September 2011 Newsletter
Hello! I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to our September edition.
We've a bit of a foodie theme this month because, as summer shades into autumn, thoughts are turning to Shetland's harvest. One of the joys of living in Shetland is the abundance of really good, locally produced food. The first of this year's lamb is ready and other local produce, like the wonderful Shetland Black potato, will once again be appearing in local shops. All of this is celebrated a little later in the year at the Shetland Food Festival, which will be taking place between 5 and 12 November and will partly overlap with the annual Christmas Craft Fair; if you're thinking of an exploratory visit to Shetland, that could be a particularly good time to come.
Many people know about our mussels, grown naturally with nothing artificial added, because they appear on many restaurant menus. On the other hand, some of our produce is less familiar outside Shetland than it should be. For example, it's not widely realised that our Shetland lamb has, for some years, enjoyed the protection of the European Union's 'Protected Designation of Origin' scheme, which aims to ensure that lamb from elsewhere can't be passed off as Shetland. It's exactly the same protection that's afforded to, say, Parma ham or Stilton cheese.
However, things are changing. As I report below, there's been some very good news, recently, for those who love Shetland food and cherish our food traditions. One of these people is former Masterchef champion and cookery writer, Sue Lawrence, who recently gave an interview to the Scotsman in which she praised Scottish food in general and Shetland lamb in particular.
Last month, we mentioned that BBC One's 'The One Show' would soon be featuring the island of Fetlar and the feature film, 'Between Weathers' that's about to be made there. The two reports from Fetlar were transmitted on Tuesday, 30 August, and Friday, 2 September so, if you're quick, you can catch them on the BBC iPlayer. The Tuesday feature is here (it starts at 1' 48" in) and the Friday one is here.
If you're thinking of making the move to Shetland, as many others have done, we hope this newsletter offers a flavour of the life you could enjoy in the islands. We have a large amount of essential information about Shetland on our website but we also recommend that you make a couple of reconnaissance trips to experience island life, ideally at different seasons. If we can help in any way, please don't hesitate to contact our team!
Shetland Lamb Wins Accolade
A dedicated producer of Shetland lamb, based in the islands' central mainland, has just won a well-deserved award. Briggs' Shetland Lamb entered a sample of their Shetland Hogget, lamb that's two summers old, and carried off a Two Gold Star Award in the 2011 Great Taste Awards. Only 608 products achieved two gold stars from more than 7,000 that were entered. The lamb clearly impressed the judging panel, made up of fine food retailers, chefs, restaurant critics and food writers.
Commenting on the win, owner Richard Briggs said that he was 'delighted to have won this award, especially against such strong competition'. He added: 'The award is a great boost to our confidence in native Shetland lamb as we start selling this season's meat. Customers are attracted by the provenance of the meat but it is the quality and the service they receive that keeps them buying year on year.'
Shetland's unique lamb has a wonderful flavour, or rather flavours, because there are subtle differences depending on the grazing on which the lamb was reared. Some lambs have access to the seashore and part of their diet includes seaweed, which of course produces a slightly different taste. Shetland lamb will always be highly-prized because it cannot be produced on a mass-market scale. Nevertheless, it would be good to see it more widely available in high-class butchers, because it deserves to win new friends.
Traditional Shetland Produce Joins Slow Food's 'Ark Of Taste'
The Slow Food Movement has welcomed four of the most distinctive items from Shetland's larder aboard the 'Ark of Taste', a 'catalogue of exceptional gastronomic products in danger of disappearing due to current food production and distribution systems'. The International Ark of Taste now features more than 700 products from 30 countries.
The Slow Food movement has its roots in Italy but is well established in many countries, including the United Kingdom. Individual Shetland producers have regularly attended the annual event, Terra Madre, held in Italy, which brings together artisan food from all over the world.
The four Shetland delicacies that now feature in the Ark are Reestit Mutton, Shetland Cabbage, Shetland Black Potatoes and Shetland Cattle.
Reestit Mutton is mutton that's been steeped in brine and then hung up in the rafters to dry, where it would traditionally have gained some extra flavour from the peat smoke rising from the stove. A good-sized piece of reestit mutton gives a distinctive and delicious flavour to the time-honoured Shetland potato soup, which is always made on special occasions such as Christmas, New Year and Up Helly Aa. However, the meat can also be eaten cold on a Shetland bannock (a small, flat bread) and it turns up in that form at all manner of events, from Sunday afternoon teas to wedding celebrations.
Shetland Black potatoes have skins of a colour between purple and black. Inside, they're cream-coloured but there's a ring of purple just a short way in from the skin. They are floury and light-textured. Many people just boil them in their jackets but they're also a superb roasting potato, as Jared Brown confirms in this recent blog in The Observer. They're grown in small quantities in Shetland and occasionally elsewhere.
Shetland cabbage is another ancient crop, which has been grown in the islands for at least 400 years and possibly much longer. Indeed, Slow Food say that it's the oldest known local vegetable variety in Scotland. It's a versatile plant; it can be used as a household vegetable, sometimes in a mutton stew, but the outer leaves are often fed to animals. Traditionally, it's grown in the small, sheep-proof stone enclosures known as planticrubs that dot the Shetland landscape and that initially puzzle visitors to the islands. Again, the quantities grown are not large.
The small Shetland cow has been in the islands for 3,000 years and is well adapted to local conditions. It resembles some Scandinavian breeds. However, the number of animals declined rapidly in the last century until there were just 40 left, making it, arguably, one of the world's most endangered species. Numbers have since recovered, thanks to the efforts of a number of dedicated breeders, but there are still only about 160 in Shetland and perhaps 600 elsewhere. At one time, they were crucial to the lives of Shetland's overwhelmingly rural population, providing milk and butter, meat and skins. The beef is of particularly fine quality.
It's to be hoped that recognition by the Slow Food movement will increase interest in these examples of Shetland's food and an increase in their production. Native Shetland lamb may also be admitted to the Ark of Taste in the near future.
Wildlife Enthusiasts Enjoy Great Sightings
August has seen many great wildlife encounters. Even before the migration season gets fully under way, bird watchers have had many treats, including sightings of British rarities such as Arctic and Booted Warbler, Two-Barred Crossbill and Pallid Harrier. At sea, there have been (among other species) orcas, White-Sided Dolphins, White-Beaked Dolphins and Minke Whales. One lucky photographer was able to film this short video of a basking shark from the pier at Toft, which is where the car ferry leaves the Shetland mainland on its twenty-minute journey north to the island of Yell. Meanwhile, another wildlife film-maker, Charlie Hamilton-James, has been writing about his fascination with otters, which he's filmed in Shetland, in this Daily Mail article.
You can keep abreast of Shetland wildlife by going to the Nature in Shetland website and clicking (in the left hand panel) on the sightings that interest you.
Musical Treats Abound
Shetland music lovers are looking back on another successful Blues Festival that featured some great performers such as Dale Storr's New Orleans Piano Show and Connie Lush. Fish, formerly of Marillion, has also made an appearance in the islands; but there's more to savour in the weeks and months ahead.
Classical enthusiasts will be heading to the 'big kirk' (as Lerwick's Church of Scotland is always known) for a concert by the Craigiebuckler String Ensemble who will be performing the Strauss Prelude for Sextet from 'Capriccio', Vivaldi's double concerto for two cellos (RV 531 in G minor) and Brahms Sextet no.2 in G major.
The Craigiebuckler String Ensemble was formed in 2010 and brings together seven very talented young musicians who study and work across Europe from Germany to Switzerland as well as the UK. The performers include cellist Abby Hayward, one of Shetland's most talented music students. She recently graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music with a first class honours. Abby said, 'It's a real pleasure for me to be playing for a Shetland audience again and the sextet is excited to be performing at St Columba's in Lerwick. As someone who has grown up in Shetland, it's lovely to be able to bring home and share some of my favourite music.'
In complete contrast, Lerwick's Clickimin Centre will host two concerts by 2010 X-Factor winner, Matt Cardle on 24 and 25 September. His voice won over viewers of the ITV show, to the extent that, after the first week, he came top in the viewers' poll after every programme. Previously a painter and decorator from Essex, he found himself gaining the backing of X-Factor judge Dannii Minogue and securing a £1m recording deal. He clearly won fans in Shetland, too: the 1,200 tickets for the first night sold out in just 45 minutes and a second performance was arranged to cope with the demand. He has a single on the way, 'Run for your life', which will be out on 9 October, to be followed by an album, 'Letters', the following week.
Also in early October, from the 6th to the 10th to be precise, Shetland's annual Accordion and Fiddle Festival will see more than a dozen concerts and supper-dances all over the islands. The music will be provided by a host of local bands and more than 20 visiting ones. If a thoroughly enjoyable, tuneful weekend appeals, you might want to pack your dancing shoes and head north; but you'll need to be organised, as some events usually sell out quickly. The full programme is available as a .pdf download (360Kb).
One of those appearing at the festival is Gemma Donald, a Shetland fiddler who, nine years ago, became Shetland's Young Fiddler of The Year when she was only 13. Gemma has won several awards since then and may be in line for another, having just reached the semi-finals of BBC Radio Scotland's competition to find the Young Traditional Musician of 2012. On 1 October, the twelve musicians in the semi-final will be reduced to six at a concert at Coulter, near Biggar in Lanarkshire. The final will be held in Glasgow on 5 February during the Celtic Connections festival. We wish Gemma well.
Evening Classes Offer Huge Range Of Opportunities
One of the most popular ways of whiling away those Shetland winter evenings is to attend an evening class. More than 150 different classes are available this winter, covering a huge range of interests. Those of a musical bent can dip into fiddle music or African drumming and percussion. For the artistically inclined, there are lots of drawing classes and there's also an AutoCAD course. Several baking and cookery classes are on offer. If learning (or brushing up) a language appeals, you can choose from French, German, Norwegian, Polish or Spanish. Other topics to consider include Computing, Creative Writing, Economics, Fair Isle knitting, Art History, Psychology, Marketing, Britain in the Bronze and Iron Ages, woodwork and yoga. And one tutor will be tackling the question posed (and amusingly answered) in 'The Life of Brian': What did the Romans ever do for us?
These are just a few of the options available. Full details of the evening class programme are available here.
Local Man Upholds Seafaring Tradition
Shetland has provided seafarers down the centuries and quite a number of older Shetland men are as familiar with Shanghai or Lagos as they are with Aberdeen or Leith. The tradition continues today and a local man, Captain Magnus Davidson, recently cruised into Lerwick aboard the Azamara, a liner of some 30,277 tonnes of which he's second in command. On this particular trip, the vessel was en route from Norway to Iceland, but Capt. Davidson has travelled all over the globe. There are more details and pictures on the Lerwick Port Authority website.
Shetland Warms Up For 2014 Commonwealth Games
The 2014 Commonwealth Games are to be held in Glasgow and the Scottish Government is keen that they act as a stimulus to sport of all kinds across Scotland. A 'Games for Scotland' programme has been designed to inspire, develop and support a range of exciting events and activities across the country. As part of that effort, Shetland Sports Week will highlight many different sports. It's hoped that the events will boost the numbers taking part in sport as participants or coaches, make links between school and club sport for young people and provide entertainment for spectators. The week began on 3 September and runs until the 9th ; the full programme is available here.
Blog Of The Month
Our blog this month is a blog without words. Instead, it offers some stunning photographs of Shetland - including many beautiful underwater shots - recently taken on a visit to Shetland by Tim Priest. It's best to click on 'Slideshow' then just sit back, relax and enjoy.