing the walls. Pride of place was given to a collection of Japanese scrolls and books with instructions for sushi-making; around the edge were other cases devoted to Turkish food; Elizabeth David and Davidiana; food used in propaganda (including a chilling account of Nazi food provision in Dachau); convenience food; and Russian instructions to all citizens on how to keep the family and the nation well fed.  Chris opened the event by playing us an ancient recording (via his mobile phone) of a classic food writer from the past giving very specific instructions on how to make an omelette. I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten the name of the eggspert, sorry again. Then we were invited to ‘follow the pinnies’ upstairs, past a delightful kitschy display of these generally underrated couture items).

On the upper floor we found a table set out with a portable hot plate; three eggs; salt and pepper; a fork; a bowl; and a small cast-iron omelette pan. Now the B side of the eggspert’s instructions was streamed through the phone, and we were treated to a demonstration of our host in real time, attempting to obey the instructions and make said omelette. Chris Duffy Auchtermuchty


I have occasionally done cooking demonstrations, and my aim is always to produce something which looks and tastes half-okay while I try not to descend into a jibbering sweaty wreck. It’s pretty stressful, with all those eyes on you. Now I know how to overcome this problem; I’ll do what Chris did and set out to show how rubbish the recipe is! Here he is, having followed instructions to the letter, exhibiting his blackened globules of goo. With great attention to evidence-based practice, he assured us that every time he tries, this always happens! Presumably the alarm was switched off for the occasion because the smoke was black and abundant.

I wish I could go back and take more time to browse, but time rushes on. However I’m hoping I’ll be able to entice Chris to join me in some other, possibly less bizarre, event over the coming months. It was so exciting, meeting someone else who could tell his whole life in cookbooks. I feel the need to set up a cookbookophiles’ support group. We can all sit around and express our inner table of contents over a nice cup of tea. Dress code: Kitschy pinnies.






Too much happening and I’ve been losing myself in the hectic enjoyment of it, rather than writing it down and sharing. Apologies to all. Here’s a picture log to give some of its essence:DSCN0200.JPG 

My mini Whisky Dundees – I invented these because I love making (and eating) Dundee cake, but nobody else seems to embrace them in the same unbridled manner – so either I put on weight or the cake goes stale. Neither of these is a good result. The minis were a great success – three at a time not unheard of!

This is our lovely new distillery (every village should have one) – Lindores Abbey. We did the formal tour with friends, bought a bottle of the brand-new Aqua Vitae (first bottling, £40 – others who have bought this have saved it because they think it’ll be valuable some day. I’m drinking it because it’s valuable right now!) DSCN0209

My pie- or meh peh as the Dundonians amongst us would say. This one is from ‘The Plagiarist in the Kitchen’ by Jonathan Meades, a book which somehow I picked up in a charity shop last yeDSCN0222ar, even though it hadn’t long been released. Not good news for the author I suppose, but good news for me. It has had excellent reviews but I would be a bit more qualified in my comments. I think it may be written for people who are a bit more hip, arch, sophisticated than I am. He starts off disdainful of recipes and is very short in his instructions, which I quite like – then towards the end of the book reverts to unnecessary detail. This pie is made with a yoghurt and butter crust, which makes beautifully maneouvreable and tasty pastry. I added spinDSCN0228ach and spring onions to the filling – it’s of Russian origin and was meant to be just cheese – three different types. Anyway it was well received.

Briefly – the view from our bedroom window for a few days at the beginning of March. Being snowed into the village was quite good in terms of Canasta, impromptu music sessions in the pub, and loads of big pots of soup. But of course it was good to get back out again eventually.

Here’s an exciting bit – our Masters research project. We’ve been put in pairs and my colleague Chrysa, tDSCN0239he scientific one, has been creating an amazing new brew. It’s my job to ‘analyse the commercial potential’ so I’ve had a great time visiting craft distillers and talking about all these wonderful gins, vodkas, and other distilled spirits coming out of Scotland at this time. More on this later – it’s keeping me very preoccupied at present as the dissertation is due in on 16th May. Below are some of the raw ingredients, with grateful thanks to Fisher and Donaldson’s of Cupar. As I say, more later.


Time for a short trip to Pitlochry soon after the snow melted. Six women on a mission … definitely to be repeated. We played loads of cards, went to the Festival Theatre three nights running, and had a lovely walk up the Falls of Bruar (well, actually, some preferred to visit the massive House of Bruar retail experience. Not me.) This picture, of a gable end in tDSCN0271he House of Bruar ‘campus’, makes me sigh a little. Great produce in Scotland but we have to have chips with everything.

Okay I’m running out of steam and there’s lots more to tell but that’ll do for now. Will try for another update soon. Meantime happy springtime to you all and wish me well in getting on with the dissertation!




Surprise Rise!

Tralaaaah! I shouldn’t have been so impatient (‘twaDSCN0198.JPGs always thus). It’s less risen than the bread I usually make, using dried instant yeast, and the crust is thinner. The crumb is moister. The flavour is intriguing – a slightly sour tang to it, behind a savoury freshness. I imagine that as I practice, it might get better still; but even if it stays the same it’ll definitely be worth making regularly. So the starter has been replenished and next weekend I’ll be at it again. Very pleased with this result. Thank you again, Jim.

Slow Dough

LAn Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Graceast year at a little independent bookshop in Cupar, I picked up an intriguing paperback which was far too expensive for the quality of the paper it was printed on, but which nevertheless called out my name. Tamar Adler’s book, ‘An Everlasting Meal: cooking with economy and grace’ has a foreword by Alice Waters, who set up the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in California. I say ‘famous’ meaning, ‘even here across the oceans; even when there is no international chain of Chez Panisse restaurants; and even with completely different food traditions.’ And personally, even though I’ve never been to California and more than likely never will (but one can dream). Waters says Adler is not just teaching people how to cook, ‘but how to love to cook’.

Tamar Adler apparently drifted into Chez Panisse one day and stayed for many years. Her book title completely reflects what she offers – a beautiful, kind, committed lesson on how to make nice food every day and be kind to your pocket as well as the planet. Just what I want. So I’ve read and re-read her book, and learned loads. Most valuable of all is her rejection of the ‘tyranny’ of the idea that veg must always be cooked to order and served hot. Under her guidance, I now cook most of my veg when I buy it, at the weekend, and store it in the fridge. It’s then so quick and easy to put something nice and tasty and healthy on the table at tea-time, when I’m hungry but can’t be bothered peeling and chopping.

However she acknowledges that sometimes other people do things better than she can. Here’s what she has to say about bread making: ‘If you’re going to choose a food not to make at home, choosing bread represents a judicious division of labour. Bakers are devout and singular people, with firm beliefs in the secret lives of the yeast starters they tend. Their ovens are hot, and they can smell when bread is nearly done, then done. I am not devout and singular enough … ‘

Well  I think that probably also applies to me; but every so often I take a notion to bake bread. And this year I’d been wondering about sourdough, as our research project at Uni involved fermentation of waste bakery products. So I bought another expensive book, this time by Sandor Katz, on the art of fermentation. And what does he tell me? ‘You can’t learn about fermentation by reading a book’… He reckons you need to get your hands dirty.

oatcakes and baguetteMeantime I had the joy of an invitation to meet with Eric Milne, the owner and director of the marvellous Fisher and Donaldson’s bakery in Cupar. Fisher and Donaldson’s is one of those oralgasm sort of bakeries, you know the sort. Five generations in the same family and causing mayhem in the female population ever since. The (secondary) purpose of my visit was to discuss bakery waste for my aforementioned research project, and it was great to see round the factory and marvel at the dinkiness of the wee round Highlander shortbreads, no bigger than a 10p piece; and the modest symmetry of the pie shells, all queueing up shyly for their share of the juicy fillings. As I was leaving, Eric gave me a bag of broken oatcakes and a sourdough baguette, to take to Uni for our discussions. I will tell you more about the research project in future posts – it will probably be taking over my life to a large extent, any time now. However I’m just explaining to you the way that sourdough has begun to ooze its way into my life, more or less unbidden.

So – yesterday morning I was gifted a tub of sourdough starter, neatly labelled ‘Jimbo: Oct 2014 to Feb 2018’. I think the giver of Jimbo probably meets Tamar Adler’s description of ‘singular and devout’. He is a craftsman in wood, and last week gave us a lovely housewarming gift – a beautiful door wedge, which is far too tactile to be allowed to lie on the floor holding a door open. He told me I had to leave Jimbo out all day, to start the breadmaking process at night. And this is what I’ve been doing.DSCN0192.JPG The picture shows it after its first slow rise, with a nice puddle of rapeseed oil and a dose of nuts and seeds ready to be stirred in. The Troubadour bought some strong flour for me at the Co-Op, and I think this may be a bit of a come-down for Jimbo who is used to the finest organic flours from the Pillars of Hercules. But I wasn’t going anywhere near Falkland and as usual was in too much of a hurry (Tamar Adler would say my bread is doomed).

So … the dough is now sitting in bread tins for its final rise but I have a little problem regarding the timing of the baking. In DSCN0193other words, I’m going out at just the time the bread should be going in the oven. So I’m going back downstairs now to have a poke at it and decide how to handle this crust crisis. I will report back faithfully and am ready to eat humble pie as there is a fair risk that poor old Jimbo’s first outing is going to end in disappointment!


A Jarful of Sunshine

Woohoo! that’s the first Seville marmalade of the season made! For a few hours last night the whole house smelt of oranges, a happy scent that makes me feel like summer – even though the orange harvest takes place in winter. It makes me want to visit Seville, but I don’t know when would be best – blossom time or fruit time? How to choose? I once had a lovely new years’ holiday in Majorca and we took the little wooden railway over the mountain from Palma to Soller. Along the route were orchard-loads of orange trees, allImage result for soller train drooping like they were festooned with Chinese lanterns. You could have reached out and plucked them. The scene was so soporific that perversely, I was inspired to think up a plot for a murder novel, with a body being heaved off the rattling guards-van in the middle of a tunnel. I scribbled away at it for a while but plotting has never been my strength, and the energy fizzled out like flat tonic in gin. I should have stuck with a short story. Maybe I’ll revisit it now that I’ve reinspired myself with my marmalade.

DSCN0170.JPGApparently of course, Soller oranges are not the same as Sevilles, and their marmalade is a sweeter cousin. Sevilles are bitter, and so is my marmalade, in a thoroughly enticing and nuanced way. I used Shirley Spear’s method, from her ‘Marmalade Bible‘ – one of a series of pocket-sized books on various aspects of Scottish cooking, published by Birlinn and illustrated handsomely by cartoonist Bob Dewar.

I deviated a little from the recipe – she suggests adding a couple of lemons to your kilo of Sevilles, but I didn’t have any, so pressed on regardless.DSCN0165.JPG I halved the amount of sugar – DSCN0167.JPGpartly because I didn’t have enough white sugar and thought brown might discolour or cloud the finished result; and partly because, well as we all know, sugar – teeth – obesity. I can’t do it. Even so, it was a kilo of sugar to the kilo of fruit so it’s hardly a low-sugar option. To counteract this I didn’t top up the juice after boiling, so that the volume was lower. However I still used all the peel, thinly sliced by hand. So the result is three large jars of marmalade, bitter as it should be, packed with softly chewy slivers of peel. We love it.

A word about the book’s author. Shirley Spear is my idea of a really helpful food writer – traditional and to the point but clear in her instructions. Unlike some Scottish food writers, she doesn’t rhapsodise endlessly about pheasant and scallops when most Scots never see these things – although she does give the luxury end of things a good airing from time to time, and is well placed to do so. She reminds us of simple pleasures and traditions which are at risk of dying out. Recently for example she wrote about liver, and posed the question, ‘when did we all get so squeamish about offal?’  I was saddened the other week to read her swansong in the Sunday Herald; although I applaud her life choice. Her career has no doubt been exciting and rewardinDSCN0171g, but you can have enough of a good thing and grandweans are to be treasured. Shirley Spear, I salute you and wish you well; but I’m missing you already!

Bob Dewar‘s cartoons are clear and informative and a little quirky. They complement the recipes beautifully and turn these wee Birlinn books into a total pleasure. Most of us have more recipes than we will ever need; it’s good that some of the space is given up to really clever, neat and apposite illustrations. More lavish cookbooks have endless gorgeous photos of course, and I do like them too, up to a point. But these wee books  are somehow a bit special. I also have the ones on Berries (Sue Lawrence) and Arbroath Smokies (Iain Spink), and I’m sure I’ll accumulate more as I come across them. They’re practical and also pretty; what more do you want for a fiver?