In the words of the song, All I Want for Christmas is…. what? Probably an end to this perpetual pandemic would be top of all our lists but then perhaps we diverge and our priorities differ. Good health and positivity are certainly the next two on our wish-list and our hearts go out to friends and colleagues with that groundhog day dread as covid-life replays. With Christmas restaurant bookings falling off the proverbial cliff it’s hard to avoid thinking it is one rule for some and another for the rest of us.
Many restaurateurs are already taking that speedy hairpin bend back to takeaway cartons, making the best of a rotten situation and taking advantage of their online presence offering vouchers, future bookings and homemade artisan produce from chilli jams to Christmas puddings. You can certainly find a suitably delicious present for every family member and friend on Scottish Food Guide, safe in the knowledge you are supporting fine family businesses. Readers…we all need to do our bit. However large or small it makes a difference and if you are reading this you are most probably already on that path so let’s see who else we can convert away from multinationals to support local. In the words of Pink Floyd, they have No More Excuses!
Although we visited other islands before the winter frost descended I am leaving these tales until spring when their restaurants and accommodation re-open and, for now, recalling other taste adventures. With such brief hours of daylight I apologise in advance for those special highland places we missed and promise to return in spring but we did manage to look in on Boyndie Visitor Centre and Elchies – two very different and equally fascinating members.
Boyndie has a restaurant, gifts and crafts, plants and garden centre, all in and around what was originally the old school house by the village set in six acres of gardens, ponds and woodlands to explore. Most recently they have also created attractive outdoor seatings where families can relax, watch over children at play, and be sheltered and well-fed if still cautious of indoor dining. The café is light and airy with homemade produce: ever-changing daily soups and scones, hot dishes and cakes, and an extremely popular afternoon tea (sit in or takeaway). It is run as a Trust and supports a great many youngsters in the community through gainful employment, learning skills and a strong sense of community. The catering team train and guide their students and the food from that kitchen is worthy of praise – such enthusiasm and dedication. It was a pleasure to see them all again. For the history buffs among you there is also an intriguing display of wartime history of RAF Banff. Although a local landmark, I think Boyndie is a well-kept secret that deserves to be shared! Boyndie has been a loyal member of Scottish Food Guide for many a year however our second visit of the day was to a new arrival in our community, Elchies.
Amidst the vast Speyside landscape of whisky country is the rich biodiversity of Elchies Estate where British Boer Goats, Ryeland sheep and alpacas roam! Sheep and goat meats are available online and from their ‘traditional’ on-farm shop along with a wonderful range of yarns and weaves from their own flocks. There is also a 24-hour automated farm shop at the road end – a novel addition that, once I got the hang of it, was easy peasy with clear instructions and a great range of produce, including local producers Golspie Mill and Macbeths, all regularly monitored and re-stocked by Julie. It was getting quite chilly outside and as we cooried around the kitchen stove for a cuppa, Waynetta the pet kid came to join us – never missing an opportunity to get a fireside cuddle and a bottle (not whisky!).
Elsewhere, it’s award season for Slow Food with outstanding producers and chefs recognised for their passion and skills through a peoples’ poll. In Scotland this year’s awards were online with winners including SF Restaurant Fred Berkmiller’s L’escargot; SF Bakery John Castley’s Wild Hearth Bakery; SF Deli Valvona & Crolla, plus grain guru Andrew Whitley as an excellent choice for Person of the Year. Our congratulations to all.
In Sweden the event actually happened! Spaced tables in the over-large room allowed for safe dining and a super evening. Our thanks to Slow Food Scania for arranging the feast: homemade gravad sea trout with cream cheese tarts; deliciously moist wild venison with local roots and crushed potatoes drizzled with a butter sauce of melted Västerbotten cheese topped with crispy kale, finishing off the evening with home-baked almond and cloudberry slice, light and mouth-watering. Jan Hedh was present to hand over the awards – two this year. Both winning couples were dinner guests and brought along tasters of their produce. Jan Hedh, Sweden’s sourdough and chocolate king, sits on the Board of SF Scania (as does Bosse) and his passion for local produce was very evident in his speech. I shall write another blog soon on Jan’s chocolate heaven in Malmo where we were invited earlier this year.
Instead of a full range of categories, SF Scania select those who excelled that year as standing for SF values, irrespective of their classification, and this year is Glada Geten Gårdsmejeri producing fine goats’ cheese and Vånga Must, specialising in single variety pressed apple juices from their lakeside orchards. Victoria at the dairy was also recognised for her superb ostkaka, a special cheesecake and part of the region’s ancient food culture – not the US variety! Certificates, flowers and boxes of Jan’s chocolates were presented on the night.
Zoom will always be with us and has undoubtedly provided access to a wider audience but face-to-face conviviality is the essence of Slow and indeed life itself, so it nourished our souls to share good food together again. There will always be those who quietly beaver away, unsung heroes producing marvellous food in restaurants and cafés, on farm and in bakeries.
Sweden has more sourdough bakeries than Scotland but barely a butcher shop left – hard as that may be to believe – so let’s continue our campaign to keep family businesses strong and healthy, food supplies steady and high quality and our food sovereignty and diverse cultures intact. We are stronger together and we shall pull through this.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy Christmas and always delighted to hear from you
Wendy & Bosse