Book Celebrates Shetland Food & Cooking

by Alastair Hamilton -

A new book, Shetland Food and Cooking, is sure to find a place on worktops in the islands and beyond.

Shetland booksellers" shelves are crammed with volumes about the history, archaeology, environment, wildlife and people of Shetland, and there's a remarkably wide range of fiction and poetry, too. Books about food have been rarer. In 1925, Margaret Stout's Cookery For Northern Wives – now available as a facsimile reprint – was a landmark, a selection of recipes that were part contemporary and part recovered from earlier times. Since then, Shetland cooking has had a place in other authors" work, such as Alan Davidson's classic, North Atlantic Seafood (1979); and of course a Shetland student, James Morton, has made his mark as finalist in the BBC's Great British Bake-Off and subsequently published Brilliant Bread (2013). However, the book that local cooks have most often turned to is probably In Da Galley, an accessible and inspiring guide by another local writer, Charlie Simpson.

There are obvious parallels between Marian Armitage's new book and Margaret Stout's 1925 collection. Both women studied cookery in Edinburgh; both cooked in London before returning to Shetland; and both books offer a wide range of recipes that make the best of Shetland's food resources.

But Marian's volume is in every sense a book for a new century. Her perspective is that of someone who, teaching in London, was exposed to

“...the vibrant and exotic foods of my students" diverse backgrounds: the street markets; the spicy aromas and colour of Southall with chapattis and curries made on pavement stalls, the Jewish 24-hour bagel bakery in Brick Lane, the Turkish food shops near the old Arsenal, and the foodie specialists in Borough market...”

That experience of rich diversity only serves to underpin her confidence in promoting all that's distinctive about the Shetland larder. She successfully celebrates the people who “grow, rear, catch and sell; the traditions and historical influences as well as newer trends” which include initiatives such as Helen Nisbet's Shetland Nights in London.

This is very much more than a recipe book; in its 264 beautifully-illustrated pages, there's a wealth of background knowledge about every aspect of food in Shetland, past and present. There are short historical vignettes about people, businesses and the trade in food.

The hundred or so recipes draw on all of Marian's vast knowledge and experience and make great use of Shetland's produce. Unsurprisingly, fish is to the fore, whether in the traditional Krappin and Stap or Monkfish with Chermoula. Lamb, mutton, beef, pork, rabbit, goat and goose all feature and sassermaet (a kind of Shetland spiced sausagemeat) also gets a well-deserved place in the spotlight. For something sweeter, there is no shortage of the kind of cakes and bakes that are the foundation of Shetland's celebrated Sunday teas and, among the puddings, the Clafoutis – using prunes in this case – looks especially tempting. Then there's rhubarb, that abundant Shetland crop that stimulated Mary Prior to write her engaging Rhubarbaria; it turns up in a wonderful variety of guises.

Shetland Food and Cooking is a great addition to any kitchen bookshelf; it's published by the Shetland Times at £20.