October 2022 and I’m back in Shetland, this time to pursue food and history. In 2019 it was all about stunning coastal walks and brilliant wildlife. And Shetland made an impression. My musings on this visit are recorded here.
So with my long suffering but enthusiastic travelling companion in tow, I certainly got to grips in a determined way with the culture and the stories of Shetland food.
A highlight was A Taste of Shetland Food and Drink Festival – blogged recently here. What an amazing experience. A really good way to encounter local produce and producers. I tasted samples of tablet, sponge cake, sourdough, bannocks, oatcake and some gin to wash it all down. Have I left anything out?
Some wonderful restaurants too, in Lerwick where we were based, doing innovative food with local, seasonal food. I think I had seafood wherever I went – Shetland seafood is gorgeous.
Some highlights were beautiful scallops and mussels at No 88 Kitchen and Bar, exquisitely presented dishes at Da Steak Hoose and the best crème brûlée ever at C’est La Vie!
But I need to do a big shout out to the Cake Fridges of Shetland – what a fantastic, quirky idea!
These are fridges literally set up on the roadside where the owner bakes cakes and treats which you buy by putting money in an honesty box. And that’s it! Shetland is such a community minded place that people are honest.
I visited The Cake Fridge in Aith – the original cake fridge, and bought hot coffee and tiffin – a kind of chocolate slice. Very Shetland and quite delicious.
On the island of Unst, seemingly in the middle of nowhere we were delighted to find a cake fridge, this time more accurately a cake dolls’ house! And on a cold and windy day we bought shortbread, more tiffin and tablet to keep us fuelled for exploring this most northerly island.
History and archeology were also on the agenda. And we struck gold when we met the eloquent and knowledgeable Chris Dyer from Garths Croft on the island of Bressay. Chris is an archeologist, historian and farmer, who is a passionate enthusiast for native and heritage breeds and sustainable farming.
An afternoon spent at Garths Croft was an immersive experience in the workings of a small croft. Readers of this blog may be aware of my love of sheep – and I was fascinated by the sheep that Chris breeds for colour. And I was particularly taken by Dinky, a sheep that had been hand reared from birth by Chris. I admit to being a bit sentimental where sheep are concerned…
Chris also is highly informed on local food and the importance of food miles in agriculture and food production in Shetland. We ate some outstanding local dishes on Chris’ recommendations.
One of those recommendations was the wonderful Speldiburn Cafe which we visited when we were on Bressay. Now here was great Shetland food – soups, bannocks. cakes and tiffin, all home made and all served with a welcoming smile!
We were able to tap into Chris’ other great passion, archeology, when we drove up to Unst, the most northerly point of the UK, driving across two islands via two ferries to reach this historic place. This bleak and windswept island is evocative, thought to be the first point of contact in the North Atlantic of the Vikings, and a treasure trove of archeological sites pertaining to Viking history.
At Haroldswick, a replica Viking Long House, where we had lunch, and a Viking ship the Skidbladner, give visitors some idea of Viking life. The replica ship actually made the voyage from Sweden to Shetland. Apparently bound for the United States in 2000, the ship stopped off in Unst where it remains today. Getting inside the ship gave me a real appreciation of how hard those Viking sea journeys must have been.
I had visited Unst in 2019, staying at Saxa Vord, at the service quarters of an old RAF base. Some of the base facilities are now being developed as part of the planned SaxaVord Spaceport, creating a successful, internationally recognised “new space business”. Today however Saxa Vord is abandoned, and we wandered around the deserted site. Another reminder of the historical strategic importance of the northerly isle – to the Viking invaders and latterly to those seeking to defend the UK on its northerly tip.
I think of all the sites we visited the ruins of Framgord Chapel and graveyard left the greatest impression on me.
Chris brought us to this special place above the beach at Sandwick. The chapel probably dates to the 12th Century. The graveyard was what fascinated me. With sweeping views of the beach, the graveyard is a testament to history and spirituality. Remarkably it’s still in use today, and contemporary headstones lie side by side with early Viking Christian graves.
On a more poignant note there is the burial place and memorial to crew members of a Norwegian ship torpedoed in 1940 during World War 2. The lifeboat was wrecked at Muness in Unst. The wild seas are still the graveyard of latter day northern seafarers.
We saw much more on Unst, and this would only have been the tip of the iceberg. The archeological treasures of Unst are numerous and bear more research.
I would add here that any trip to Shetland to discover its history is enhanced by visiting Shetland Museum in Lerwick – a really interesting and informative collection.
Of course I did and saw a lot more! I just wanted to give a snapshot, the highlights, of a memorable visit to wonderful Shetland. Highly recommended.
I love sourdough and I love cinnamon scrolls so I have been keen to develop a cinnamon scrolls recipe using the great flavours of sourdough.
It’s been a labour of love, with lots of trial and error, but my latest version is really good and I’m very happy!
Like any sourdough recipe, it takes a bit of time, but those gorgeous soft brioche style scrolls are well worth the extra time!
The scrolls are filled with a butter brown sugar cinnamon mixture and sit in some gooey caramel while baking. Once baked the tops glazed with golden syrup and finally, when cool, drizzled with lemon icing.
400g strong flour
200g sourdough starter
50g caster sugar
3 free range eggs, at room temperature
100g tepid milk
100g unsalted butter
75g unsalted butter
125g light brown sugar
50g maple syrup
150g light brown sugar
1 heaped tablespoon ground cinnamon
100g unsalted butter, very soft
Golden Syrup Glaze
2 tablespoons golden syrup heated to use as glaze
Juice of 1/4 lemon
200g icing sugar or enough icing sugar to make a dripping icing
In a large bowl add all the dough ingredients except the butter. Mix to a rough dough, cover and leave for 30 minutes to autolyse.
Using a dough hook of an electric mixer, knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until smooth and silky.
Now add butter, in small pieces, which needs to be very soft. You can soften the butter in the microwave. Mix using the dough hook until the mixture is smooth and elastic. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and leave to prove somewhere warm for 4 hours. The dough should have risen slightly.
To make the caramel, melt the butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat.
Line a large baking pan with baking paper. I use 22cm x23cm (9 inch x 13 inch) pan. Spoon the caramel sauce over the base. You don’t have to use all the sauce – the more you use the gooier the scrolls will be. I sometimes only use half the caramel for a less gooey bottom.
Remove the proven dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured board. Using floured hands, gently stretch the dough to a rough rectangle, slightly less than the size of your pan.
For the cinnamon filling, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together.
Spread the very soft butter all over the dough rectangle. Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon over the butter.
Now roll up the dough along the long side, as carefully as you can, as the dough is very soft.
Cut the long roll into 12 even pieces. Place the pieces into the baking pan, cut side up, on top of the caramel sauce, packing them in snugly together.
Put the pan into a large plastic bag to prove. Leave at room temperature for an hour then place into the fridge overnight or for 8-12 hours. Or, if you wanted to prove more quickly, leave in a warm place for 2 hours. I recommend the fridge prove as it really improves the flavour.
Half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 160 degrees C fan or 180 degrees C non fan forced. Add a pan of water to the bottom of the oven to create steam for baking.
Take the pan out of the plastic bag and place the scrolls in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the tops of the scrolls are golden brown but not burnt.
Once baked, remove from the oven. Brush the tops of the scrolls with the warmed golden syrup.
To make the lemon icing, mix the lemon juice with the icing sugar. You may need more or less icing sugar – use enough to make an icing of dripping consistency.
One the scrolls are quite cool, drizzle the lemon icing over the tops of the scrolls.
Remove the scrolls from the pan and peel off the baking paper. The scrolls will be sticky with the caramel sauce underneath.
Best eaten on the day while the scrolls are gooey. They can be microwaved gently the next day if you have any left over!
I love Easter and all the baking opportunities it provides. There are so many traditional recipes with strong cultural or religious origins, and I’m as fascinated with the history of the recipes as much as with the delicious pastries and bakes themselves.
But hot cross buns are my favourite. As a bread baker I guess this is to be expected! I always make them at Easter, having a go at a different recipe each year. But in 2021 I decided to develop my own version. I have had so much experience baking with sourdough recently that I thought I could use some of that know how in a hot cross bun recipe. So this recipe is a hybrid – it uses both dry yeast and some sourdough starter. The result are well risen, light and flavourful buns.
The recipe makes 16 – but if you only want to bake 12, I have included the quantities to bake a dozen – see below.
For the observant readers who have counted 15 buns in the photos, I actually managed to get 17 buns from the dough! So I decided to bake two buns on another tray.
250g mix of sultanas and raisins
40mls Pedro Ximinez or port or muscat
625g strong flour
7g dried yeast
125g sourdough starter
Zest of 1/2 an orange
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
I teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1/2 teaspoon each of ground ginger and cloves
50g brown sugar
30g golden syrup
2 medium free-range eggs, well beaten
60g unsalted butter, in small pieces
200g full fat milk at room temperature
150g apple juice
50g candied orange peel
3 teaspoons caster sugar
50g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
Soak the raisins and sultanas in the Pedro Ximinez or port or muscat for up to 3 hours to plump up the fruit.
Starting with the flour, add all the other ingredients (except dried fruit and candied orange peel) to a large bowl. Just make sure the yeast is on one side of the bowl and salt on the other.
Mix everything roughly together using a wooden spoon, just to amalgamate the ingredients. Leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Using the dough hook of an electric mixer, knead on low speed for 10 minutes until the dough is soft, shiny and passes the windowpane test. This dough is initially quite wet, so it will take 10 minutes kneading to bring it to that lovely elastic consistency you are looking for.
Add the sultanas, raisins and any residual alcohol that hasn’t soaked into the fruit, and the candied orange peel. Mix for about a minute on low to distribute the fruit evenly through the dough.
Remove the bowl from the machine and cover with a plastic bag or tea towel. Leave to prove in a warm place for 2 hours.
The dough should have doubled in size. Carefully remove the risen dough from the bowl and place on a board or bench top which has been lightly floured. Putting a little more flour on your hands to stop the dough from sticking, flatten the dough to a rough rectangle, and fold in half lengthways. Cut in two and roll each half into a sausage.
You should get 16 hot cross buns from the mixture. Take one sausage and divide into two, then divide each into 4 pieces.
To shape your buns, take one piece and roll into a ball, and with your cupped hand over the top of the ball, keep rolling on the board or bench top till you feel the dough tightening and developing a nice ball shape.
Repeat with remaining balls. Do the same thing with the other sausage.
Place the 16 balls – now buns – onto a large baking tray lined with baking paper.
Cover with a large plastic bag or a tea towel and leave to prove again. I prove this second time in the fridge overnight. You can also prove at room temperature for an hour or more until the buns have grown a little in size. (They don’t get huge – this happens in the oven.)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C fan forced or 190 degrees C non fan for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the crosses by mixing the flour, water and sugar in small bowl. Use a bit of judgement here – you want a paste that is not too runny, but not so stiff that it can’t be piped. So add/subtract flour and water to get the right consistency. Fill a piping bag or a zip lock bag that you can cut the corner off with the cross mixture, and pipe lines across each row of buns, then pipe another set of lines at right angles to the first set to make the crosses.
If you’re in any doubt how to do this, YouTube has how-to videos!
Put the tray into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the buns are a dark golden brown.
As you can see from the colour of the buns in the photos, my buns are a deep burnished colour. But they are soft and moist inside!
While the buns are baking, make the glaze. Put the caster sugar, golden syrup and water into a small saucepan and heat gently on the stovetop stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes until the glaze has thickened slightly.
Once the buns are cooked, remove from the oven. Brush the warm syrup over the warm buns, making sure you brush the sides as well.
When the buns have cooled slightly, eat with lashings of good quality butter. The next day, split and toast and serve with, of course, more butter!
Hot cross buns freeze well too, so make a pile that you can store in the freezer and reheat as necessary.
NB Reheat in the oven, the buns don’t do well in the microwave.
Quantities for 12 hot cross buns
(Some quantities stay the same as it doesn’t make a huge difference to alter these quantities).
200g mix of sultanas and raisins
40mls Pedro Ximinez or port or muscat
450g strong flour
7g dried yeast
100g sourdough starter
Zest of 1/2 an orange
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
I teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
These little lemon meringue cakes are great – all the flavours of a lemon meringue pie in more manageable cupcake size. I made these cakes a while back, calling them poke cakes, as the lemon curd is “poked” inside the cakes. But that name seemed a bit silly, so I’m leaving that off today.
The cake part is my go-to little cake recipe. I made my own lemon curd – but using store bought is totally fine and makes the cakes easier to prepare.
And if you don’t have a blow torch, then leave this final step out, the cakes will still be delicious without it! Ingredients
Little cakes 125g self-raising flour 125g caster sugar 125g butter 2 large free-range eggs 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract Zest of half a lemon 2 tblsp milk
Lemon Curd Juice of 2 lemons 4 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons butter 2 free-range egg yolks, beaten lightly
This mixture makes 12 cupcakes, but you are looking for a larger than cupcake size in this recipe. You should get 6 good size cakes from the mixture. Liberally grease a 6 mold pan. A Texas muffin works well. In the photos I used a popover pan, as I love the deepness of each mold.
Put all the ingredients except the milk in a food processor and blitz till smooth. Add the milk while pulsing to make a soft, dropping consistency.
Spoon the mixture into the molds, filling the molds equally.
Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the cakes are cooked and golden on top.
Pop the cakes out of the molds and leave to cool on a wire rack.
For the lemon curd, place all the ingredients in a double boiler or bain marie. Cook over a medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. When cool, refrigerate until ready to use.
For the meringue, place egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on high speed for 3-4 minutes to soft peaks.
Add caster sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each to be incorporated before adding the next, whisking until mixture is glossy. The meringue will be shiny and will hold stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted from the bowl.
To assemble, take each cake and “poke” 3 holes in the top of each cake, using the end of a wooden spoon. Be careful as you do this, as the cake might break. The idea is to get holes big enough to pipe the lemon curd into, but the end of the wooden spoon is just a little too large for the “poking”. If you have something a little smaller, by all means use that instead.
Fill a piping bag without a nozzle with the lemon curd, and gently pipe some curd into each hole in the cakes. The aim is to fill the holes. Once each cake is filled, pipe or spoon the rest of the curd over the tops of the cakes.
Fill another piping bag also without a nozzle with the meringue. You will only need half the mixture, so you can make a few spare meringues with the remainder of the mixture. Pipe a swirl of meringue on the top of each cake. Now using a blow torch, scorch the meringue topping as little or as much as you like.
The lemon meringue cakes look good and when you cut them open or bite into them, they should ooze with lemon curd. Very delicious and quite mooreish!
A couple of posts back I revisited my Blueberry Hazelnut Cake. So I really had to make another blueberry cake straight after posting that recipe as blueberries are everywhere and are so inexpensive! I picked up 3 punnets from a fruit stall in the city for $5 – such good value!
This is a riff from the original recipe, this time using ground almonds and orange. Orange slices make a great decoration for the top of the cake too. Like the original cake, I made a quick blueberry jam to spoon over the top. Better then frosting, and it really complements the blueberries inside the cake.
This is an incredibly moist cake, because of the blueberries and the Greek yoghurt. The cooking time is 45 minutes, but you may need to give it a little longer if it’s still not quite baked when you check using the skewer test.
Because it’s so moist I thought about adjusting the liquid quantities, but decided not to, as I think this cake works really well as a rich dessert, and is also a great cake for keeping. And don’t worry if it doesn’t rise that much, there is a lot of fruit in it which makes it harder to rise.
Any orange is fine for the juice and decoration – I used a blood orange as they are in season in Sydney and are so pretty!
125g softened butter
115g caster sugar
1 teaspoon almond essence
2 free-range eggs
1 heaped tablespoon Greek yoghurt
100g ground almonds
100g plain flour
I teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon orange juice
200g fresh blueberries
For the quick blueberry jam
50g caster sugar
Juice of half an orange
Orange slices for decoration, if desired
You can make this cake in a stand mixer, but I prefer to use a food processor. Either will work well.
I made this cake in a square cake pan with a removable base, but of course a round spring form pan is what most people will have, so that will work fine.
Preheat oven to 170 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan-forced. Grease a 20cm square pan with a removable baseif you have it, or a 20cm spring form round pan, and line the base with baking paper.
Cream butter, caster sugar and almond essence extract in a food processor. Add the free-range eggs and process until eggs are well incorporated. Pulse in the Greek yoghurt. Sift the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Stir in the sifted ingredients into the mixture with a spoon, then stir in the milk and orange juice.
Fold in the fresh blueberries. Spoon into whichever cake pan you are using.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Check the cake after 35 or 40 minutes, and if it’s browning too quickly, place a piece of baking paper or aluminium foil over the top to prevent burning.
Meanwhile, cook the blueberries for the quick jam and the caster sugar with the orange juice in a small saucepan for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved, the blueberries are slightly softened and the liquid slightly reduced. You can gently press on the blueberries with the back of spoon to help them release their juices.
Cool the cake completely in the pan before removing the sides/ring of the pan. As the cake is quite moist and therefore a bit delicate, carefully remove it from its base using an offset spatula or indeed an ordinary metal spatula.
Pile the blueberry “jam” onto the top of the cake. Serve with more fresh berries and orange slices if desired. I think this particular blueberry cake is fine on its own, as it’s so moist, but you could always dress it up with cream or ice cream if serving as a dessert.
This is one from the archives. A relatively easy cake that packs a real blueberry punch! Because of all of the blueberries, it is a moist cake that keeps well.
Blueberries seem to be perennially in season here in Sydney and are relatively inexpensive. I have them permanently on hand for my breakfast granola with Greek yoghurt. But they’re yummy baked in a cake too.
This cake maximises the blueberry thing with fresh blueberries, dried blueberries and blueberry jam. The main hit comes from the fresh blueberries, and you could easily leave the dried ones out altogether- they’re not always easy to buy. Or substitute some raisins instead.
The “jam” is actually pretty simple – some blueberries cooked with sugar and water to make a rough preserve.
And a double hazelnut hit from the ground hazelnuts and the toasted hazelnuts.
It can be dressed up or down – great for afternoon tea or for a dessert.
125g softened butter
115g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 free-range eggs
1 heaped tbls sour cream
90g ground hazelnuts
1/4 cup toasted and finely chopped hazelnuts
100g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g dried blueberries, soaked in 1 tblsp of water for an hour (or substitute raisins or leave out altogether)
200g fresh blueberries
75g caster sugar
You can make this cake in a stand mixer, but I prefer to use a food processor. Either will work well!
Preheat oven to 170 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan-forced. Grease a 20cm spring form tin and line base with baking paper.
Cream butter, caster sugar and vanilla extract in a food processor. Add the free-range eggs and process until eggs are well incorporated. Pulse in the sour cream. Sift the ground hazelnuts with the chopped hazelnuts, SR flour and bicarbonate of soda. Stir in the sifted ingredients into the mixture with a spoon, then stir in the milk.
Fold in the soaked dried blueberries or raisins if using, and half of the fresh blueberries. Spoon into the springform cake tin.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the remaining blueberries and caster sugar with 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved, the blueberries are slightly softened and the liquid slightly reduced. You can gently press on the blueberries with the back of spoon to help them release their juices.
Cool the cake completely in the tin before removing the ring of the springform tin. As the cake is quite moist and therefore a bit delicate, carefully remove it from its base using an offset spatula or indeed a ordinary metal spatula.
Pile the blueberry “jam” onto the top of the cake. Serve with more fresh berries and a sprinkling of sugar if desired, with whipped cream, creme fraiche or sour cream, any kind of cream goes well with this sweet blueberry baked delight!
Travel broadens the mind, as people say. New vistas, new cultures and new ideas enrich and even change our perspectives.
What this Antipodean writer did not expect when I travelled to Shetland was to be so captivated by the beauty of the wild islands, as well as its history so well preserved, and its fascinating culture, in particular the food and the cooking of the islands. I was under a spell, utterly smitten.
Shetland is a group of islands, north of mainland UK, and surprisingly close to Norway. Described aptly by the official Shetland website, “where Scotland meets Scandinavia and the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.” I can attest to the latter, as I actually crossed from sea to ocean, walking the distance of a whole 80 metres!
In life, I am very much influenced by place, the physical environment, the light, the sky and even the weather. I instantly feel a connection, or not, as the case may be, to a place. I feel the place too, in the mood, the atmosphere, a sense of what has happened in a place, its emotional gauge.
So what I experienced in Shetland is coloured by these kinds of reactions to places that made some very strong impressions on me. I am writing here a little about those places I saw and experiences I had there, to give the reader an idea of the power of Shetland to capture one’s spirit and imagination.
I was gobsmacked by the views. The coastline is stunning, beautiful and largely free of the impact of humans, unending vistas where sheep rule. Wild, but not rugged. The absence of trees on the landscape, the verdant slopes, close cropped green pastures, soften the view. The vast expanse of sky and the sheer cliffs, all buffeted by bracing winds, make the landscape wild but not forbidding.
I was able to have the experience of walking this beautiful coastline. The Kettla Ness headland, in West Burra, on the island of Mainland, provided spectacular high views of an extensive and gentle coastline, and gave me the sense of the vastness of sky and ocean.
I loved the island of Mousa. The visit to the island was a memorable day, everything about it was special, from the ferry trip to the walk to encountering my first Iron Age broch.
I was able to walk around a part of this island, where the principal inhabitants are birds, and the Broch of Mousa is a testament to its Iron Age history. Indeed, this Broch is the most well preserved and significant Iron Age broch in Britain. Walkers are delivered by ferry to Mousa, the only humans on the island. Eating an egg sandwich for lunch at the base of the historic Broch was a curious and rather comforting experience. A very human activity, creating a connection across two thousand years with those people who had ate, slept and lived in that very place.
To the north west in Mainland is Eshaness, rugged and wildly beautiful cliff tops. Sea and wind have carved and shaped the cliffs into fantastic shapes. A circular walk from the lighthouse really made me aware that the sheep of Shetland dominate landscape and agriculture. I loved the walk, where you cross many fences and stone walls with stiles, the startling coastline to the west, untouched by human hand, and undulating pastures to the east, evidence of human occupation.
Unst is the most northerly island in Shetland. I’m not sure how close to Norway the top of Unst is. Walking on Skaw Beach, and on top of Saxa Vord Hill, on a wild and windy morning, I definitely felt that Norway was only kilometres away – quite a few, I grant you – but the Norse connection to Shetland seemed palpable. The top of Unst is another place that is desolate and beautiful, exposed and raw, a powerful place.
It’s hard not to look at the landscapes and seascapes of Shetland without connecting them to Shetland’s history, as they are so intertwined.
The history of Shetland fascinated and engaged me. The Neolithic, Iron Age and comparatively recent Norse occupations have shaped the culture of the islands. The Viking invasions from around 800AD, created the northern outreach, the Shetland islands, of a great Norse earldom that had its base in Orkney, and it’s this that has influenced language, laws and culture in Shetland.
With time Norway, from where the Norse invaders had come, was increasingly under Danish control, and in 1471 Shetland was annexed to Scotland as a result of a marriage treaty between James III of Scotland and Margaret, a Danish princess. The Danish repeatedly tried to have the islands returned to them, but Scotland never agreed. That Shetland has had such a significant Norse influence and occupation in relatively recent history speaks much about the ethos, the outlook of the islands.
I am keen to research more of the Viking story in Shetland and Orkney. I have a connection with Orkney and its Norse past. My given name, Inga, is an inheritance from that past. The wider narrative, told in the Orkneyinga Saga, is a source of both fictional and historical detail and an interesting resource.
You find evidence of an amazing past everywhere in Shetland. Wherever you go, you stumble across places and relics of archeological significance. From deserted Iron Age remains on walking trails, to the Mousa Broch already mentioned, and the magnificent Jarlshof in Sumburgh, Mainland, one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Britain.
Jarlshof is an incredibly well preserved site of human occupation, with remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD. There is evidence from Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Norse settlements. Luckily for me this amazing site was next door to the hotel where I was staying in Sumburgh, affording me a close inspection of the site. Standing at the top of the tower and surveying the region on a clear day was another of those experiences of connection with lives of the past.
Muness Castle, on the island of Unst, is a remarkably preserved example of a fortified castle. It was interesting to examine a ruin that was comparatively “modern”, built in 1598 for Laurence Bruce. It is the most northerly castle in the British Isles. Laurence Bruce, a lowlander, was Sheriff of Scotland and an oppressor of its Scandinavian inhabitants. The castle, although ruined, felt oppressive, even menacing, evoking its dark past. Walking in the ruins, into rooms largely intact, where people had lived their lives, seemed to dissolve the five hundred years that had elapsed from the building of the castle to 2019.
The land and seascapes of Shetland are stunning, but part of their beauty is the abundant and at times unique wildlife. Shetland attracts walkers and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world. There are countless opportunities to observe colonies of seabirds, as well as rare bird species.
Walking to the top of Sumburgh Head, to the lighthouse, there was an abundance of bird life to see. This was my first introduction to puffins, that iconic symbol of Shetland wildlife, as well as fulmars and gannets. On the island of Mousa, there are Arctic and great skuas, Arctic terns, gulls and storm petrels, those much sought after residents of this small island.
In islands where the sea is king, sea mammals proliferate. Otter tracking, and seal and whale spotting are popular. I was lucky enough to encounter the first two of these sea mammals.
An otter tracking morning on the island of Yell provided an opportunity to see an otter in action, if only from a distance. Otters were probably introduced to Shetland. As there were no large rivers they had to adapt to living by the sea. Their holts or dens are next to fresh water so they can wash the salt off their fur when they come ashore. Our otter was spotted near the low lying shore, and did indeed make a bolt for his holt!
Seals are plentiful and easy to see. We saw quite a few seals, sporting in the shallows or sun baking on the beach or rocks on days that were not really that sunny…
The land, the sea, the wildlife are special, but it’s the people and the stories of the past that I wanted to find out about. For me the social history of the islands was important and I particularly wanted to investigate food and culture in Shetland.
There is so much wonderful produce in Shetland – in particular, seafood is amazing – fish, scallops and mussels. It’s obvious that sheep are an important food source. While lamb is delicious, I did try reestit, a leg of mutton that has been dried and cured. I think this might be an acquired taste!
A really interesting look at social history was at the Croft House Museum in Dunrossness, Mainland. The Croft House Museum is a mid-nineteenth century Shetland croft, beautifully preserved to show the day to day life of the crofter and his family. I loved the cooking arrangements over the hearth, complete with legs of reestit mutton hanging up to dry.
The roadside provided a wealth of views and insights into Shetland life. The wedding displays with bride and groom on Unst (I don’t know what these are called), the “furnished” bus shelter also on Unst and the cake fridges, where all manner of cakes can be picked up from the fridge by the roadside – paid for of course with an honesty system.
The craft scene is big in Shetland, with much of it based around wool. Fair Isle knitwear is everywhere, as well as more contemporary designs in knitted items. I was happy to sport the Fair Isle look with a jumper or two and a really warm beanie.
I am really interested in the baking in Shetland. I had lots of scones, cakes and crumbles wherever I went. Alas I didn’t get to eat bannocks, those floured scone like creations traditionally cooked on a girdle hung over the fire, and still cooked today, on girdles or on stove tops and also oven baked. I’ve made bannocks here in Oz, and I wanted to know how mine compared.
Sunday Teas are legendary in Shetland! They are an institution, where local communities provide sandwiches, baked goods and all sorts of treats, and of course tea, for a modest price, as a fundraising activity.
The timing just didn’t work out for Sunday Teas. But I did get to go to the Walls Show, on 10 August 2019. The Tea Tent provided the same kind of fare, with a lovely array of delicious cakes, traybakes and scones.
It was so much fun to go to the Show, and I was reminded that country shows all over have a lot in common, with lots of animals, exhibits, prizes for “best in show” and of course things to eat. The Walls Show was a great day out. I loved the sheep, the Shetland ponies, the jumpers and the afore mentioned Tea Tent! The Vikings even made an appearance!
Just about everything I had to eat in Shetland was delicious. I have to mention the tea, scones and cakes at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms in Haroldswick, Unst, “The Most Northerly Tea Rooms in Britain”. Victoria sponge to die for, Jammy Dodger cupcakes, tiffin and those scones with clotted cream. Yummy.
My experience of Shetland was memorable. I need to mention here the wonderful peopleatShetland Nature, so knowledgeable and willing to provide that Shetland experience, and in particular Rob Fray, whose expert guidance from the south to the most northerly tip of Shetland not only showed me the physical land but also the heart and spirit of the place and its people.
Summer in Sydney is fast approaching, and it’s time to think about some different ways to use the barbecue apart from grilling steaks, chops and the obligatory snags!
Pizza on the barbecue is a great invention. I developed these recipes a while back, and they are so much easier than cooking pizza in a conventional oven. If you haven’t got a pizza oven, wood fired or otherwise, give the barbecue method a go! But you do need a barbecue with a hood, as this method relies on creating a really hot oven environment to cook the pizzas quickly.
Making pizza on the barbecue is really easy as I discovered when I made one for the first time. I make lots of pizzas – home made is always nicest – but I was delighted with how quick and easy grilling the dough on the barbecue is.
You make a normal pizza yeast dough – then grill it for a minute each side on the bars of a very hot barbecue. Then dress the grilled pizza with your toppings of choice, place on a baking tray and heat on the barbecue on medium heat, with the hood down to simulate an oven.
Fresh, hot, grilled pizza made right in front of your friends! You could even do “make your toppings” with everyone customizing their own pizza!
2 ¼ tsp dry yeast 1 cup warm water (40.5 – 46 degrees C) 2 to 2 ½ cups Tipo 00 flour, plus more for dusting 1 tsp sea salt Extra-virgin olive oil
Toppings Roast Pumpkin, Avocado, Cherry Tomato, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Onion and Taleggio Pizza
1/4 butternut pumpkin, baked in pieces, skin on 1 avocado, sliced A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved A few sugar snap peas 2 spring onions finely chopped A few slices of taleggio cheese Rosemary sprigs to garnish
Pear, Artichoke and Blue Cheese Pizza
1 cup grated cheddar cheese 2 spring onions finely chopped 1 pear, sliced 2 -3 artichoke hearts, sliced A handful of crumbled blue cheese (to taste) Rosemary sprigs
Method Pizza Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in most of the flour and the salt, stirring until smooth. Continue adding the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough comes away from the bowl but is still sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with lightly floured hands. Knead the dough until it is smooth, elastic and soft, but a little sticky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to bowl lightly oiled with extra virgin olive oil, turn to coat. Cover with cling wrap and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, about 2-3 hours. Press it with your finger to see if it’s done; an indent should remain.
Remove the dough from the bowl, divide in half and shape each half into a ball. This quantity makes 2 small pizzas. Or leave as 1 ball for 1 large pizza.
Brush with more oil and set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat your barbecue to very high.
Stretch and shape the ball/s of dough into a rectangle or round – or any rustic shape! Brush the top/s with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let rest for 15 minutes. Place on the grill directly on the bars, oiled side down, and grill until lightly golden brown, about 1 minute. Flip over and grill for 1 minute longer.
Place the pizza/s on a baking tray and apply your toppings:
For the Roast Pumpkin, Avocado, Cherry Tomato, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Onion and Taleggio Pizza:
Scatter over the roast pumpkin, avocado, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, spring onion and taleggio.
For the Pear, Artichoke and Blue Cheese Pizza:
Scatter over cheddar cheese, spring onions, sliced pear, sliced artichoke hearts and crumbled blue cheese.
Return the pizzas to the barbecue, turn down the heat to medium, close the cover and cook until the cheese has melted and the pears/veggies are crisp and a little charred – about 2 or 3 minutes.
Remove the pizzas from the barbecue and garnish with rosemary sprigs. Slice and serve piping hot!
It’s August 2019 and I’m in Shetland, seeking out the unique wildlife of the islands and finding out more about its Norse heritage. And doing some sampling of the food of the islands too.
So what has this got to do with sourdough you may ask? Quite a lot actually!
I have been making sourdough for a couple of years, but have been actively practising this particular sourdough recipe throughout this year, making loaf after loaf, every other day, trying to get a loaf that ticks all the boxes. I am by no means there, but I feel happy enough to write up my latest efforts for this post.
My version is based on the recipes of James Morton, the Shetlander baker known for his bread making skills and in particular for his passion for, and scientific approach to sourdough. His latest exploits on Instagram @bakingjames are a fascinating diary of a keen bread maker!
It seems appropriate, therefore, to be blogging about sourdough while I am actually in Shetland.
My sourdough procedure is based on James’ recipe from the book Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World, co-written with father Tom Morton, but also on his original sourdough recipe from his book Brilliant Bread. I’ve got my own take too, on these recipes, and what I am blogging below is as much about my experience of the pitfalls of sourdough as well as its exquisite joys.
Shetland is utterly beautiful. I am gobsmacked by its rugged coasts and verdant pastures, and its birds, otters and seals. I am also quite smitten with the sheep of Shetland – picture perfect flocks, more romantic than our more prosaic Australian sheep!
Today I’ve been in Hillswick and in Eshaness, walking stunning cliff tops and enjoying the local food at the St Magnus Bay Hotel and writing my sourdough post.
So here’s my take on James Morton’s recipes for sourdough, blogged on Shetland.
Note: This recipe calls for baking the bread in a cast iron pot or casserole. It’s an amazing way of cooking the bread, allowing you to cook at quite high temperatures. I also use a bread proving basket. Not quite as necessary as the cast iron pot, but a really good investment if you’re a bread maker.
100g organic stoneground flour
100g fresh orange juice
Mix the flour and fruit juice together in a glass jar, big enough to hold at least triple the amount of the original starter. Leave this for about 5 days, or until the mixture is bubbly and frothy but has begun to settle. Now you can feed the starter with equal parts flour and just water. For the feeding stage, I use 125g flour:125g cooled boiled water.
Leave for 12-24 hours until the starter is bubbly and has expanded in size. It’s now ready to be used.
Keep on feeding every day in this way. If you’re not baking bread, you will need to discard a lot of the starter, to make room for more flour and water. You should have only about 200g of starter in the jar left before feeding.
If you don’t want to feed your starter every day, you can put it to sleep in the fridge and feed it just once a week.
250g tepid water
200g sourdough starter
400g strong white flour
10g or 1.5 teaspoons salt
Pour the tepid water into a large bowl.
Add the sourdough starter and stir together with the water until the mixture is loose and just mixed. It’s so loose it’s almost like soup!
Add the strong white flour and salt on top of the water/starter mixture. Use your fingertips to mix the salt into the flour, then a wooden spoon to mix everything together into a dough that is quite rough and sloppy.
The bowl needs to be covered and left for half an hour. I use a plastic shower cap, the kind you find in hotel rooms. I collect them just for this purpose. Or you could use cling wrap or a large plastic bag. Leave somewhere in the kitchen where it’s not draughty.
Remove the cover, and with the tap running, wet one hand, (to stop your fingers sticking to the dough), fold the edges of the dough over and into the middle. The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this for about 30 seconds.
Put the cover back on the bowl.
You need to repeat this stretching and folding of the dough 3 more times. I make the time interval in between stretching and folding suit whatever I am doing on the day. The minimum time is 30 minutes. I often leave the dough 2-3 hours in between stretching and folding if I’m busy during the day. As James says: “Timings aren’t that important, as long as the stretching is done.”
After the last stretching session, cover the bowl and leave for 2 hours.
Sprinkle a work surface with some flour.
Flour a proving basket. Proving baskets are great for shaping your loaf! If you don’t have a proving basket, put a tea towel into a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with flour.
Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, making sure there is enough flour on the working surface so the dough doesn’t stick.
Now here is the interesting part. That is, how to shape your bread. I have used the James Morton method very successfully, as described below. I also discovered another way on an Instagram video from @season_adam. I suggest looking up this Instagram video as it’s well worth the look. It’s too tricky to try to describe here.
Here is James Morton’s method:
Using lightly floured hands press the dough out slightly flatter. Next you want to roll up your dough as if rolling up a Swiss roll or a Persian rug really tightly.
Turn the rolled dough 90 degrees and roll it up again.This time it will be harder – it will feel tight and try to spring back. You’ll now have piece of dough with a seam on the top and a smooth surface on the bottom. You want to keep this smooth surface on the bottom and sit the dough in your proving basket or prepared tea towel in a bowl.
The dough should be proved again in the proving basket or bowl. Put the dough in the proving basket or bowl in the fridge to rest for a few hours, or overnight if you reach this stage at night. This fridge prove is important as it allows the bread to develop flavour.
Heat the oven to 240 degrees C half an hour before you want to bake the bread. Place the cast iron casserole pot, lid on, into the oven to heat up over the half hour.
After 30 minutes, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid.
Turn your dough out into the pot, so the smooth side is on top and the seam side is on the bottom. This can be tricky, but be bold – and careful – and turn the dough out as deftly as you can.
Score the dough with a sharp serrated knife or lame. This is a sharp razor blade attached to a handle and is really useful to have if you bake a lot of bread. Replace the lid and put the pot back in the oven.
Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. After this time turn the oven down to 230 degrees C. Then carefully remove the lid from the pot and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the loaf is very brown. The loaf needs to be a really dark brown colour. Don’t be afraid to go an extra 5 minutes to get that colour.
Once cooked, remove the loaf and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. You need to wait an hour before slicing as the bread is still cooking!
Serve with lashings of butter and homemade jam. Sourdough toast is lovely with a boiled egg too!
Special note re oven temperatures!
The temperatures given work well for me in a fan forced oven. I have read several recipes which also use similar high temperatures. And I have made this recipe countless times using these temperatures. However, you know your oven and whether the suggested temperatures would work for you.
The magic of any bread, but particularly sourdough, is seeing how much the bread rises. I am always nervous on lifting the lid after the first part of the baking to see how much it has risen. But it’s a fantastic feeling to see that beautiful risen loaf in the pot! And when you take the bread out of the oven after the final bake there is another moment of triumph when you see your brown risen sourdough loaf in all its glory.
I am sure many of you will be familiar with “no knead” bread, developed by Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. The technique has been used by many bakers to produce virtually effortless bread.
I discovered no knead bread only recently, via the TV program Paul Hollywood City Bakes – New York, when he visited the New York bakery, and Jim Lahey showed him the magic technique.
And yes it’s easy and yes it works! You only need to invest time, up to 24 hours, but the result is beautifully baked bread!
Here is the recipe/technique, based on that of Mark Bittman, who first shared the recipe in the New York Times in 2006. As Mark says “a wet dough and slow fermentation are the keys to success” as well as “the unique baking method — a heated covered pot — which creates essentially an oven within an oven to trap steam as the bread bakes.”
430g strong flour plus extra as needed
Cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran for dusting
Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until blended. The dough should be shaggy and sticky – add a little more water if it seems dry. Dont knead!
Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap or my favourite, a plastic shower cap. Let the dough rest for a minimum 12 hours, or up to 18 hours at room temperature. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
Lightly flour a work surface, and turn the dough onto the surface. Carefully and quickly lift the edges of the dough in toward the centre, folding the dough over onto itself. Tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round. Don’t knead!
Generously coat a cotton tea towel with cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran and put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another tea towel or plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 hours. When ready, the dough will be more than doubled in size and won’t spring back readily when poked with your finger.
At least a half hour before the dough is ready, adjust an oven rack to the lower third of the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees C. Place a medium sized cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic casserole pot, lid on, into the oven to heat up. I used a Le Creuset casserole.
When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up, by sliding your hand under the tea towel and quickly turning the dough over into the pot. It can look a bit untidy but the dough seems to settle into an acceptable shape in the oven!
Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is quite brown. The bread should look really brown – I am sometimes tempted to take out the bread 10 minutes too early. Brown to dark brown is good!
Once the bread is done, lift the bread from the pot onto a wire rack with pot holders or tongs. Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting the loaf.
Serve with lashings of butter, olive oil or a great dip!