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For the full text of these articles email catherine@foodinscotland.co.uk

Index

oysters and a dram o’ gin: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

haggis, tatties and neeps: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

porridge and cream: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

marmalade: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

glasgow eating out - Food and Travel (extract)

a better butter by far -The Herald (extract)

the whole world in his hands:
from gallus apprentice with a drug problem to renowned galloping gourmet, Anthony Bourdain has more than proved his worth in the American kitchen - The Herald (extract)

taste of the future: Sam Walton, founder of US retail giant Wal-Mart promised a better life for all through low prices, but should we buy it? - The Herald (extract)

oysters and a dram o’ gin: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

The pair of legal wits - not quite drunk yet not quite sober - make their way down Fish Market Close in Edinburgh's Old Town. It is the mid-eighteenth, before the New Town is built, when a homogeneous mix of people from all social classes continue to live, work and socialise in the tenement lands between the castle and the Palace of Holyrood.

Autumn nights are closing in. An ‘R’ is back in the month, so oysters are back on the menu as the two revellers dive into their favourite oyster tavern for a night's entertainment. Besides oysters, there is singing and dancing as night deepens the sociability. The company includes the literati and their publishers, as well as parties of well-bred women, advocates and judges, all happily mixing with gutsy fishwives and lively street traders for a night's ''oyster-ploy''.
Fresh from the Forth, the large opened ''natives'' are piled - by the hundred - on round wooden boards. It is the essence of simple hospitality: chairs and tables in a plain room with an open coal fire in an iron grate. There is no idle ornament or decoration, but clusters of tallow candles for light, shelves on the walls are for spent bottles and hooks for pewter drinking vessels. Cruets of pepper and vinegar are placed on the table along with plates of buttered bread.

Most of the company drink drams of gin with their oysters, sometimes also ale. In every oyster tavern, several thousand oysters a week slip down Old Edinburgh throats. Tonight, once everyone has had their fill, tables are cleared and the fiddler sets up a tune for some energetic reels. Fishwives sing rhythmic sea songs, while genteel ladies sing popular Lowland love songs. And before everyone leaves for the cold walk home, there are warming cupfuls from the landlord’s bowl of hot punch.

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haggis, tatties and neeps: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

A candlelit glow lightens the dim interior of the recess known as the 'coffin' - on account of its shape - in Dowie's tavern in Liberton's Wynd just off the Royal Mile. Snug, cosy and free from outside cares, its other attraction is the landlord's kindliness and discretion.
Dowie's has become a favourite haunt of the poet Robert Burns, since he arrived from his native Ayrshire on 29 November 1786 for his first visit to the capital. Burns rates John Dowie one of the finest landlords he has come across in the city.

Tonight he is holed-up with some of his cronies, including Willie Nicol and Allan Masterton, drinking the excellent Edinburgh Ale brewed by Archibald Younger. Later there will be the 'rascally' Highland gill. But as the night wears on, they call on Dowie to find out what's for supper.

In the flexible tavern system, there is a range of dishes which vary in price from tatties on their own - the cheapest supper - to slices of roast or boiled meat with greens. Neeps are never a supper on their own but are used to flavour the otherwise monotonous tattie supper in the days when meat-eating in Scotland - for most people - is largely confined to high days and holidays.

Dowie also has a haggis pudding, which he recommends to Burns and his friends. This economical dish, which his wife has made using a pluck (innards) of a sheep, has taken her the best part of the morning to prepare. Boiling it first, then chopping up all the bits and mixing with oatmeal and seasonings before stuffing into the sheep's stomach bag. It is a dish of peasant virtue and strength strongly influenced by images of slaughter which Burns recognises for its sense and worth. It is, he knows, far superior to all the elaborate Frenchified food he has eaten during his socialising in Edinburgh’s smart New Town houses of the city's intelligentsia.

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porridge and cream: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

The long wooden porridge stick, known as the ‘spurtle‘, is stirred through the heaving grey mass which fills a large black iron pot hanging over the fire in the farmhouse kitchen. Soon, it comes to a boil. Volcanic eruptions make the familiar noise. The ‘parritch‘ is ready.
The pot is taken to the table. The stick is removed and the family gather round, each holding their wooden bowl of freshly skimmed cream in one hand and in the other a long-handled, carved horn spoon.
In communal eating like this you take your turn to delve into the pot for a steaming spoonful before dipping it into the cream. Hot porridge: cold cream. And once everyone has had their fill, the leftovers are poured into the ‘porridge drawer’ of the Scotch dresser. When cold and set like jelly, ‘they’ are known as ‘caulders’ and are cut up in slices - like Italians cut up leftover polenta - to fry up later, or take to the fields as a mid-day snack. It's a common ritual for most Scots from about the beginning of the eighteenth-century when oats begins to replace barley as the country's staple grain.

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marmalade: historically speaking - The Herald (extract)

It’s a blustery, cold January day in the late 1700s when a storm-bound ship from the south of Spain docks in Dundee harbour. The town does not normally trade with Spain, so the cargo of ’Seville sours’ (inedible bitter oranges) on board is especially intriguing. Retired tailor, John Keiller, has taken his usual wander down to the harbour to join in the quayside chat, whilst keeping an eye out for the odd package of fruits or spices which might be a useful ingredient for his wife’s bakery business. No one is very interested in the bitter oranges, so he decides to buy some and, unknown to him, begins a dynasty which lasts a hundred years and becomes bigger in confectionery during the nineteenth-century than either Cadbury‘s or Frys.

John’s wife, Janet Keiller, has a shop on the south side of the Seagate where she has spent the best part of her life making preserves, jellies, biscuits, sweeties and cakes. She has always believed in diversifying into unique lines and it has certainly paid off. Now she is almost sixty, has a tidy sum put by, and is ready to retire. She is keen, however, to use her modest assets to help her son, James, develop the business. Of all her seven children, he is the only son who has shown an interest in her enterprise and has developed her innovative flair. He is just 22 when she puts him in charge of the business in 1797.

 

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glasgow eating out - Food and Travel (extract)

It may have taken its name from a great Italian camera maker, but a Gandolfi Standard is known in Glasgow as a menu item. Quirky? Not if you think of the city as a place where creative imagination thrives, and not just in the kitchen.

Glasgow has been good at reinventing itself. Once a salmon-fishing village on the banks of the Clyde, it soon turned to trade and expanded eastwards. Then it hit the tobacco bonanzo and some people got very rich. And when this fell through, they turned to shipbuilding. Now that grim and grubby greatness has been mostly washed away and a clean, new face of Glasgow is celebrating its status as a city of culture and architecture.

And a Gandolfi Standard? Well, that’s a hybrid range of dishes served at the Café restaurant opened in the 1970s by Glaswegian Gandolfi fan, Ian McKenzie, and now run by his partner Seumas MacInnes. Original stained glass, unique carved furniture by Tim Stead and a friendly Bohemian atmosphere is the style. Among the Gandolfi Standards you will find a renowned Stornoway black pudding with mushrooms and Scotch pancakes, a traditional Cullen skink made with a Finnan haddock, an Arbroath smokie served with tomato and cream and a legendary plateful of haggis from Cockburn’s of Dingwall with tatties and neeps. The restaurant is a landmark in the Merchant City, once the home of rich tobacco merchants whose grand houses are among the great architectural sights.

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a better butter by far: the UK market is dominated by salty, unripe butter, yet a recent taste test proved that unsalted varieties from Orkney and Normandy easily have the better taste -The Herald (extract)

Trawling the shelves for some butter worth spreading on a slow-fermented loaf made by Pittenweem craftsman baker Ken Adamson, I could take my pick. Native or foreign? Salted or unsalted? - English, Scottish, Finnish, French, Swiss Alpine, Dutch or Danish? There were ‘spreadables’ too, conveniently combining the spreadability of margarine with some of the superior taste of butter. But somehow they did not seem like the right match for Ken’s good bread.

In the end, curiosity prevailed as a month’s supply of different butters, both salted and unsalted, went into the basket. It was the beginning of ‘the butter collection’. A trip to Orkney added an unpasteurised farmhouse butter made from some Guernsey cows’ milk. Then there was a top price, unsalted Normandy butter and two varieties of English farmhouse butter made with leftover whey from cheesemaking. Which is when choosing the butter for Ken’s bread developed into a tasting session, with eight butter-tasters round the table, keen to join in the search for the best butter.

We started with the unsalted butters. Too bland, said the under thirties in the group. Except for two, the Normandy butter which was noticeably stronger - a ‘cheesy’ flavoured butter they opined - and the Orkney butter which had a more delicate ‘nutty’ flavour.

Both were in the category of ripened or ‘cultured’ butters, made by a different method than simply churning fresh cream into butter. The over-sixties were very keen on these tasty butters which they thought were more like butter as-it-used-to-be. Their butter eating habits, influenced by wartime rationing, had developed from the custom of never spreading both butter and jam on bread at the same time. It was either or, so the taste of butter had always been important. Sold by the grocer from blocks, then wrapped in greaseproof paper it was treasured for special occasions. Margarine was for everyday. They thought that the taste of butter had deteriorated since it had become less of a rare treat. Or was it just that nostalgia made the memory sweeter?

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the whole world in his hands:
from gallus apprentice with a drug problem to renowned galloping gourmet, Anthony Bourdain has more than proved his worth in the American kitchen - The Herald (extract)

Who’s cooking your food? What strange beasts lurk behind the kitchen doors? You see The Chef. The guy with his name stitched in Tuscan blue on his starched white coat. But who’s actually cooking your food? Are they young, ambitious, culinary school graduates putting in time until they get up the ladder to the top job? Probably not. The chances are, they are a dysfunctional, mercenary lot of fringe-dwellers, high on testosterone, nicotine, analgesics, caffeine - and who knows what else - motivated by money and a grim pride in cooking.
Yet to watch them, at their best, properly organised, is to view a high-speed collaboration resembling a kitchen ballet. A good ‘line cook’ works clean and has ‘moves’ which are carefully worked out for economy of movement, nice technique and most importantly – speed. The job requires character, endurance, the ability to show up on time and to work through pain and injury.

All is revealed in Anthony Bourdain’s life as a New York line cook which has shot him into the bestseller list with his frank expose, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underworld. To date, he has not been lynched by fellow chefs, or restaurant owners. But then, he’s not an annoying TV chef. And neither is he round, adorable or cuddly, but an ex-junkie, with the looks of an ageing rock star. His long, thin, elegant form is perched on a stool as he deals with an Edinburgh book festival audience, curious to hear more.

They are not disappointed. He begins with the things that endear him to his machismo lifestyle, where much damage is done to mind and body in the cause of putting food on plates. His hands, it could be said, are where it all started.

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taste of the future: Sam Walton, founder of US retail giant Wal-Mart promised a better life for all through low prices, but should we buy it? - The Herald (extract)

At a price of £3.5m, and a length of 1122 pages, you might have expected the long-awaited Competition Commission’s verdict on supermarkets to have solved some of the burning issues in the high street. Like: is right to continue to allow a policy of ‘price-flexing’ when prices are upped in locations where there is no competition from discount stores as practised by Tesco, the Co-op, Netto, Safeway, Sainsbury and Somerfield?

Another unsolved problem is how small local producers and retailers can hope to stay in business when 22 of the total 24 multiple retailers investigated continue to sell items at ‘below cost‘ to undercut the competition. Does it matter that urban areas become deserts of empty shops?

While the report admits that these practices are not in the public interest, it recommends no action, claiming that any remedy could cause greater problems than it would solve. “The harm done to consumers is not sufficient to provoke action,” it says. Harm done to independent high street shops, it seems, does not enter the CC’s agenda.

There is better news, though, for producers who are charged ‘listing fees’ by the supermarkets. Their complaints have been upheld and a code of practice, which will be legally binding, is to be set up within the next three months. It will look at 30 common ‘practices’ by the big five, which it considers are not in the public interest.

So there will be an end to the listing fees like the one reported to the CC when Safeway sent out letters to farmers about their ‘new promotional strategy’ entitled ‘GOOD NEWS FROM SAFEWAY’. It promised to deliver much improved availability for their product. For which they requested a fee of £20,000 per product line. “We look forward,” the letter continued,” to you joining us in this campaign.”

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Catherine Brown
Perthshire and Wester Ross, Scotland
email: catherine@foodinscotland.co.uk

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