Category Archives: Heritage


Brilliant outing yesterday to the newly -extended Carnegie Library and Galleries, Description: Hard Drive:Users:marthabryce:Desktop:Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 10.15.03.pngDunfermline. Award-winning architecture, opening up huge new vistas over the Abbey and Abbot’s House to the west, and the Forth bridges to the south. And a hugely engaging collection of artefacts representing many of the trades and townspeople of past and present. The actual library section is mercifully preserved pretty much as was. When Captain Wunderkind was a baby I used to push the pram up St Margaret’s Street and get lost in the aisles of books, shoogling the pram with one hand and balancing the books with the other, trying to devour a whole chapter before the WK woke up and wailed.

2017-05-23 11.36.10.jpgIn those days there was no tea or coffee to be had in the library – the very idea! Now however there’s a spanking new café with an outside terrace and leafy views through the treetops. The café contract was awarded to a (relatively) local food business, ‘Heaven Scent’ of Milnathort – a nice change from the corporate Costas that seem to take over. Not that I have anything against Costa – except for the global creep which makes it so hard for the local food story to survive. We arrived at lunchtime and I had a creamy, soothing pitcher of lentil soup with a nice crunchy salad with roasted vegetables, and a pair of seeded mini-rolls. The menu was a notch above predictable, with lots of familiar lunch-type options, livened up with little quirks. Pity that, at 12.30 in the day, they’d already run out of  cream of mushroom – but since they only opened last Thursday, I guess it takes a while to bed in. The queue never went down throughout our visit so clearly it’s going down well.

I’ve always been a big library fan, and fortunate always to have access to some good ones. Right now, I’m in the AK Bell library in Perth – on the spacious and silent upper floor, tapping away. Great study space, good book collection in my field (food and drink, mainly), friendly and helpful staff, and a nice, but slightly pricy, café.

My first library was in what had once been someone’s front room at the top end of the Main Street in Ochiltree – a few doors beyond the House with the Green Shutters. I finished the single shelf of children’s books in a matter of months, so my mother and the librarian conspired to find things from the adult shelves that they considered ‘suitable’. Of course they occasionally got it wrong! And thank goodness for that, as my sex education was badly in need of augmentation.

I won’t go on at length about all my libraries but have decided to do a scoresheet, with points out of 5 on the above features, for all you other booknerds out there:

Name and location of library, and the dates I used it Book collection

score 0-5

Study space

score 0-5

Staff helpfulness

score 0-5


score 0-5

Ochiltree, 1964-68 2 0 2 0
Carnegie library, Ayr, 1974 3.5 3 3 0
Glasgow University Library, 1974-77 5 (but all so BORING!) 3 1 0
Langside Library, Glasgow, 1977-86 3.5 1 2 0
Public library, Stonetown, Zanzibar, 2010 3 – but eccentric! 3 2 0
Carnegie Library, Dunfermline – opened 1883, closed for renovations 2015 4 4 4 0
Duloch Community Library, Dunfermline 4 2 4 2
Laing Library, Newburgh, Fife 4 but specialist – local and family history 1 4 0
AK Bell Library, Perth 4 4 4 3
 Carnegie Library and Galleries, Dunfermline – reopened 18th May 2017 4 4 4 4

So the top scorer is …. drum roll … Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries! Go as soon as you can, it’s a brilliant visit and does the townspeople proud.


Fresh and local

Yesterday was my first day without classes for a fortnight and I was definitely in 2017-03-24 10.27.02.jpgholiday 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 2017-03-24 14.44.12.jpgand spinach tarts and lamb souvlaki. Stella also made a batch of tzatziki to go with the kebabs.

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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.2017-03-24 14.58.20.jpg

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 …

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Berry tasty

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.

Made in Scotland …

from … guess what? Here it is in its early stages:


Not from girders, although it could be … here’s a clue … its main use is for one day of the year only, and that was yesterday. It used to be a standard, and much-loved, emblem of that day, but has lately been increasingly overshadowed by its American cousins. And it’s a pain in the you-know-what to create. That’s right – you’ve guessed it – here it is, complete:


So we had a bit of fun at work yesterday with our memories of turnip lanterns of yesteryear. There was a bit of badinage in the ether last week about the way pumpkins have taken over the lantern world so I thought it would be a good idea to do a turnip one; and the Troubadour kindly took up the challenge. Hence the power tools. One of the articles I read last week announced: ‘Survey reveals horror story of 1.1 million uneaten Hallowe’en pumpkins’, which is clearly a disaster in a hungry world. So I wondered about keeping the innards of the neep for a pot of soup. But … behold … t2016-10-29-14-03-07his is what the innards of a neep look like after they’ve been gouged out with a power drill. Spiralised? You got it. Maybe it’s a terrible waste, making lanterns out of perfectly good veggies for one night’s mucking about in the dark. But hey. Turnips aren’t expensive. Pumpkins maybe a little moreso. I’ll put a bit extra in the Food Bank this month to salve my conscience.

Tonight, however, it’s farewell Mr Tumshie-Heid because, frankly, he is mingin. Happy All Souls and Saints Days, everybody. I hope your lanterns and masks keep all the evil beasties at bay for another year.


Perth Fruit Festival

Went with the Troubadour to the above on Saturday morning and were entertained by the Singing Kiwis … very talented  (Kee)wee band with a song for every fruit you could think of … 2016-10-10-14-40-43

Our old buddies Cairn O’Mhor were there with their stall, and in honour of the season I purchased a bottle of their dryer cider. There was also a stall featuring ‘fruit leathers’, something I’d read about but never seen. A batch of samples was on offer, and the apple leather was red and, yes, leathery looking! Just like my shoes in fact. What you have to do is boil up the pulp and skins, spread the mush thinly on greaseproof paper, and dry it slowly (over a couple of days at 35 degrees C). Then you can cut it up into little squares, peel it off the backing paper, and chew it as a healthy snack. I must say it was delicious, sweet and surprise surprise, appley! And then to our delight we discovered it had been made by Alison of the Newburgh Orchard Group – she who grew my recent Pink Fir Apple potatoes. Small world.2016-10-08-12-42-07

Apple conservation is very much in the news. Radio 4’s Food Programme on Sunday explored the world of apple growing, and how apples make themselves at home wherever they grow in the world. The focus of that programme was English apples but at Perth we had a tableful of just some of the many varieties grown in Scotland. We were reminded that if we don’t enjoy, try, share the many varieties available, we’ll lose them because it won’t be worth growing them. How do you choose your apples? I have to confess I don’t look first at the variety but at the country of origin, the way it looks, and the price. But I’m going to be a bit more adventurous in future.

Moving on from apples – I also bought some pears and have made a Chocolate and Pear Cake this morning, to take to friends tonight. The original recipe came from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘Fruit’ book, but I amended it in various ways … will give further feedback in next post, no point going on about it if my experiments didn’t work! But I have high hopes. The cake is in honour of my friend who was buried this morning. Among her many other magnificent attributes, she was a cake lover …

The Winning Ticket

This was the scene at the river at 8am today. Calm, sunny, and above all, DRY. Alas this wasn’t the scene yesterday when the Coble Boat Race was scheduled.  The first race was due to start at 4P1020484pm and we rushed back from Perth to get there on time. The tide wasn’t in; the beer tent was open; there was this mad, break-your-ankle-for-sure tightrope thingie strung up from the trees and, believe it or not, apparently sane adults were whiling away the time jiggling back and forth  between the branches. I’m just jealous; I can hardly keep my balance walking along a straight road never mind on a tightrope, and it’s a lovely thing to see someone with a bit of poise – or at least, flamboyance – shimmying along.

Anyway I digress. The point is, it started to rain while we were waiting for the tide to come in. And the rain got harder. The more graceful – or flamboyant – of the tightrope walkers approached us with a huge box and asked if we’d like to buy a raffle ticket to boost the funds for the upkeep of the skateboarding park, a pound a strip. And the rain was getting harder. So we bought some raffle tickets and squelched a hasty retreat, promising to come back later to watch the race. But of course we didn’t.

The sun came out, we went out for a walk, and when we camP1020482e back there was this huge, familiar box sitting on the doorstep. We’d won the cake, and here it is: a perfect replica in fondant and ribbon of Newburgh’s skateboard park. How clever is that? Thank you Gloria. I don’t know you, but I believe you are the creator of this work of art, which is even now filling the bellies of the faithful. Good luck to the skateboarders, and here’s to perfect balance. Mind how you go …

Pa’amb Oli

Here we are in tP1020423he season of local tomatoes again. What a joy. A couple of years ago I had a lovely week in Majorca by the courtesy of good friends. We visited Robert Graves’ home in Deia – he lived there for a large part of his life and wrote most of his major works there (I Claudius for example – one of his best-known, and a great epic. You may remember the 1976 TV series, with the lead role played fabulously by Derek Jacobi. Makes current political scene seem positively benign).

Also while in Majorca I enjoyed the local version of breakfast (only I had it at lunProduct Detailschtime!) – Pa’amb oli – which means bread and oil, and is often also served with tomatoes.  When I got home I found a book written by one of Robert Graves’ sons, Tomas. As you can see, the subtitle is ‘A celebration of Majorcan culture’, and it’s a diverting read, with lots of stories and commentary on the differences, tensions and synergies between mainland Spanish culture, and that of Majorca.

I like to eat local but I also like to stretch my local traditions. The Scottish breakfast has lots of fans but I’m not really one of them. Too fatty for me nowadays; over-seasoned. So the easy morning toasting of a little bread, slicing of a delicious tomato or two, and glugging of fresh oil goes down beautifully with my mug of tea and eases me safely into the working day. In the interests of Scottish authenticity I will also try this with rapeseed oil, which has become a bit of a gourmet item here in recent years. But someone will need to write a vibrant celebration of emerging Scottish culture,  for Bread and Rapeseed Oil to have quite the same morning resonance as my Majorcan memory.


Edinburgh Food Heritage Trail

IMG_8127Lovely dry, bright afternoon in Edinburgh with my friend Joanne, finding out about the way Mrs Grant would have done her shopping in 1810. Edinburgh is a lovely city and surprisingly still very lively, even this late in the season; we had to skirt around lots of other acts to keep up with Mrs Grant – or otherwise, social historian Jackie Lee – and hear her tale.

Joanne spotted this event in the brochure of the National Library of Scotland – there’s an exhibition on now, until 8th November, entitled ‘Lifting the Lid: 400 years of food and drink in Scotland’. I haven’t seen it yet but will make sure I do, and report back. Our Food Heritage Trail accompanies the exhibition and took place up and down tHume Philosopher Foodiehe Royal Mile and Canongate. Our fictional Mrs Grant lived in the New Town, which was built to relieve the overcrowding, poor sanitation and general degeneration of the Old Town – but (some things never change) the planners forgot to allow for food markets in the New Town so she had to cross to the Old Town for her provisions. A massive statue of David Hume, the Enlightenment philosopher, occupies a commanding site near the old Fleshmarket – unusually for men at that time (less so now?) he was a keen cook, and would entertain his Enlightenment buddies with home-cooked broths, barley and mutton.

We learned lots of interesting things (e.g. in the 19th century they scoffed oysters with their glass of wine in much the same way as we would now down a packet of crisps); but one of the most surprising was that back in the early 19th century, there was a line of of tenements in the middle of the street opposite St Giles Cathedral  – pretty narrow – with the ground floor made up of stalls with wooden shutters which were locked up at night. These were called the Luckenbooth – meaning ‘locked stalls’. The stallholders simply put the shutters back up at night and then retired upstairs. Today, there was a fiddler on a tightrope strutting his stuff where the Luckenbooth would have stood. Wouldn’t like to have been in his shoes.

IMG_8129We visited the Fishmarket, the entrance to the Fleshmarket, Sugarhouse Close (now student accommodation), and a bakery place. Apparently Edinburgh was famous back then for the quality of its cakes. The architecture is very well preserved and very atmospheric; and we finished off in a peaceful little community garden sown near the Holyrood end, dating from the 17th century, planted up with fruits and herbs for the use of local residents.

‘Mrs Grant’ was a fund of information and I definitely recommend her toJackie Lee Artemisur – still a few opportunities before the season ends. This tour is part of the offering from Jackie Lee’s company Artemis – see the website for further info.  And go if you can. I thought I knew Edinburgh quite well, but hey – there’s always another angle to explore.


And here’s one I made earlier …

Short post today, trailer for a longer one as soon as the photos come back …

I had an STV film crew here this morning, doing a story about ‘Lost Recipes’. The actress Jayd Johnson (‘Field of Blood‘; River City) was discussing her granny’s rice pudding with chef and restaurateur Neil  Forbes. The rice pudding is a significant memory for Jayd,  but nobody knows exactly how it was made, and Jayd’s granny can’t remember. By a string of fortuitous and random events, I was the lucky home cook chosen to host this part of the shoot, and offer a few rice puddings of my own to help Jayd and Neil figure out how her granny worked her magic. So last night I made three rice puddings and today I made two … one of the baked ones came close to Jayd’s memory of her granny’s own, and she and Neil were kind enough to go YUM YUM  with lots of lip-smacking. That was the first time they had to taste. But the scene had to be re-shot a few times so it was a fine tribute to their acting skills that they stayed enthusiastic throughout. Jayd got a BAFTA for Field of Blood so I guess liking my rice pudding, several times over, was a doddle.

Off to supper with the stars … more later!


A Recipe for Whisky

This being Hogmanay, I had to bring you either whisky or coal. Whisky won. I have a great fondness for the stuff, and its infinite variety. The first novel I tried to write was set in the whisky industry and I set about the research very assiduously. The research was fun, the novel bit the dust. I don’t actually drink very much these days, but tonight, for the bells, I will certainly raise a glass. My taste is for Talisker, the Isle of Skye malt – partly for its peaty-seaspray tang, and partly in nostalgia for the cycling holiday my friend Grace and I undertook when we were but slips o’ lasses. Well, not literally, but we were 18 and full of life so you get the picture. We got the train to Mallaig with the bikes; ferry to Broadford; P1010734cycled up through Skye to Uig; ferry to Lochmaddy in North Uist; cycled down through North and South Uist to Lochboisdale; got storm-bound for an extra night; met a couple of local lads so the time passed quickly enough; got the ferry back to Oban the next day, and then the train home, all the way to Ayr. What an adventure. Don’t do it! ie don’t try and cycle through Skye unless you’re a whole lot fitter than we were. We spent a lot of time pushing the bikes uphill, through the wind and rain … ah, Scottish weather, you’ve got to love it. (Uist on the other hand was perfect for cycling softies – flat and smooth, and the weather was ‘chust sublime’ as Para Handy would say).

Recently I was invited to an event in the Scottish Parliament, launching the campaign ‘To Absent Friends’. The aim of the campaign is to make Scotland a place where we’re all better able to talk about death, remember our loved ones who have passed on, and be kind to ourselves and each other when we’re grieving. The poet Ron Butlin read out his poem, ‘A Recipe for Whisky’, which draws a peaty parallel between the rich and varied adventures of a standard life, and the mysterious layering of the flavours of the whisky as it matures in the cask. I don’t want to infringe copyright law so I’m just going to give a few lines, but I urge you to follow the link to his piece on the Scottish Poetry Library website, and read the whole 15 lines. And let me wish you comfort and joy for 2015.

Let's taste, let's savour and enjoy.
Let's share once more.
Another glass for absent friends. Pour
until the bottle's done.

Here's life! Here's courage to go on!