Ms Marmite Lover: Hearty Shetland Isles fare is perfect for wintry weather
- Credit: Archant
Kerstin Rodgers, from the Ms Marmite Lover blog, journeys to windy Shetland Islands where she finds smoky flavours and hearty portions reflect the landscape.
The Shetland Isles, halfway to the Arctic Circle, the furthest point north in Britain, are nearer to Scandinavia than anywhere else.
The people speak with a charming nordic lilt, although they attempt to straighten it out, a process they call ‘knappin’.
This means speaking with an accent intelligible to ‘sooth mooths’ (south mouths), i.e. the rest of the UK, because we are all further south than they are.
The best times to visit Shetland are during the ‘Simmer Dim’, around June 21, when it hardly goes dark, just a hazy couple of hours between midnight and 2am.
The other moment is in darkest January for the fire festival known as Up Helly Aa, where Viking-clad local squads march through Lerwick, culminating in burning a wooden galley in the evening.
Ultimately, everybody ends up in the ‘halls’ dotted around town, where the squads perform a series of cross-dressing cabarets throughout the night. The whole event is a mash-up of the Rio Carnival and Guy Fawkes night.
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Shetland food tends to be hearty.
The weather on these windy islands pique an appetite for soup and stew.
All cooking used to be over peat fires, adding smokiness; the landscape influences the flavours. Delightful descriptions can be found in Mary B. Stout’s vintage cookbook, Cookery for Northern Wives.
“On Beainer Sunday (Sunday before Christmas), it was usual to hang up an ox head in the chimney to make broth with,” she writes.
The book includes recipes such as ‘Krappin Muggies’, ‘Sparls’, ‘Vivda’, ‘Tar-Tin_Purrie’, ‘Virpa’, which sound more like names for pieces of IKEA furniture than dishes.
With very few ingredients, Shetland wives managed to make an ingenious amount of dishes.
Even today, weather can prevent deliveries for weeks. Ingredients we regard as common place, say fresh parsley in winter, are hard to come by.
I visited the Old Haa museum on Yell, another island north of Mainland where I cooked a whole dinner on their peat fire.
As I was using a peat fire, on a griddle over embers, I made ‘top’ bannocks as opposed to oven-baked. Classic Shetland bannocks are made with Viking ‘bere meal’ barley flour from Orkney but can also be made just with plain flour or other ancient wheat varieties such as Emmer or Einkorn. Shetland dairy products are fantastic, particularly the buttermilk.
450g of plain flour (or 150g of bere meal and 300g of plain flour)
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
300-350ml of buttermilk
Mix the flours, baking powder and salt together and add the buttermilk. Leave to rise in a covered bowl for an hour. Then form triangular patties. Cook them either on a dry griddle or frying pan on a low heat until risen and golden on the outside. Alternatively, bake them in the oven at 180ºC on a baking tray for about 15 minutes.
Spread generously with butter, or as a sandwich with smoked salmon. Serve with a glass of cold buttermilk.
The secret of a great kedgeree is to use fresh Indian spices and plenty of good smoked fish. You want every amber mouthful to be vibrant and tasty. This is good for brunch, lunch or supper.
3 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
a thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 crushed cardamom pods
1 stick of cinnamon
250g basmati rice, rinsed
500ml or more of vegetable stock
2 or 3 filets of smoked haddock (undyed)
5 eggs, boiled and shelled, split in half
A big handful of parsley, chopped
Using a wide bottomed pan on the stove, gently fry the onion in the butter until golden, then add garlic, fresh ginger, bay leaf and peppercorns. Next, add the spices and sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add the rice to the pan, turning the grains in the buttery spices, then add the vegetable stock. Cover the pan, bring to a boil before turning it down to a low simmer until the rice is cooked, about ten minutes. Add more vegetable stock if necessary. Leave to steam in the covered pan for fifteen minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork.
Add chunks of smoked haddock to the pan and the halves of boiled eggs. Garnish with chopped parsley.