Wonderful weekend in Aberfeldy – so wonderful it has taken me three days to write it up! Just an hour and a quarter’s drive away but it felt like continental Europe, what with the sunshine, the quirky shops, the local beer, the farmers’ market, the arthouse cinema, the ukulele band, and oh! the Birks of Aberfeldy! A wild, dramatic gorge with tumbling streams and crashing waterfalls, acres of wild garlic scenting the birches, and even a statue of Rabbie Burns sitting obligingly on a bench, waiting for Five Women on an Adventure to pose beside him. Good soup and sandwich lunches including a creamy Cullen Skink and some pinky-fresh crayfish tails … and an impressive array of gins back in our swanky lodgings to keep us merry while preparing dinner. Oh yes it was a very good weekend.
By luck we were in town for the first Sunday of the month which is when the farmers’ market arrives. Delicious produce as always but one stall intrigued me more than most – the one giving away free cotton bags to encourage us shoppers to remember to take a bag with us when we go shopping. ‘Never use a single-use bag again,’ was the smiling challenge from Fiona, who works for Zero Waste Scotland at Perth and Kinross. Now I hate waste but frequently forget the bag, so was very happy to air the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ logo. I had a conversation with Fiona which was really quite inspiring, and gave me some fresh ideas for a new project I have in mind. More of that after the exams!
Completing my joy of the weekend was a great bookshop at the Millhouse – cosy café downstairs, and the Troubadour informs me he once played a gig upstairs there, a couple of decades ago. After my cuppa I browsed the bookshop and found these two gems – tiny troves of wisdom, and I’ve read them both cover to cover since coming home. Will be extending my marmalade and oatmeal repertoires over the next week or two.
Next time you’re in Aberfeldy, I recommend the Habitat café, the Millhouse as above, the cinema coffee shop, numerous quirky gift shops, and the Ailean Chraggan hotel/restaurant at Weem, a hamlet just a mile out of town with good local beer, a wonderfully helpful waitress, a fresh chef, a nice open terrace and the above-mentioned delightful Cullen Skink.
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.