Writer for The Skye Magazine, Katie Macleod - now based in New York and author of storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com - interviews author and cook Fiona Bird before her visit to the Skye Book Festival on September 3.
“Foraging is about using your senses,” explains Fiona Bird, the author and cook who lives in South Uist and will be speaking at the Skye Book Festival at the Aros Centre next month. “Once you’ve got your eye in, you’ll see wild food everywhere.”
For Fiona, a BBC Masterchef finalist, it will be her first time at the Skye Book Festival, now in its fifth year. She’s “looking forward to an island hop without a long drive”, and will be headlining two events on September 3rd: The Forager’s Kitchen, based on her 2013 cookbook of the same name; and a workshop for children drawn from her most recent book, Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside, released in April of this year.
Foraging may be the latest trend in the food world, but Fiona has been an enthusiast for years, as her book – and kitchen habits - show. “My paternal Granny was a pretty keen forager. One of my earliest childhood memories is of identifying wild flowers with a good whiff of honeysuckle thrown in,” she remembers.
“My Masterchef final recipe used ingredients that deer (venison) might have grazed upon. I cook like this. Ingredients growing in close proximity often work well together. I am not however, a hard core forager. I don’t put a myriad of wildness on a plate just to prove a foraging point. It’s about taste and scent and often this is minimal.”
Fiona’s foraging exploits expanded when she moved from Angus to South Uist in 2012, when her husband took up the GP post on the island. “I started foraging seaweed because trees and hedgerows are lacking in the Uists,” she explains, although she adds that the ditches are more fruitful.
It’s something children can get involved with too, as her children’s book Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside aims to show. At the festival, a hands-on workshop will include the likes of outdoor craft making, seashore discovering, and even a wild tea party at the end of it all – all pursuits that Fiona and her own children were familiar with growing up. In fact, many of the activities and rhymes in the book came from Fiona’s own childhood; she describes it as a “privilege” to have been able to document her memories.
“Our younger trio… had a more relaxed upbringing, not quite feral but I no longer saw the need to rush to the wackier after school activities such as Kumon Maths,” says Fiona of the youngest of her six children. “Some of the second trio are rather good chanterelle hunters. From an early age they were seeking gold mushroom treasure in beech woods and ditches. They soon knew where to peep under moss and bracken – a wild treasure hunt.”
“The book contains a little about toxic berries (and fungi) and the dangers of being out and about in the countryside. Parents may want to protect their children but a child needs to learn about the realities of wildness, as well as treasuring bramble-stained memories.”
There will be plenty for her audience to treasure at the Skye Book Festival on Saturday September 3rd. “The audience makes an event, and with my foraging hat on, local folk always know more than I do,” says Fiona. “It’s a shared learning experience.”
The complete renovation of a run-down cottage has led to an exciting new venture in Portree as 1 Bosville Terrace Restaurant opened its doors to visitors and local residents on April 29.
The brainchild of head chef Mairi Lamont, in partnership with Coolin View Guesthouse owner Eddie Tweedie, the transformation of the cottage aims to ensure a place to eat for all – open all day and all year round.
When you pick up a packet of salt from the award-winning Isle of Skye Sea Salt Company, you are holding in your hands something produced by sea, wind - and lots of hard work from directors, Chris Watts and Nanette Muir!
Their hands-on approach to their business means they are labouring at every stage of the process - from pumping the fresh salt water out of sparkling Loch Snizort, near Skeabost, to harvesting it from their solar drying polytunnel, performing quality checks and, finally, lovingly packaging their salt.
When Cafe Sia in Broadford officially opened its doors recently after a month's refurbishment, visitors were able to enjoy a number of exciting changes which include non-slip decking, as well as adjustments to the far right area of the cafe. What used to be home to a large coffee roaster belonging to the Isle of Skye Roastery is now an extended bench area, pictured above, perfect to ensure a comfortable dining experience.
Director, Tom Eveling, says: "We weren't able to use the roaster when the cafe was busy, so we have moved it to another location." The staff areas have also been updated to ensure a better flow. "We have better equipment, a better work space and it's much more organised behind the scenes," explains Tom.
And, if you crave delicious gluten-free or vegan food, you will be able to find it at Cafe Sia. "We are working hard to give those with specific food requirements more options," Tom says. "We already do gluten-free pizza, but we are also doing a gluten-free and dairy-free pizza with vegan cheese. We are producing a lot more gluten-free options on our menu, like our fish finger bap, our club sandwich and brunch baps. We want to increase what we have on offer for vegans and those who are gluten-free. That's our main aim this year!"
Salty, sweet and drizzled with lemon - the glistening oyster is a product from The Oyster Shed, the Isle of Skye's only oyster farm, and it is delicious.
Like many residents of the Carbost area, writes Roz Skinner, I can remember when The Oyster Shed was just that - an oyster shed. Located a minute's walk from the Talisker Distillery, it was simply a shed for processing and harvesting oysters. Owner, Paul McGlynn, took over from his father-in-law in 2008 and, since then, has developed what was once a hobby into a thriving business that has been featured in National Geographic, the L.A. Times and the New York Times.
However, it hasn't always been plain-sailing for Paul. He explains: "After I took over, I grew the farm from 400,000 oysters to just under two million. That was so labour-intensive, as I was working seven days a week." Paul's hard work paid off and in 2011, Paul's first batch of oysters was almost ready to harvest. Then came the oyster farm's darkest moment - one that seemed impossible to recover from! "A form of vibrio went through the adult oysters and over a million died!" explains Paul. "That was soul-destroying, but it was also a turning point."
In May 2012, Paul opened the The Oyster Shed, hoping for success, but reasoning that he had nothing to lose. "Our aim was to educate visitors about the oysters and offer fresh seafood at affordable prices," he says. Paul's never-say-die attitude and his determination to provide a memorable service for customers enabled his business to grow. Now, he can expect up to 200 visitors a day in peak holiday times - every one passionate to learn about where their seafood comes from and enjoying the quality products that Paul provides!
The success of The Oyster Shed is due, not only to the best of cuisine, but to the vibrancy and enthusiasm of Paul's personality. His passion for seafood is contagious. He says: "I love the times when families who have never tasted seafood come in - they can handle live prawns and crabs and learn about where their food comes from."
Paul is keen to ensure that his business works for him - not the other way round! "I always get asked if I would like to expand into a restaurant," he explains. "And I always say: 'No!' I want to keep The Oyster Shed a shed - it's about the rustic feel of it all. I am very humble about this - it's great the business has grown and we can stay open all year round and employ local people, but I don't want to be too busy that I can't enjoy what I do."
However, Paul has made a few upgrades to The Oyster Shed. Combining good food with great scenery, Paul has opened up a picnic area to the left of the Shed. "I deliberately put the benches together as I want the experience to be social," Paul explains. "Seafood is something that everyone should be able to enjoy and share." Paul goes on to sum up his outlook, saying simply: "I want to make seafood fresh and affordable to everybody. I love that people can come in and talk to me, the Oysterman, and have a good craic."
So, for hands-on experience with seafood, as well a unique dining experience, look no further than The Oyster Shed!