Tag Archives: Shirley Spear

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?

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First, catch your lobster …

Shirley Spear wrote a great piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald about Scotland’s National2014-12-26 14.55.41.jpg Dish – the mighty fish supper. Spear makes a great case for the provenance and general superiority of this most popular of cairry-oots, despite its frequent greasy tastelessness. Her alternative is a bit posh for most of us but sounds delicious – and I applaud her for giving explicit instructions on how to cook, i.e. kill, the beast. Not for the faint-hearted.

Meantime my friend Marian and I have been down to North Berwick to visit Scotland’s first and only lobster hatchery. It seems that most lobster fisheries are all but fished-out, with newly-hatched lobsters having a 1 in 20,000 chance of surviving to adulthood. In their microscopic state, they are simply hoovered up as fish food; and as they grow, they are aggressively cannibalistic, and eat each other. So Jane McMinn and her fishing colleagues developed the idea of a nursery where lobster eggs (or ‘berries’) would be hatched out and kept in relatively safe conditions, protected from predators including 2017-05-16 14.12.59.jpgeach other, till they were big enough to be re-released into the sea – usually at about 12 weeks old. The signs are positive that this will make a huge impact on the sustainability of the lobster population in the Firth of Forth; although it will be many years before this can be fully established. Meantime the hatchery is largely dependent on charity to stay in business.

Local fishermen are committed to the programme, and are paid a fair price for bringing in a ‘berried hen’. This one on the left was brought in while we were listening to the process from a local volunteer. Obviously this is in their interest, with lobsters currently costing about £30 per kilo, or £21.95 for a whole cooked lobster (the Highland version). Lobsters have never achieved great popularity with the Scottish public, and over 90% of the catch is generally exported to France, Spain and Portugal.

I wonder how far a lobster can swim? Back at Cupar Farmer’s Market last weekend I came across this beastie on a stall run by another Firt2017-05-20 10.08.26.jpgh of Forth crustacean-catcher, but this time on the opposite (northern) coast of the Forth. Clement Boucherit is based near Pittenweem and has been running his business here for the last three years. I bought some langoustines and they were packed freshly into a box of crushed ice, very convenient.

Any project that enhances sustainability is a great thing; but I’m wondering at the likelihood of funding continuing for something which benefits so few people. Unless of course we can all be persuaded to extend our culinary comfort zones next time we feel like cooking something very special (and expensive) for supper. This Friday (2nd June) has been designated National Fish and Chip Day – no lobster for me, but I’ll certainly make a point of celebrating in an appropriate manner. With mushy peas of course.