Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Scottish Larder

So what is so inspirational about the Scottish Larder that I used it for my blog title? I've recently returned home after a dozen years wandering the British Isles, and every time I visited it was food and drink was the first thing on my mind. Now that I have it on my doorstep I feel the need to experiment with it, enjoy it and shout about it. There's so much more to Scotland than Irn Bru and lorne sausage, delightful as they are!

So Scotland, a land of mountains and glens, seas and lochs, cities and wilderness, rain and sometimes shine. It is a diverse, perfect, climate and landscape for so many of natures finest flavours and so many others that have been introduced, farmed and cultivated. Where the national dish of Haggis is a pudding made from offal, oatmeal and spice and elevated to that position by surely one man, Robert Burns, who wrote an ode to it as he preferred the 'hamely fare' of the Scottish peasant to the fancy stuff frae France.

Furred and feathered game of every variety is available almost all year round from every different part of the country. Wildfowl from the Solway, where Scotland meets England, including Mallard, Teal and Wigeon is bountiful and a fantastic treat. So different from farmed duck. Game birds including Partridge, Pheasant and the most feted of all, the Grouse are found countrywide on numerous estates. When it comes to four legs, Rabbits thrive seemingly everywhere, and the similar looking but very differently tasting Hare is a much rarer and shyer creature whether it be brown in the lowland farmlands or blue on the uplands. Whilst the monarch of the glen, the Red Deer, stalks the Highlands where he is king. If these wild meats were all that you could eat you would never be bored and every day would be a new adventure.

The sea is equally as abundant. Haddock which is fresh, hot or cold smoked as well as Cod, Whiting, Mackerel and numerous others. The 'Silver Darlings', Herring, which were the original catch of many of the fishing villages around the coast appear as Kippers, Rollmops, fried in oatmeal and many other guises which bring out the wonderful flavour of these oily fish. Salmon, once plentiful in the rivers of Scotland like the majestic Tweed in the Borders, is now more commonly farmed but Smoked Salmon from Scotland is still loved the world over despite the wholesale change from wild caught fish. On the west coast especially, shellfish and crustaceans thrive, many of which are sold round the world as delicacies and never see a Scottish table. Scallops, Langoustines, Mussels, Squat Lobsters, Oysters and Crabs are farmed, dived, grown or caught in creels and if you're lucky enough to arrive at a table where they are served fresh then you truly are in heaven.

Haggis, neeps and tatties
From the farms there comes one of the most famous cattle of all, the Aberdeen Angus, revered around the world as Scotch Beef to the extent it is granted protected status. Whether it be fillet or popeseye steaks for searing, topside or silverside for roasting or shin for braising it has a wonderful flavour and such mystical qualities that people associate the term with quality. And of course there is mince for the ubiquitous mince and tatties, Monday's dinner! Cows for milking roam countrywide, with many a famous cheese coming from these cattle as well as gallons of the white stuff and Rose Veal is making a comeback from the male calves from these herds. During Spring you'll barely drive round a corner in the country without seeing lambs in the field, especially the famous Blackface.

On top of all these fish and animals there's the produce from the land. Soft fruits like raspberries, strawberries and currants are grown all over the central area from the west coast to Tayside especially and have a wonderful intensity of flavour during the relatively short season. Many a childhood memory for many Scots of pick your own farms and Mum making gallons of jam. Add to this wild plants like brambles, seaweeds, rowans and sloes and you'll find plenty of flavour enhancers.

Talisker Distillery on Skye, home to my favourite whisky
There are loads of manmade products that take advantage of the produce of the land and natural resources of the country. Whisky, (uisque beath in Gaelic, the water of life), is produced from the English border all the way to Orkney and from Islay in the west taking in Speyside in the north all the way to the east coast around Banff. Each distillery with it's own characteristic there's a whisky for everybody from smoky, oily and salty on the windswept islands, to many light floral offerings from the lowlands. And then there's beer, shortbread, heather honey, countless cheeses like Dunlop and Bonnet and the Stornaway Black pudding and you're beginning to get a flavour of the picture.

These are the reasons, and many more that I've probably forgotten to include, that I love to cook from the Scots Larder. Why every mealtime becomes an adventure and why I love trying to let the flavours and character of my homeland take centre stage in so many meals. Happy travelling through this amazing landscape, many places thronging with people and some so inaccessible that the Golden Eagle is the lord of the mountains. Scotland, my favourite larder.

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