Nothing says Christmas is in the air for me, more than the sound of Mariah Carey singing ‘ all I want for Christmas’ and the smell and taste of mulled wine or hot mead.
Afternoon Tea for Four on day out in Leith
A friend was given an afternoon Prosecco tea for four at the secret ladies’ bar of Leith Theatre as her Christmas present. It was part of the Leith Theatre’s fund raising campaign and her husband obviously thought some good should come from his wife’s love of quaffing fizz and cake with her chums.
A Promising Start
“Tre prosecco “ I knew this food tour was going to go well: it was 10.30 am in the morning – and I had flown into Rome last night from Edinburgh to meet my friend Fran who had flown from Gatwick – and we were on a four-hour eating and drinking tour with Domenico of Eating Europe Food Tours
On my Edinburgh Food Safari, we visit Armstrong’s of Stockbridge https://ar
mstrongsofstockbridge.co.uk/ where my guests love their famous delicately smoked salmon. Gary Huckle and his team slowly smoke a whole Scottish salmon over wood chips in the back shop, then marinate it in Pickerings 1947 gin.
Armstrong’s source their salmon from Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s seawater salmon farms in Orkney and Shetland, chosen because the salmon has plenty of strong tidal water to work out with – no risk of flabby fins – and also no need for chemical intervention in case of sea lice, thanks to good currents and cool temperatures.
Off to Orkney
So I was thrilled when I was asked by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) to go on a publicity trip to Orkney to learn more about the farmed salmon industry. Salmon is the fish you are most likely to see in a UK shopper’s basket and it ranks in the top three of the UK’s food exports.
We started off visiting the Cooke Aquaculture processing plant in Kirkwall, the main town in Orkney. It’s a very slick operation; thousands of salmon which have been harvested (humanely stunned) at sea, come off the boats in ice – having already undergone rigor mortis, then at the plant, they are gutted, checked, weighed, packed in ice by hand
and then down to Larkhall near Glasgow to be dispatched worldwide within 24 hours of being taken out of the sea and in some cases are actually on the dining plate within 24 hours.
Then, time for feeding – not us – the salmon. We donned bright orange oilskins, wellies, life vests and were taken on a fishing trawler to visit a salmon farm site just off the island of Hoy. Some 20,000 salmon were in a round floating ring structure – about 100 metres in circumference supporting a large net bag hanging in the water. Fishmeal which is a ‘hot’ topic at the moment is fed to the salmon at set times of the day using a huge spraying machine which deposits the food pellets directly on top of the pen area. We were able to jump down from the small trawler to the circular pens and walk round to the feed barge to watch the process via the underwater cameras; the words ‘feeding frenzy’ do spring to mind. It’s all very mechanised; there were electronic microscopes to monitor plankton levels, digital thermometers for the water temperature and gauges showing the feed levels in the stores. Salmon like swimming in shoals, so they will tend to swim together, regardless of the area provided. The SSPO hopes at some point the public will be able to see live feeds from Scottish salmon pens – not quite as cute as penguin feeding at the zoo – but there does seem to be a real effort in the farmed salmon industry for transparency. The SSPO are keen to stress Scotland’s feed suppliers are sourced from responsible and sustainable fisheries.
Our guide lifted a salmon out of the pen using a net – during feeding time. To my untrained eye, the fish had shiny eyes and shiny scales so looked healthy/happy but as miffed as a salmon could be, when removed from its place in the lunch queue.
But what I could see for sure, were so many locals of all ages working in the salmon industry. They seemed to be enjoying and stimulated by their jobs, not just at the processing plants and fish farms, but at the fish pen-making site, the fishmongers, fish smokers and restaurants.
Knock on effects?
Orkney will always attract tourists including masses by cruise ship, because of its rich heritage; it has the best preserved stone age village in Europe, St Magnus Cathedral, wildlife; puffins, seals, seabirds, but tourism alone could threaten to turn a community into a Disneyland film set. Fish farming offers work to people not just on the Orkney mainland, but also on the more remote but also inhabited smaller islands. This does seem to make for an incredibly get up and go dynamic community from house builders turned gin-makers and coffee machine suppliers turned coffee roasters which benefits both locals and tourists.
On the salmon front, I had local – obv. – wonderful poached salmon at The Foveran http://www.thefoveran.com
We also visited Jolly’s of Orkney https://www.jollysoforkney.co.uk/collections/all where they had a fantastic non-regulated way of smoking the Cooke’s salmon.
The salmon was smoked over wood chips, and timed depending which way the wind was blowing, which was a refreshing change after all those machines we saw regulating everything – and it tasted delicious – quite smoky actually.
Its not just salmon, if I lived in Orkney – I could easily create a food safari – there are so many fantastic local products, just check out the Orkney food and drink site https://www.orkneyfoodanddrink.com/
At the Orkney Roastery. Sara and Euan showed us how green beans could be roasted and ground to their spec and of course drank! https://www.theorkneyroastery.com/
The gin craze has certainly not bypassed Orkney: Orkney’s Sea Glass Gin was named Winner of the Great British Food Awards 2019. https://www.deernessdistillery.com/
Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin https://www.orkneydistilling.com/ won Scottish Gin Destination of the Year accolade for its five-star Kirkwall distillery and visitor centre, which we visited; I loved the upturned boat ceiling in the bar/coffee shop. Kirkjuvagr won Silver for its Arkh-Angell ‘Storm Strength’ gin (57-per-cent gin)
There are also fantastic local cheeses – including my favourite crumbly cows cheese Grimbister (also ready to cook deep-fried breaded Grimbister) butter, cheddar, oatcakes, beer , preserves, whisky and even rum.
Many of these can be sourced directly including Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s smoked salmon from Jolly’s of Orkney https://www.jollysoforkney.co.uk/collections/all so you could too, can have your own food tour without leaving home – which might just inspire you to get on a plane/boat to eat and drink Orkney.
Book on Fringe website : only 12 places per safari Fringe https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/edinburgh-gin-safari
We are running our popular gin walking tours all through August as part of The Edinburgh Fringe – from Wednesday to Saturdays 2- 31 August. Leave the crowds behind as you walk through Georgian streets and past the oldest gin distillery in Edinburgh (1740s) on the Leith Water – enjoy a Edinburgh gin Liquer with prosecco, gin and raspberry marshmallows, gin cured salmon and gin and end with a Highland gin in a cool lowland gin joint.
Biggest Edinburgh Food Safari So Far
EIT Climate-KIC, a European knowledge and innovation community came to Edinburgh for a climate change conference and were looking for a novel way to eat and see the city. Edinburgh Food Safari was delighted to host the group – which started at 40 guests rising to 47 guests- the biggest Edinburgh Food Safari so far! The brief was Scottish food – a whole traditional meal – and see Edinburgh.We split the group of 47 into two groups – 23 and 24 with 12 veggies and vegans in the mix. We started off with smoked salmon flatbreads and a welcome dram of single malt from Wick – Old Pultenay – called the maritime malt as the distillery is located so near the Wick harbour.
We then enjoyed afternoon scones with homemade jam and cream, and Scottish tea blended to suit our soft Scottish water. Then a lovely saunter through The New Town –a world heritage site – and lots of looking through windows to see New Town residents relaxing in Farrow and Ball restrained coloured- sitting rooms.
Then toasted marshmallows on a stick – not traditional – but I challenge anyone not to revel in the absolute pillowy softness of Nicole Roberts aka The Marshmallow Lady’s freshly made marshmallows. This season we are trying to resist too many caramel apple and pumpkin spice marshmallows.
We ended our two- hour safari at The One Place for a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties – with vegan haggis a very delicious option. The second group who had a different start place came to join us – making 47 very happy safari travellers who had indeed tasted and seen a bit of Scotland.
A food safari is a great way for groups to naturally mingle as there are four eating and drinking stops and no one gets stuck in one seating for two hours. Also as we walk in between stops we are building up an appetite so more food can be sampled!
I’m really excited by my new gin safari – which I test ‘drove’ – feel something wrong about mixing my drink, driving and metaphors! but anyway I did with a friend Jude last Friday. We started with a choice of four Edinburgh Gin liqueur; elderflower, rhubarb and ginger, raspberry or plum and vanilla, then fizz is slowly added. Delicious. Then The Marshmallow Lady had devised a special gin and tonic themed marshmallow for us, then a lovely gin-tinted stroll through The New Town for a Pickerings gin-cured Shetland smoked salmon – what a way to go – absolutely delicious. Then to Coco Chocolate for a gin and tonic chocolate bar and we ended up at Last Word – such a cool gin joint for a Caorunn gin and Feverfew tonic with a apple garnish.
Gin safaris will run every Friday 3-5 pm – book on site price is a fantastic £39 per person
At temperatures hovering around zero, a freshly whizzed veggie fruit juice is never going to hit the spot, but this bottomless cup of fresh lemon and ginger tea at Hyde and Son at the west end of George Street definitely did. Priced at £2.60 you get a pale green, gold rimmed cup with slice of fresh ginger and fresh lemon, topped with boiling water and a lid to keep the heat in. Once cooled to drink and drunk, the staff will happily refill – so sit quite near the bar – for speedier water replenishment.
Hyde and Son has boutique bedrooms attached, but for the casual shopper and person in need of a hot drink from 7-11 then this airy bar cafe is the perfect stopping off point – good coffee, great sounding cocktails and 12 Triangle pastries
Hyde and Son
127 George street,Edinburgh, EH2 4JN
OPEN Monday – Saturday: 7AM – 11PM Sunday: 8AM – 10PM
I was camping at Roybridge – near Spean Bridge – near Fort William in the heart of the Autumnal oranged-Scottish Highlands. To make up for sleeping in a pod I brought Primrose’s Kitchen raw beetroot and ginger muesli to ease the pain on a sling mattress in a wooden pod.
I was not the only one to find this designer muesli delicious – this robin was sorely tempted by the lure of: gluten-free oats, raw beetroot, raw agave, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raw virgin coconut oil, almonds, linseeds, coconut pieces, ground ginger, shelled hemp seed and psyllium husks.
This muesli is made in Dorset by Primrose’s Kitchen and I bought it from Real Foods – £5.95 for 400g and a Great Taste winner. Intrigued I googled Primrose’s Kitchen:
Primrose’s Kitchen: Having had a youth of chronic fatigue, M.E and poor digestion, Primrose Matheson set out on a mission to understand her body and what was needed to maintain it in perfect health. This led her into Naturopathic and Complementary health studies and a degree in Homeopathy the knowledge of which she has used to design natural and wholesome food. She started with muesli as breakfast is (as a nation) our favourite meal of the day due to its quick assembly and had a desire to make it into a healthy food for any occasion, not just first thing in the morning.
By including ingredients you might associate more with lunch or dinner such as beetroot and carrot she wanted create a versatile health food that tasted great and could be eaten as a healthy snack whatever time of the day. Ideally for a more balanced diet we should be eating as much or more fruit and vegetables than we do grains.
From this it seemed logical that if she was going to add a healthy ingredient like vegetables why not add other nutritious ingredients not found in breakfast muesli that support good health.
And how was it? Really good especially soaked in orange juice and topped with Greek yoghurt. You could mix it yourself but for a weekend camping trip this was a treat and a bonus – if it attracts wildlife!
I took the train from Edinburgh to North Berwick on Sunday and within an hour, had walked along the beach and got myself to @gelateriaalanda by the Lodge Grounds for an ice cream. Frequent winners at the Royal Highland Show, Alandas make their ice cream from milk from East Lothian cows.