When we flitted from Edinburgh and renovated our wee seaside retreat for full time living, our architect had a specific brief to follow: an antique butter churn, a Victorian knife cleaner, a larger-than-life dinner bell and 300 books had to be accommodated. Amazingly he achieved it in our tiny house although there was a moment when the local carpenter in charge of the wall of books uttered the immortal words, “Could you not have just bought a kindle?” The answer was an emphatic no. We love our books, although these days I do try a one-in-one-out policy that works sometimes, gifting a book I’ve had for a while. That said, some I cherish from childhood, others are signed copies and my ancient Encyclopædia Britannica tomes (in which the dodo is still alive and kicking) have often proved invaluable.
As winter wraps around us with dark nights and short days, there is nothing quite like curling up with a good book, assuming we have such a thing as leisure time! We can always dream. I used to love reading to the bairns and, although there are tons of great children’s books I am sure, it saddens me that some of my favourites seem to have disappeared from the shelves. Having said that I can recommend Loch Arthur Farmshop for a small but imaginative range of books for young readers.
Recently Neil Forbes of Café St Honore has been sharing his favourite cookbooks with us in his newsletter: delving into flavours and food memories from his student days and sharing the moments. I’ve really enjoyed that and can relate. Thirty years or so ago there was a gifted photography student from Norway studying in Edinburgh. His fellow students were creating folios with fashion models or urban streetscapes, the former queuing up to volunteer; the latter there for the taking. Morten on the other hand wanted to focus on food so the college financed a professional food stylist for 6 days – me. He was a joy to work alongside and I still have copies of his marvellous works of art. When his assignment was complete he thanked me with the gift of a book his mum had sent over for me. Lillehammer had just hosted the Winter Olympics and it was a special edition book written by Arne Brimi, a famous chef. I was naturally delighted. It has stunning photography and the culinary heritage and recipes of Norway. During lockdown, when we were browsing our bookshelves, considering what size and shape our book should be, I came across it and discovered that not only did Bosse know of him but we had visited his nephew’s impressive Brimi Seter on several occasions and feature it in our book. Who would have guessed all these years later there would be a connection?
Some of us have been putting pen to paper this year. I’m sure many more of you have tales to tell, to be shared another day but here’s a few treasures for now. Wilma & David’s “The Dairy Story” charts their life, love and journey to the award-winning organic cow-with-calf cheese production they have today. Walking their path with each turn of the page is fascinating and emotional. A personal odyssey with an absorbing narrative.
Jane Cooper’s “The Lost Flock” charts the intriguing history of the Boreray sheep, an incredibly resilient wee ruminant that even thrived when abandoned on an isle in the North Atlantic. The story of their past, present and future is inspiring and a lesson in regenerative food production, working with nature and creating high value exceptional products from every part, with routes to market for mutton, bone craft, skins and yarns.
“The Shepherds of Faray” is written by Kirsty Sinclair, a friend of Jason & Nina, the wonderful cheesemakers on Westray. This book is to be cherished, depicting life on an Orkney isle over many generations: births and marriages, farming and nature, relationships with land and sea, challenges and joys. Beautifully illustrated and delving deep into life on Faray, and nearby Westray, this book provides unsurpassed insights into human fortitude and rural family life.
All three of these books (and for that matter ours too) are a stark reminder to me of the power of personal experience and the value of the written word in laying down accurate knowledge and experiences. Too often I see history misrepresented or casual soundbites taken as gospel. I really wish our centres of learning would place more emphasis on this genre of literature. First hand knowledge is priceless.
There are also two children’s books I recommend to you, should you be needing ideas: “The Clever Red Setter” by Leonard Harper Gow (known also for his fine Hemp Seed Tea) beautifully illustrated by local artist Camilla Seddon. Setters are known for their grace, swiftness and flowing locks, and Leonard’s own red setter is depicted in his book as living on a farm and communicating with all the animals. The adventure of this intelligent hound will warm the hearts and make for happy bedtime reading.
My other favourite is “Mary O’Burland’s Book O Truckit Trows,” another stunningly illustrated book, this time in the Shetland tongue. It is hilarious and unique – and never fear there is a glossary at the back if you get stuck on the language. Best read aloud, you’ll be surprised how much you can understand when you speak clearly and follow the rhyme. Burland Croft on Shetland is home to our friends Mary & Tommy Isbister who singlehandedly save many a Shetland rare breed and rural skills.
We wish all these authors every success for 2024 with their life, literature and of course good food along the way. I couldn’t end without a wee plug for our book, “Meadows: The Swedish Farmer & The Scottish Cook.” As every self-publisher knows, it’s an uphill task, albeit very satisfying, to find routes to market but the positive comments landing in our mailbox and wonderful reviews make it all worthwhile. Our fully illustrated hardback is the result of years of research and practical experience, finally completed over lockdown and printed here in Scotland. Described alternately as a practical handbook, smallholders’ bible or comprehensive volume on sustainable food production and biodiversity, with recipes, following Slow Food principles. We are really excited to be presenting at the ORFC soon.
Whether shopping for Christmas, birthdays or any time of the year, remember money spent in family businesses stays in the community, so let’s avoid high street chains and supermarkets and support our farmers, chefs, bakers, butchers, cheesemakers and all the wonderful indy shops out there. Avoid plastics and consider experiences: a cheese or charcuterie tasting, a bread or game workshop, so many to choose from in Goodfoodology and almost every restaurant has Gift Vouchers – you only have to ask them and you have an ideal gift. Christmas is about sharing and it also brings joy to the family businesses you support in your actions, whatever time of year.
Finally, congratulations to the many Members who won awards this year, appeared on TV, published books or bravely launched new projects. Irrespective of whether you entered or won an award this year, you are all are winners for following the Scottish Food Guide Charter and showing Scotland what excellence really is.
Wishing you all a very happy & healthy Christmas, Wendy & Bosse