Reestit Mutton Tattie Soup

A very belated Happy New Year to you all! 2014 was a really busy year with some brilliant moments but also a lot of hard work. Some of the highlights were: 60 North magazine being published in print; setting up this blog; an amazing trip to Iceland where I met a lot of interesting people and instantly I fell in love with the harsh but but immensely inspiring and spectacular place; a first-time visit to Berlin where we met with my uncle and aunt that I hadn’t seen for over ten years; Shetland Wool Week which attracted 300 keen knitters and wool enthusiasts to Shetland… and the biggest thing of all – our house renovation which is still ongoing. Phew.

So here’s to a year filled with experiences, good books, projects, travel, unforgettable moments spent with friends and family and lots of fun things! A year when we all find more time for ourselves and spend it meaningfully, it being just sitting down for a while reading a chapter to two, making something, going for a walk, or just stopping for a bit and think about the world. And let’s grow food, flowers and trees. That’s the best fun!

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Shetland winter can be pretty harsh so it’s important to find a way to keep positive and motived however it has been hard this past fortnight. It has been a time of relentless rain, hail, snow, lightning and gale-force winds. To be frank it’s been bleak so all those new year’s resolutions of getting back to some sort of fitness regime and healthier eating seem to have disappeared only to be replaced by cravings for substantial portions of hearty and comforting food. But I’m optimistic, with Up Helly Aa round the corner, the brighter days must surely be getting closer.

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Before Christmas I bought a piece of Reestit Mutton from our favourite butchers Scalloway Meat Company but somehow it didn’t get used. So when searching the fridge for some inspiration and ingredients at the beginning of the week, when the weather was particularly bad, I decided to make a deliciously warming and nourishing Reestit Mutton tattie soup.

Reestit Mutton is a traditional Shetland way of preserving mutton which is first salted in brine and then hung to dry traditionally in the rafters (reest) of the house above a peat fire. The smoke from the peat fire helps to season the meat.

Reestit Mutton Tattie soup is an acquired taste and personally I wasn’t really keen on it initially. However it does grow on you. In fact after ten years in years in Shetland, several Up Helly Aa and the occasional wedding I can say there’s nothing better to warm you up than tattie soup and bannocks – combination is simply perfect. Traditionally it is a thick hearty soup but personally I like the version that is served in Peerie Shop Cafe which is a relatively clear broth with large chunks of vegetables.

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Reestit Mutton Tattie Soup

Serves 8 – 10

250g Reestit Mutton

cold water to cover

4 large potatoes, peeled and cut in 1.5 cm chunks

3 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1 cm thick slices

1 small turnip, peeled and cut in chunks

2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 bay leaves, 5 peppercorns and 5 allspice berries (optional)

Place mutton and spices in a large pot. Add enough cold water to come about 2cm above the mutton. Bring to boil and continue to boil until soft. To speed this process up I use a pressure cooker. With this method it takes approximately 25 minutes, otherwise boil for 1 and a half hours.

Remove mutton and set aside. Water will be very salty, so pour off some and add more cold water. Stir in the potatoes, carrots, turnip and onions. Return to boil, and simmer until tender.

OPTION 1 (the ‘stick to your ribs’ version: Mash the vegetables with a potato masher or large fork. Remove the meat from the bone, tear into shreds and add it to the soup. If too thick, add a little water or vegetable broth.

OPTION 2 (my favourite clear broth option): Leave the vegetables in chunks and add the shredded meat. Serve with bread or bannocks with butter.

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Bannocks

500g of plain flour

1 tps (large) baking soda

1 tsp of cream of tartar

1 tsp of salt

Buttermilk for mixing

Mix the dry ingredients together. Make into a soft dough with the buttermilk, just as soft as can be easily handled. Turn on to a floured board and roll out gently until 1.5 cm thick. Cut in squares or rounds and bake on a moderately hot griddle or in fairly hot oven for 10-15 mins.

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Enjoy!

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A quick carrot & celeriac salad

Life has been hectic recently – so apologies for the lack of posts – I’ll get better I promise.

Here’s a quick recipe for a delicious seasonal carrot and celeriac salad which makes a nice crunchy side dish and it is very healthy too.

At the weekend I was busy working at the Shetland Food Fair where Promote Shetland ran cookery demonstrations but I made sure I had some time to go around the stalls and do some shopping as there was a great selection of lovely local produce on offer. I bought yummy pork sausages from Gateside Croft, goat meat from Sandwick Pork company, Shetland honey from Scoop Wholefoods and a celeriac and carrots from Transition Turriefeild as our root produce didn’t come to much this year.

The goat meat is in the slow cooker as we speak and I quickly threw together this lovely salad (I might just eat the lot now) as I fancied something crunchy and sharp to serve with the dinner. In fact the salad is so tasty I thought I have to share the recipe with you immediately. So here it is:

Peel and great three large carrots and one small celeriac. Use juice of one lemon, a table spoon of olive oil, a table spoon of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of honey (Shetland of course in my case), pepper and a tiny pinch of salt to season the salad. And if you like capers throw a small handful in too. And take a big spoon to sample… Enjoy!

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Inspired… and in awe

Yesterday we spent a most enjoyable afternoon in Shetland’s Westside – namely in Sandness. Transition Turrifield held their third open day this summer and they also put on a small farmers’ market and teas, soup, bannocks and homebakes in Sandness Hall. A perfect reason for a little drive West, I thought, especially since the weather was lovely too.

It’s always great exploring different areas and corners of Shetland but the Westside must be my favourite as the lanscape is really beautiful. There are miles of quiet single-track roads with many hidden lochs that shine like gems, nestled in the hills. And sheep roam free. The vistas are juxstaposed with peatbanks with lovely dark peat and white crofthouses, dotted in the landscape. It feels like the Westside is Shetland in miniature. And then there are the egg and veg boxes beside the roads… it’s so exciting buying local produce and having the element of surprise as sometimes there can also be homemade cakes, jams or preserves. The whole experience feels like a little treasure hunt!

So after a plate of tasty soup and a spot of shopping at the hall (we bought some veg, Shetland cheese, pork, beer and fudge) we set of to the croft at Turriefeld. And what a busy place it was! Cars and people everywhere. It was great being back again and seeing how everything grows as the season progresses. In June we spent an ejoyable day with Penny and Alan learning how to build a polytunnel from discarded salmon cage pipes and plastic sheeting. Back then it was a cloudy day with a lot of wind so we didn’t get a chance to finish the tunnel and put the sheet on. (I’ll write about that experience another time.)

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This time the weather was just perfect, it was sunny, warm and there was very little wind. Everything looked green and lush. When we arrived we were given a lovely guided tour of the croft’s growing areas by one of the volunteers and in a few words I have to say I was in awe… Yes, it was amazing to see big juicy tomatoes, beans, courgettes, aubergines… but there were also pumpkins, corn… and melons too! All these were in the tunnels. Outside all sorts of brassicas, peas, carrots and tatties are thriving. And then there were the animals – hens, turkeys and ducks… and the pigs that help to work the ground.

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I could keep going on but basically visiting Turriefield and seeing the amazing work that Penny, Alan and their volunteers do is simply amazing and utterly inspiring. Visiting their croft is real eye-opener and it shows how with a bit of knowledge, some shetler and a bit of digging (or a lot) it is possible to grow many things in Shetland. And do so in a responsible, sustainable way.

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I’m totally inspired and next year I’m planning to reduce the lawn area even more to make space for a few more raised beds… just a shame we don’t have more space as I would love to have one of thoose big tunnels too… (the one pictured below is the one we built in June and it currently used for drying a great crop of garlic before it is used in the new season).

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Find out about my previous visit to Turriefield here. For further information and recipes click here.

More photos here.

Grow your own garlic

If you ask me what my favourite ingredients are one of them would have to be garlic (Allium sativum). Garlic is a versatile food flavouring but most importantly it is an amazing natural remedy. It’s been proven garlic is powerful natural antibiotic and therefore it’s great for preventing and curing many illnesses.

There are two main medicinal ingredients which produce the garlic health benefits: allicin and diallyl sulphides. Allicin does not occur in “ordinary” garlic, it is produced when garlic is finely chopped or crushed. The finer the chopping and the more intensive the crushing, the more allicin is generated and the stronger the medicinal effect. Garlic is a sulphurous compound and in general a stronger tasting clove has more sulphur content and hence more potential medicinal value. Some people have suggested that organically grown garlic tends towards a higher sulphur level and hence greater benefit to health. Whether or not that is in fact the case, it certainly has the best taste. (Source: Garlic Central)

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So growing your own garlic definitely makes sense, especially as it can be quite expensive buying organic.

In fact growing your own garlic is really simple and hugely satisfying. Even in Shetland, at 60° north, you can succeed to grow good size bulbs, which will taste much better and stronger than supermarket-bought garlic. And it will keep much better too.

To grow your own garlic all you’ll need is a small patch of well-dreained soil or ideally a raised bed. 1 x 1m will give you sufficient space to produce enough garlic to keep you going all year (I judge this by our standard and we use a lot garlic. I mean a lot). For best results choose a sunny site and add some garden compost too.

Garlic can be planted in the spring, as soon as the ground is dry enough to be worked, but to get good sized bulbs you’ll need to be a bit more organised and plant the seed garlic around October or November time. Since in Shetand we do not suffer from frost too much planting garlic in late autumn is ok, however if you live in an area where hard frost is an issue make sure you plant garlic six to eight weeks before that frost.

Break apart cloves from bulb, but keep the papery husk on each individual clove and plant 10cm deep and approximately 12cm apart, with their pointed ends up. You can also cover the planted area with 5cm of organic mulch, such as shredded leaves or grass clippings. And that’s the hard work done – the rest will happen on its own. In early spring the garlic will start growing and come late summer you’ll be able to start enjoying your crops! Really, garlic must be one of the easiest plants to grow!

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Harvesting and storing – from early summer to midsummer, keep an eye on your plants and pull them when about one-third of the leaves appear yellow and withered. Use a fork to loosen the soil before pulling the plants and avoid bruising the freshly pulled bulbs. Lay the whole plants out to dry in a warm, airy spot that is protected from rain and direct sun. After a week or so, brush off soil from the bulbs and clip roots to 1cm long. Do not be tempted to remove the papery outer husks as these inhibit sprouting and protect the cloves from rotting. Hang your dried crop in mesh bags in a cool place. This way your garlic should keep for approximately six months.

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So give it a go – grow some super healthy food and save some money too! It’s easy…

Healthy Snack Recipe – Homemade Energy Bars

Do you sometimes feel like something sweet yet you want your snack to be healthy and nutritious? I like shop-bought granola bars but they tend to be loaded with sugar so I decided to try to make my own. This recipe is very simple and the two main ingredients are bananas and rolled oats.

Bananas are an amazing fruit. They are a brilliant source of energy and they are good for digestion, are probiotic and are a good source of fibre, Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese and Vitamin B6. Eaten raw they are a delicious and satisfying snack. But they are also brilliant for baking as they take place of sugar, eggs and fat.

The great thing about these bars is they have no added sugar and you can whip them up in just a few minutes. They are a perfect mid-morning snack or they are also fantastic for picnics or days out walking.

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Homemade Energy Bars

Makes one 25 x 25cm tray

2 large, ripe bananas

2 cups rolled oats

1/4 cup pitted, chopped dried dates

1/4 cup raisins

Grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

You can also add chopped wallnuts or hazelnuts, chopped dried apricots, dried berries or seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower or linseed.

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Heat the oven to 180°C and line a 25 x 25cm square baking tray with baking paper.

Peel the bananas and mash them thoroughly in a medium mixing bowl; the bananas should be essentially liquid.  Add the oats and stir them in. Stir in the dates, raisins, spices and any other ingredients you’re using.

Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan and press it well. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Place the baking tray on a rack to cool. When the tray is mostly cool, cut into bars. I use pizza cutter which makes the job easier.

Enjoy!

 

Make your own herbal tea blend

Hope you’re all having a great summer – it’s been a busy one for us hence the break in posting. Most of July we spent in the Czech Republic enjoying sunshine, glorious walks in the countryside, cities and time with friends and family. On our return to Shetland we were delighted to hear our building warrant for removing faulty blocks and subsequently insulating and cladding the house with larch was approved so we started the works immediately. Busy times…

For some reason after coming back from holidays this time I’ve been struggling to get back to my normal routine of healthy eating and walking plenty but I’m hoping to find my motivation soon and get back on track.

One of my routines is to dedicate Mondays to a fasting day. I feel a one-day fast is a good way of cleansing the body, getting rid of toxins and also keeping your weight under control.

Fasting means not eating for a prolonged period of time and there are different fasting regimes available. Refraining from eating for even a day can cleanse your body and help you feel better. Many resources also state that acute illnesses respond positively to fasting. I usually stick to drinking water and herbal teas throughout the day. Sometimes evenings are difficult so if I need to ‘cheat’ I’ll have a small baked potato for dinner as potatoes are low in calories and fill up the stomach so you don’t feel hungry.

When I’m in the Czech Republic I always stock up on my favourite herbal teas by an Austrian / Czech company called Sonnentor which liteally translates as ‘sun gate’. I very much like the philosophy of the company as their emphasis is on working with small organic herb growers and farmers and respect and consideration for nature are very important to them. They have a huge selection of teas based on traditional herbal blends and my favourite is their Hildegard von Binge range. Hildegard Fasting Time is a delicious aromatic blend which helps me to get through my fasting Mondays.

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For a bit of change I’ve decided to make my own blend, using herbs from the garden or ones I’ve picked in Shetland (apart from juniper).

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My blend contains:

Nettle (Urtica Dioica): used for treatment of disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, bladder infections, skin complaints, eczema, cardio-vascular system, hemorrhage, flu, rheumatism and gout. When cooked it is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Nettle is a powerful detoxifier and is believed to enhance immune system.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita): not only it is delicious but it also calms the nervous system, soothes stomach and it is believed it relieves stress and muscular tension. Peppermint tea can act as an appetite suppressant, making it easier to stick to your healthy eating goals. Drinking a blend of peppermint tea and green tea can help increase metabolism, making it easier to shed extra pounds. Peppermint is also a natural remedy for certain stomach ailments, including bloating and gas. Having a cup of tea in the evening before bed can help soothe these problems, making it easier to digest and fall asleep.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): did you know an extremely useful natural remedy and food already grows in your garden… and you probably consider it a weed? The entire plant is used in herbal remedies: roots, leaves, and flowers. Dandelion leaves are very bitter and bitters have been used for centuries in many countries before meals as a digestive and liver stimulant. We are inundated daily with chemicals and substances that the liver must process so it deserves our support. Rough dry skin and acne, constipation, gas and bloating, frequent headaches, and premenstrual syndrome are all potential symptoms of an overburdened liver. Dandelion is also used to help purify blood and to treat infections. Dandelion leaves are also rich in minerals and vitamins, particularly calcium and vitamins A, C, K, and B2 (riboflavin).

Elderflower (Sambucus nigra): elder plant and is often overlooked for its medicinal benefits and is most frequently used for its flavouring properties and in making various foods and beverages. But in Central and Eastern Europe is commonly used to treat bronchitis, cough, upper respiratory cold infections and fever due to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Elderflower also has diuretic and laxative properties and is helpful in relieving occasional constipation. It also has has antibacterial and antiviral properties and may also help alleviate some allergies and boost the functioning of the immune system.

Sage (Salvia officinalis): Salvia is derived from the Latin salvere (to save) and it has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, increasing women’s fertility, a local anesthetic and much more. In Middle Ages it was cultivated in monastery gardens and it was one of the herbs which were used to ward off the plague. In the traditional Austrian medicine sage has been used internally (as tea or directly chewed) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and skin. Its bitter component stimulates upper digestive secretions, intestinal mobility, bile flow, and pancreatic function, while the volatile oil has a stimulating effect on the digestion.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): a powerful healing herb. In Homer’s Iliad, legendary warrior Achilles uses yarrow to treat the wounds of his fallen fellow warriors. Indeed, constituents in yarrow make it a fine herb for accelerating healing of cuts and bruises. The species name, millefolium, is Latin for “a thousand leaves,” referring to the herb’s fine feathery foliage. Yarrow is also widely used in used in herbal remedies designed to treat heavy bleeding from menstrual periods and it is often classified as a uterine tonic. Several studies have shown that yarrow can improve uterine tone, which may increase menstrual blood flow when it is irregular or scanty, and reduce uterine spasms, which reduces heavy flow in cases of abnormally heavy menstrual flow.

Juniper (Juniperus communis): not that I have seen juniper growing in Shetland but since the dried berries are included in the Sonnentor tea I have decided to add them to my blend as well as they have a lovely flavour. Juniper is used for digestion problems including upset stomach, intestinal gas, heartburn, bloating and loss of appetite, as well as gastrointestinal (GI) infections.

And Shetland rose, marigold and white clover for a bit of colour and brightness too…

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Here are some tips for a fasting day:

1. Pick a day you want to fast. Depending on your work schedule, weekends work well for some people but I prefer weekdays as I’m busy at work which helps me to keep my mind of feeling hungry and I’m generally less likely to give in to the temptation…

2. Determine how long your fast will be. If you have never fasted before you should only fast for a day to see how your body manages it. Remember, there are transition periods before and after the fast. You will want to ease yourself from a full diet and ease back onto one.

3. To get the best results, the day before you fast eat only raw vegetables, whole grains, raw fruits and drink herbal tea and water.

4. On your fasting day abstain for eating the entire day. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of herbal tea and water. Use approximately 1 tbsp. of loose dried tea herbs for every 8 oz. of water. Drink only herbal teas the day of your fast. You will want to consume approximately two litres of tea or water. You can drink it cold or hot. Do not exercise vigorously. Rest and relaxation will help your body cleanse.

5. Ideally eat only raw vegetables, fruit and whole grains and drink herbal teas and water the day after your fast. Try not fill your stomach.

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Enjoy and good luck!

 

 

 

Rhubarb Schnapps

Pulling out a first few stalks of rhubarb in early May must surely be one of the most delightful things in gardener’s year. There’s nothing more exciting than taking of a rhubarb forcer (in our case an old burning bin) and being rewarded by lush, vividly pink, super-long stalks that almost beg to be eaten raw, just dipped into sugar! Forcing rhubarb is probably not a common thing in Shetland but covering the crowns will encourage the plants to make early growth and these forced stalks make a great substitute for fruit when there is little else available from the garden. m_IMG_3085 In Shetland cooking with rhubarb has a great tradition as it grows really well. In fact so well that a whole recipe book has been devoted to it. Rhubarbaria, written by the late Mary Prior – a frequent visitor to Shetland, is a brilliant and inspiring cookbook of every sort of rhubarb recipe. Rhubarb with meat or fish, vegetables, as a pudding, as a jam or in chutney are all included in this extensive resource. And since my rhubarb plant seems to have established itself quite well over the past couple of years I’m hoping I’ll have enough to keep cropping throughout the summer to be able to try a few recipes from the book. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of a lamb and rhubarb stew! Here’s a recipe for rhubarb schnapps, a delicious, refreshing and seasonably pink drink.  m_IMG_6228 1. Chop the rhubarb finely to expose maximum surface area. Pulsing it a few times in a food processor makes the job much faster. Place in a glass jar add the vanilla pod (cut in half; lenght wise), cover with vodka by approximately an inch or so, seal, and allow to steep a month. Over this time, the flavour and colour will leach out of the rhubarb, leaving the alcohol pink and the rhubarb yellow-white. 2. When the rhubarb has finished steeping, strain it from the alcohol, and filter the solution through several layers of cheesecloth.  3. Measure the final amount of alcohol – this is your base number. In a saucepan, heat 1.5 times that amount of water, and 1/2 – 3/4 that amount of sugar, depending on how sweet you like things. To give an example: 4 cups rhubarb alcohol would need 6 cups of water and 2-3 cups sugar. Let the sugar syrup cool, then add it to your filtered alcohol. 4. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Let age for at least a month before enjoying. Rhubarb schnapps keeps at any temperature, but is especially delicious straight from the freezer. Try adding it to your Cava or Prosecco, just like Kir Royale. m_DSC_1732