I have just returned from a wonderful trip to the Wigtown Book festival, where I was being interviewed about my new book “Coasts and Waters The British seafood cook book” but that aside it is a great opportunity to see and hear other writers, some of whom are really well known. Wigtown is a small town in the south west of Scotland and is well worth a visit at any time but it comes alive for the 10 days or so of the festival at the end of September. The town is home to some 20 book related businesses! Which for a population of less than 1000 is pretty remarkable. I am always made to feel more important than I am by going to the writers retreat, where you can simply relax away from the busy town and have a coffee or tea, we arrived at lunch time as I had already booked to go and listen to Murray Pittock whose book Scotland a history has just been published and was so well reviewed in the Spectator I bought a copy and low and behold he was sitting opposite me! To have a conversation with a man who had written a fascinating book was a real privilege and to cap it all there was lobster for lunch! The Galloway smoke house was providing simple but delicious food and had got lobster in that morning and lightly smoked it.
The lecture from Murray Pittock was given without notes and was a superb trawl through Scottish seafaring history. He focusses on the importance of trade throughout our history. Over lunch I expressed a sadness that in spite of our amazing history full of remarkable people, Scots today were always looking for someone to blame. A sad reflection on where our priorities lie.
I also met over the lunch table a lady whose talk was based on the novel “Gone with the Wind” she used it to try to explain America today, quite shocking to realise they have an apartheid society with a section of society willing to break the law to get their way.
On the recommendation of a farming friend we had supper in the Pheasant at Sorbie. Owned and run by an Italian chef and his wife. It was lovely, good home made pasta and good use of some local ingredients.
For my own session I was interviewed by the ebullient owner of the Station House Cookery school in Kirkcudbright. We had the experience of the Ballymaloe cookery school in common but both shared the idea of the importance of provenance and of learning how to cook from a young age. I spoke of the difficulties fishermen were having post Brexit in getting their fish to market, and gave two pointers, one, Fishermen need to be like farmers who have become more proactive in getting their produce to market. And, we as a community need to learn to use different sorts of fish and above all encourage the next generation to cook.
A great discovery, talking of localism, was the interesting shop run by two sisters, which was a mix of café, butcher and greengrocer with a few deli goods thrown in. It’s called The Machars Farm shop and was doing a good trade in coffee and breakfast rolls when we were in and two such lovely friendly ladies. We fell for the salt marsh lamb. When asked where it was from, our diminutive butcher stood on tip toes and pointed out of the window “ over there “ she said. That was it, one shoulder bought.
You never know quite whom you might meet and suddenly I bumped into Richard Demarco, we shared a poke of chips!
The low point was what I had expected to be a good balanced discussion between respected journalists but sadly with a retired BBC political one and a current one and a newsprint journalist we just got a left wing tirade. Still I am sure it made them feel better….
All in all It was a great two days. If you haven’t already got the book here is an opportunity and I strongly recommend Murray Pittock’s book too
I get all sorts of enquiries for all sorts of different jobs, but one I had recently was just wonderful. As a member of the Guild of Food WritersGuild of Food writers the Covid pandemic has actually had its benefits. Being a London centric organisation most of the events are based in or near London so as a Scot it is not easy to attend, but the committee has organised lots of events on Zoom and whilst the talks and break out rooms are good to a point, you never actually have a proper contact. So when the guild offered a master class in cheese tasting with real cheese I jumped at the idea. Our experts had teamed up with the amazing Courtyard dairy who sent each attendee a little box of 6 cheeses all at perfect ripeness and with wine suggestions. Everyone on screen had the same cheese. The sounds of appreciation of really underlined the shared event, the actual act of sharing a physical entity and talking about it was brilliant. Some time later I had an e mail from Rotary International who were organising a meeting of their main representatives around the country and of course it had to be on Zoom. My contact had been told about me by a colleague on St Andrews business club Heather Stewart who heads up Fife Cultural TrustFife Cultural Trust, I had done a zoom food and wine tasting for the St Andrews Business ClubSTABC where I had sent out a recipe and people had either gone out and bought the materials and prepared the dish or bought something similar Heather had obviously enjoyed it and remembered the event. So the idea was out there. I suggested a cheese workshop in which I organised the Courtyard dairy to send a variety of cheese covering the UK and all in perfect condition . Again they came up trumps with Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish cheese. We had a great evening I had suggested wines and we went through them all with a bit of history and detail of the cheeses themselves. We are so fortunate that we do have some superb cheese makers and Cheese suppliers. The only near fly in the ointment was when Courtyard couldn’t send cheese to a member in Eire due to Brexit and the incompetent beaurocrats involved, so they suggested an Irish company and apart form a slight glitch, Sherridans came up trumps with an all Irish selection for our member in Dublin, what a lot of fun it was and I hope started them off on an enjoyable and productive evening.
Cheese is a living product. It has seasons and they mature at different times. Your cheesemonger will know what is good at any given time. So next time you shop for cheese don’t ask for a specific ask instead, what is good just now. You will put a smile on the cheese mongers face and you will get a superb cheese.
I am the chair of the Levenmouth Tourism Association, and we try to keep communication open with all “customer facing” enterprises in the region. As chair I also attend the regular meetings of the chairs of all of the regions within Fife, of which there are six. Cupar and North Fife, St Andrews, East Neuk, Kirkcaldy, my own region of Levenmouth and Dunfermline and west. I try to keep in touch with what other groups are doing so that I might learn from them and incorporate ideas here. Recently I got in touch with Jack Pryde who is in the Dunfermline region and in normal circumstances runs “Discover Dunfermline tours” and we agreed to meet up for a walk through his region. “This is the first tour I have done since January 2020!” he told me. But his enthusiasm for his home town was undiminished, and even though we did not go very far, there were stories on every corner. From Margaret’s cave to her grave by the Abbey and the pub where Dunfermline Athletic football club was founded. One of his stories concerned the building of the city chambers and the carved faces on the walls, one such can be interpreted in several ways. A local councillor nursing a hang over ( surely not) or the architect groaning as he sees said councillor approaching. Once we are allowed out again I plan to do another walk with Jack and would thoroughly recommend them to any visitor. I think that having such a tour through Levenmouth would also be hugely popular as there is history and stories galore. We need to create some such offering for when the train finally comes to town.
What a great summer we have had, and even now in November it is still very mild,
FOOD TOURS AND COOKING WORKSHOPS
I have had a busy year developing my food tours and classes, with some wonderful trips across Scotland showing visitors this beautiful country that is Scotland. I have been lucky enough to have worked with some other businesses to provide these trips and cooking workshops and also with “Welcome to Fife” at Fife Council, a small but perfectly formed team that make up the tourism arm of the council, They work tirelessly to help those of us like me to promote this amazing region.
I have made a short video which is available on you tube to promote them please do share.
VEGETABLE COOK BOOKS
As most of my readers will know I have embarked on a project of writing small cook books to promote single vegetables, the idea for these came from the many people who, during my cooking demos and workshops asked for ideas on cooking vegetables as they only had three or four. I always publish them about now in time for the Christmas market, yes unashamed promotion. I suppose I should bring each one out in its season but as the books are available year round and in lots of book shops people can buy them when the vegetable is actually available, My latest one is called Tomato and like the the others has 30 recipes, I was about to add, “for the vegetable” but of course a tomato is a fruit! Suffice to say I have treated it as a vegetable in this book (as we do most of the time!) although there is one sweet dish with green tomatoes. There are now 6 books in the series Beetroot, Kale, Courgette, Carrot, and Cauliflower and I have decided to package them altogether to produce a boxed set which will make a very fine Christmas gift. The pack is sturdy and easy to wipe clean as it will live next to the cooker!
The books are on sale now on my website at Waterstones and at many good shops across Fife, Perthshire and Angus
I will also be selling them and The Hairy Bakers cook book at
Eden court fair Inverness November 16th 17th and 18th
Easterbrook Hall Dumfries November 19th 20th
Strathmiglo fair Saturday November 24th
Scone Palace Christmas fair
St Andrews Farmers market 1st December
Dumfermline Farmers market 8th December
And a book signing at Waterstones St. Andrews late opening November 29th
At this time of year people often say to me “Christopher you must be coming to your busy time” Well if the truth be told, every time of year is busy, I think what people mean that as it is Christmas and I must be doing lots of outside catering, when in fact I don’t do any at all! I could go off on a perception blog! but instead here is a little blog about what I am doing over the next few weeks.
Tomorrow morning – Wednesday I am hosting a team building breakfast with business links Fife https://www.businesslinksfife.org.uk/ we will be cooking eggs Benedict! But just how easy is it to make that perfect poached egg, and what a great way to integrate with your co workers by doing something you dont normally do. This is just a small part of what I can offer for team building, a simple cooking session together as a fun experience, through to a full day of activities to take your team out of the office. Or why not have the office party in the new year based on a meal cooked together!
In the evening I will be at Glendoick garden centre and nursery promoting my books and doing a little demo, so do come along and start your Christmas shopping.
I am at the Levenmouth Tourism association on Thursdayhttps://www.visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/leven-p238981 ( yes visitors do come to Leven we have great beaches!) On Sunday I am organising a wonderful food event at Gleneagles https://www.gleneagles.com/ “meet the producer” Where I have invited a range of some of my favourite food people to come and show their goods, meet the Gleneagles team and sell their wonderful products. Mark Bush from Summer harvest oils, Sascha Grierson from Grierson Organics, Jane Sewart from St Andrews Cheese, Mr C’s amazing pies the Marshmallow lady and many more, not to mention demos from the Gleneagles team including one from their new executive chef Warren Brown do come along. In the evening I am giving a presentation on the history of kale in Scotland at the Glasgow Kale festival it’s fully booked which is great.
Monday and Tuesday I am at the lovely charity Christmas fair at Scone palace, it is in aid of Cancer Research and is really a fabulous event I shall be selling signed copies of my books but there are so many other Christmas idea there as well.
Next week is also book week and the Scottish book trust has involved me in various events.https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/book-week-scotland Thursday I shall celebrating the children’s wring of Roald Dahl with a demo for kids and on Saturday 26th I am at the festive fair in the Rothes halls
Sunday I am off to East Lothian for the book event at Colstoun House cook school along with Sue Lawrence, Wendy Barrie and Mark Greenaway, whose new book I am looking forward to seeing.
So that’s the rest of November and whilst I do not do catering as such, I do events where the meal is an important element, but there is a story behind what is eaten and I look at where the meal is to be taken – grand country houses or castle make great venues for dinners but I like to look behind the scenes and present dishes relevant to the season and the place a whole. I can organise a whole evening’s entertainment including wine and whisky tasting, food, history and music.
Consider all the core skills that go to making a balanced socially comfortable person who can thrive in his or her community with confidence.
Root camp offers this to young people by placing them in a rural environment and camping so they learn to observe and understand the countryside and get a feel where their food comes from, learning rural skills from fishing to foraging and then the basic skills of cooking. But for me the most important element is the element of how to sit at a table, share a meal and converse with each other.
These are core skills that 14 to 21 year olds will learn if they come on a Root Camp.
Root Camp is the brain child of diminutive Cassia Kidron whose experience of her own children growing up made her aware that so much of these experiences were missing for a whole raft of young people. I was fortunate enough to be asked to run the “cook school” side of things for the first Scottish camp held on the island of Bute, a beautiful small island off the west coast of Scotland, The young people camped next to Mount Stuart house the family seat of the Marquis of Bute ( the current marquis owns about 97 % of the island! ) and it was a wonderful place to be. We had fresh vegetables from the kitchen garden where the young spent a morning learning about growing, cultivation and weeding! And then we used the produce to peel and chop and create salads and soup, not to mention different vegetable dishes. One 16 year old said that he had never eaten so many vegetables in his life! And loved them, there was game day when although they didn’t shoot them, they plucked partridges and then we dealt with birds in the kitchen cooking them and making a stock from the carcasses, for soup the next day. There followed a fishing day and foraged herbs and mushrooms, some home made smoked sausages completed my larder.
We even got to swim in the Mount Stuart pool the first indoor heated pool in Europe!.
The participants went from being quiet and unresponsive to an ( almost!) well oiled cooking team, producing salads, soups, rice dishes, puddings and a broth made from partridge legs. Evenings spent around a camp fire singing to someone’s guitar. They now have the confidence to forage and to ask questions and cook for themselves, they are prepared for life.
Welcome to my July posting, no recipe this month, but an invitation to join me and some wonderful Fife people to celebrate IAD 2016 please read on and join me at Lindores Abbey on Friday 26th August e mail with any email@example.com or just book now!
Douglas Dunn Christopher Trotter
Brian Johnstone Drew Mckenzie Smith
John Sampson Gareth Roberts
Friar John Cor by order of the King, to make Aqua Vitae VIII bolls of malt.
Earliest written record of Scotch Whisky, 1494. https://www.lindoresabbey.com/
Douglas Dunn, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and founder of St Andrews University creative writing courses, together with Brian Johnstone, a founder of the StAnza Poetry Festival and with his own acclaimed poetic voice, will perform their accessible and engaging poetry.
Among the finest of our poets – Melvyn Bragg
A Poetic master… a skilled builder – The Scotsman
Music will be provided by multi-instrumentalist John Sampson, well known as both an actor and the collaborator of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. John’s performance will range across many styles but will include tunes from the period when the Lindores monks were distilling the original whisky.
A bewildering array of recorders, crumhorns, pipes and
whistles…leaves audiences entranced – Sevenoaks Literary
Drew Mckenzie Smith is building on the legacy of whisky distilling at Lindores by creating a unique whisky, and will share the story of design and innovation in the new building as well as some of the Abbey’s history. He is joined by Gareth Roberts from Organic Architects in Hellensburgh, specialists in ecologically aware community buildings, who will discuss the design of the new distillery
Fife Food Ambassador Christopher Trotter will talk on the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 and how it is being recognised in Fife. He will also provide a local food experience to bring all the evening’s themes together.
This unique collaboration is not to be missed by those interested in any aspect of the arts. Hosted by Drew & Helen Mckenzie Smith, the celebration will be held in the grounds of the ancient abbey but with provision for wet weather
The ticket price for the evening will include:
welcome drinks & nibbles
readings from two leading poets
eclectic musical performance
Local food & wine
short talk on the new distillery
short talk on the architectural design
Friday, 26 August 2016 from 19:00 to 22:00 Tickets: £25 all inclusive
Lindores Abbey Distillery, Abbey Road, Newburgh, Fife KY14 6HH
Use your favourite sausage for this; it doesn’t need to be anything fancy just a good pork sausage. You can also add some spice like cumin or paprika, just after the garlic stage. Only peel the potatoes if the skins are particularly blemished or hard. Most of the nutrients are just under the skin which you lose if you peel it.
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 onion peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
500g Ayrshire epicures cut in a chunky dice
Hebridean sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 Cook the sausages in the oven and cut into small chunks.
2 Separate the kale from the stalks and chop the stalks quite finely, and shred the leaves.
3 Take a frying pan and add the oil and sweat the onion with the kale stalks for a few minutes. Stir in the diced potatoes, and colour lightly. Add garlic , the salt and the shredded kale, stirring to coat.
4 Lower the heat and add the water and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes.
5 Remove the lid, raise the heat and add the sausages. The water will all evaporate; mix through thoroughly and check seasoning.
Well this was one of the most demanding jobs I have ever had to do:
Take a bunch of guys around Scotland on a ……….. Whisky tour!
It’s great how my website brings in all sort of enquiries from cooking with children, men, women and family groups to after dinner speaking at Tourism or business events, talking at Book festivals and organising food demonstrations all over Scotland – Ballantrae? Watch this space.
So it was, I got an email from Dubai – bunch of guys on a stag do with the “bachelor” passionate about Malt whisky. After much deliberation and to-ing and fro-ing I created a whisky tour for them which not only they will never forget but neither will I!
The stag stuff was sorted very quickly with a nightclub in Glasgow; I had nothing to do with that!! But earlier in the day my friend Brenda from Tasting Scotland https://www.tastingscotland.com/ took the guys on a wonderful walking tour around Glasgow showing all aspects of the Glasgow food culture from Indian through to Chinese and Italian. They loved it. It’s good to have friends in the right places!
We set of on the Sunday of that amazing week of sunshine driven by the characterfull Gordon from William Sleigh https://sleigh.co.uk/ transport to our first Distillery – Auchentoshan https://www.auchentoshan.com/ which happily was a perfect first stop. Their “Ultimate Experience” tour was just that, with an excellent in depth explanation and tasting from the cask we were on our way. Two more distilleries Deanston and Gleggoyne and then to an excellent lunch at the Old Mill at Killearn https://www.theoldmillkillearn.co.uk/ Then onto Balquidder where I put my trust in my old friend Tom Lewis at his superb Monachyle Mhor https://mhor.net/monachyle-mhor-hotel/ who produced the most amazing dinner with each course matched to a whisky. Tom of course came into our private room between courses to explain what it was next, and why he matched the whisky. The boys loved it.
After a great night at the hotel and superb breakfast we set off for Speyside by way of Edradour and Dalwhinnie, the day time high light was lunch at the Auld alliance in Kingussie where Lydie Bocquillon https://www.auld-alliance.com/ the chef owner cooked a great lunch and we were beautifully looked after by her lovely daughter Sky.
The evening highlight was a visit to Glenfarclass, https://www.glenfarclas.co.uk/ which is one of the favourite whiskies of our “bachelor” so we arrived and I introduced him to John Grant as the owner! He was overwhelmed, more was to come on this memorable visit, Calum the distillery manager took us on a tour where we were actually able to put our hands into the spirit stream in the “safe”. Now for those in the know the spirit safe is where the excise man usually steps in and has everything padlocked but here Calum opened it up and plunged his hands into the stream and encouraged us to do the same and rub our hands together to smell the barley!
And so to dinner with John Grant himself the highlight of highlights here as each person was invited to pick a bottle from the shelf from his birthday year and pour himself a dram! There was even one for my year!! Again I had a friend locally who put me in touch with John Grant who now has many more Glenfarclass Ambassadors!
Next day brought two more distilleries – Glenglassaugh and Strathisla and so onto my next surprise for the group. I had hired Glentruim https://www.glentruimestate.co.uk/ castle for the night where I cooked dinner of local venison and a simple cranachan, which they helped prepare in the kitchen. On the journey up we had a discussion about Cullen Skink as they has had some in Glasgow, so I was able to get the ingredients and make that with them as well, a real Scottish food experience. I had also managed to source a few whiskies they had not yet tasted, so the evening developed into a good session around a roaring log fire long into the night.
A slightly delayed departure next morning! took us onto the glorious road to Fort William, and after Gordon showed us Neptune’s staircase at the end of the Caledonian canal, we had a quick tasting at the Ben Nevis distillery before we headed for Oban and lunch at Coast https://www.coastoban.co.uk/ – local shellfish and Halibut from Gigha were excellent. On down to Carradale where we spent our last two nights with some excellent local food at Dunvalanree https://www.dunvalanree.com/ owned and run by Alan and Alison Milstead who cooks brilliantly, and we made a dent in Alan’s excellent whisky collection too.. Final full day was a tour by Frank McHardy of Springbank distillery which was thoroughly enjoyed.
What a great trip it was – Scotland looking fantastic and I provided an experience which could not be bought off the shelf aided by great friends and acquaintances – old and new, along the way!
Can’t wait for the next one now – who’s interested – get in touch!
Last week I had the great pleasure of hosting a group from Dubai – guiding them around a few distilleries to show them just a flavour of what we can offer here in Scotland for the food and drink connoisseur.
Find the full story in my next blog – but here’s a glimpse for now!
Day 1 – www.auchentoshan.com followed by Deanston & Gleggoyne then great food at www.theoldmillpitlochry.co.uk, Balquidder and an evening at Monachyle Mhor Hotel.
Day 2 – Edradour & Dalwhinnie, lunch at www.auld-alliance.com in Kingussie, then Glenfarclass and dinner with John Grant the owner.
Day 3 – Glenglassaugh & Strathisla, with a surprise overnight stay at Glentruim and my own culinary delights.
Day 4 – Fort William to see Neptune’s Steps, Ben Nevis Distillery then on to Oban for lunch at Coast; www.coastoban.co.uk
Day 5 – Full day tour at Springbank
Our final evening – tired but happy!