Border Crossings 

Borders are fascinating: geographically, historically and food culturally. As I flicked through May’s diary entries I saw a common thread of borderlands I decided to explore. Look at a soil map of Scotland – yes, such an atlas exists on our capacious bookshelves – and you’ll see that long before politics, geology played a key role in land use, defence and climate, with distinct contrasts in soil types north and south of the Scottish Border. In past times, inhabitants defended their lands, laying down their lives, and these tumultuous times are rich in history: the fringes of Roman occupation, imposing castles from 12thC onwards, breathtaking spires and arches of impressive abbeys, plus evidence of early agriculture, land markings tracing ancient settlements over the landscape, long gone but visible from the skies. 

One stunning residence epitomising the Scottish Borders is Traquair, the oldest continuously inhabited building in Scotland, steeped in history and full of life. For over 900 years Traquair has been a family home – if only walls could talk but fortunately much has been recorded including the many monarchs who visited over the centuries. By the 16thC, Traquair was popular with royal parties, hunting the plentiful woodland inhabited by wildcat, wolves, deer, wild boar and even bears.

Catherine post brewery tour & onto tastings

Now with the delightful Catherine Maxwell Stuart, the 21st Lady of Traquair and her family at the helm, a group of us were honoured to receive a talk and brewery tour from Catherine in person. The brewery became the first official “domestic brewery” in UK to hold a commercial brewing license (after a considerable haitus). Traquair’s brewery had been in operation for a century, then fallen into disuse, forgotten, hidden deep under generations of family “stuff” … until rediscovered by Catherine’s father Peter Maxwell Stuart in the 1960’s. With original recipes and oak tuns, Traquair beers are now world famous with unique characteristics and a range of flavours including The Jacobite and Bear Ales. Traquair is a must when visiting Scotland – but don’t expect to arrive or depart by the Bear Gates for these remain closed since a visit from Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 upon which the 5th Earl of Traquair vowed they would never be opened again until a Stuart king was on the throne and the gates have remained locked ever since that day.

Others cross borders more recently, bringing their skills over oceans from South Africa, via Australia, and marrying a Scot. Such was the case for Ruth Hinks, the multi-award-winning chocolatier and owner of Cocoa Black in Peebles. With a passion for chocolate concoctions since childhood, what began as a hobby soon became a flourishing multi-award-winning career. Ruth is now one of the top five chocolatiers in the world and runs popular workshops on the upper floor with a lovely café downstairs where her expertise is plain to see in the exquisitely prepared cakes and chocolates in every conceivable space.

Calving time at Wilsons Farm & Kitchen

Next stop on our Borderlands excursion was Scottish Food Guide member Wilson’s Farm & Kitchen. This idyllic spot is home to Lucy and Robert Wilson where they raise their highly sought after pedigree Hereford cattle, host fabulous feast evenings and create magical celebrations. In addition to Lucy’s accomplishments in the kitchen, the family have created an extensive and beautiful vegetable garden, plus raised beds of edibles in a cavernous covered space that I hesitate to call a mere polytunnel (perhaps you can help me, Lucy?). You can also hire a “Wee Bothy,” repurposed grain stores and real fun places to dine with friends. Produce is their passion and food miles are minimal. We dined on a wonderful pearl barley risotto flavoured with local cheese and homegrown greens, washed down with a zingy rhubarb mocktail. Lucy’s knowledge of the international culinary scene results in a cornucopia of platters and curry nights for their guests – refreshingly different and all absolutely delicious. Remember this is also a working farm and every morsel is cooked from scratch so it is imperative to book in advance.

Lucy’s delicious pearl barley risotto & rhubarb mocktail
Katrina with her friends & family’s produce

The tasty and informative day ended with a celebration of all things local to Allanton: Sweet Red Balls tomato soup, oysters and langoustine, game, ham hock and charcuterie, eggs and potato salad. Scottish Food Guide members William and Katrina Reynolds know all their local suppliers and love nothing better than to show them off at their best, whether in their lovely dining room or al fresco in the beer garden where they also have pizza nights around the oven. My thanks to Cat Thomson & the Guild of Food Writers for a most enjoyable trip, supported by the South of Scotland Destination Alliance & Regional Food Fund. 

Slow Food Scania

Skåne in southern Sweden is another classic borderlands. Iconically Swedish, predominantly flat, ablaze with yellow rape blossom early summer, red kites wheeling overhead, windmills and colourful wooden homes dotted across the plains. For centuries it was alternately Danish and Swedish, with historic estates and vernacular architecture telling the tale of past conquests. We were over for a series of AGM’s, each one different yet unmistakably Scanian and most enjoyable. At Slow Food Scania AGM, Annette had arranged a fascinating display of legumes plus seeds for sale followed by a scrumptious buffet including seasonal asparagus and melt-in-the-mouth pies.

Landrace AGMs at Fredriksdal, Skåne (Bosse, centre & Jakob to the left)
Skånsk äggakaka

Bosse’s heritage breed AGMs encompassing Linderöd pigs and Landrace Goats were held at Fredriksdal where we were all treated to the Skånsk classic dish, äggakaka, and a fascinating guided tour from Jakob, resident expert botanist, environmentalist and friend. It was a wonderful day to meet so many smallholder and farmer friends again from across Sweden. Bosse was Museum Farmer at Fredriksdal (where we were married) for twelve years until 2013 so it was lovely to revisit and delighted to report they now stock our book in the museum shop. 

Gertrud & Eva

Meanwhile in the far north, two friends, Eva Gunnare and Gertrud Edström met up and greeted us over the internet from far off lands, Lappland and Gästrikland respectively. Gertrud is the ever-busy Leader of Slow Food Gästrikland and Eva is the Forager, Cultural & Culinary Guide of Essence of Lappland Both eminent foodies, I would have loved to have shared their conversations. Lappland is another borderland, the land of the Sami, crossing countries, encompassing the far north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Lands of long dark winters and 24-hour daylight in summer, providing rich pickings of wild game and berries, reindeer meat and the famously mouth-watering mandel potatis (almond potatoes, named after their oval shape) available for an albeit brief heavenly season.

Bosse on Peberholm

Last but by no means least, I have one last special place to mention on this borderlands theme: a wild island millions pass over but few will ever visit. Peberholm is the artificial island in Öresund where the train and road routes emerge from their underwater abyss and arise to the skies in one vast double decker bridge, The Bridge, Öresundbron, conjoining Denmark and Sweden. This extraordinary adventure will be a stand-alone future tale of biodiversity and engineering, bird sanctuary and rare species; beautiful and bold, nature’s micro-life with giant vistas. We were so lucky to be selected for this unique experience but more of that another day.

Öresundbron from Peberholm

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The RBST Food & Farming Sustainability Awards 2024 were announced this week at The Royal Highland Show. The calibre of entries was exceptional and the winners outstanding. Congratulations to you all.

  • Sustainable Farm of the Year – Uradale, Shetland
  • Sustainable Small Farm of the Year – The Lint Mill, South Lanarkshire (sponsored by Scottish Samllholder Festival)
  • Sustainable Farm Diversification of the Year – Guardswell, Perthshire (sponsored by Burness Paull)
  • Sustainable Food Producer of the Year – Bowhouse, Fife (sponsored by SF&D)
  • Sustainable Chef of the Year – Paul Newman, Errichel, Perthshire (sponsored by Scottish Food Guide)
  • Sustainable Produce Retail Outlet of the Year – Chocflock, Dumfries & Galloway (sponsored by SAC Consulting)
  • Sustainable Product of the Year – Orkney Boreray Salami from Highland Charcuterie, Sutherland
  • RBST Champion of the Year – Lorna Holden, Argyll for dedication to the Eriskay Ponies (sponsored by RBST)

Note to Scottish Food Guide producers

Woodlea Café in Fife now has the adjacent farm shop and would welcome producers to get in touch if they would like their products to feature on Ray’s shelves. I look forward to returning and seeing what has arrived. Ray opened his café in February, leaving a life in financial services to follow his passion for food as a chef.

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If you are still reading, our apologies for the tardiness of the May newsletter. Through no fault of our own we have had a flood at home! After the stresses of plumbers and Scottish Water we are now on to the slow process of dehydrators and insurers – such is life! Happy Midsummer.

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