I have been meaning to write a blog on our food experience during our holiday in Harris since we came back. With one thing and another I hadn’t got round to it which I felt guilty about but then I realised that the topic for #Scotlandhour in August is Scotland’s natural larder. So it seemed perfect that I had delayed writing the blog as Harris showcased its natural larder with us in abundance and I would love to share that with folks taking part in #Scotlandhour.
We holidayed last year on Lewis and confess we were really disappointed with the food offering both outside and also what we cooked at our cottage. Looking back I feel that it was partly our fault. I now know there are plenty of local shops selling local produce in Stornoway. We took the easy option and went daily to the Co-operative and we could have been anywhere in Scotland. As the Stornoway Co-operative is three times at least the size of our own here in St Boswells. It might have the right ethics for me to shop there but it still had that huge supermarket feel that I hate when shopping. We also struggled to find good places to eat out. We were staying at Tolsta which is twenty minutes or so from Stornoway and once we got home at night we were happy to stay. So we were really looking for coffee and lunch places. Apart from the Art Centre in Stornoway we struggled and returned again and again to the wonderful Morvern Gallery whose cakes and coffee are fantastic. We have also eaten at the Digby Chick in Stornoway on our first visit to the Island and know its a fantastic eating out experience. Perhaps it was us and feel free to add-on the comments section great places to eat in Lewis but for one reason and another although we love Lewis our eating experience there was a huge disappointment.
So when we decided to go to Harris we were determined we were not going to make the same mistakes and that there was no way we were travelling to the Co-operative in Stornoway to top up supplies. We therefore packed up stores from our own cupboards so that we had the basics and that meant we only really needed to buy fresh produce when we were on Harris. In addition my husband did some research in advance and knew what shops were available which is where he came across Croft 36 more of which is to follow. While I researched eating out places as I was determined we were going to eat out during our stay and it was going to be fresh from the kitchen not from the freezer as we had experienced in Lewis.
From the start of our holiday to the end we had exactly the foodie experience we had dreamt of when we first muted the idea of holidaying in the Hebrides. Fish and seafood were the main components of our diet supplemented with the great meat from the local butcher and of course Harris black pudding. The central place we shopped was the afore-mentioned Croft 36. I enthused almost daily about this on my Facebook page and my sister-in-law rightly commented that my husband and I had found our ideal food shop. Croft 36 is run by a family who have the small shop at the edge of their croft which looks out to the sea at Northton. http://www.croft36.co.uk/. It is open each day from 10am till late and sells fish and seafood so we feasted often on lobster and fresh crab followed by a breakfast of kippers and toast. Croft 36 also sells baked products including delicious scones and poppy-seed bread which although we bought almost daily lasted an hour maximum in our kitchen before it was consumed so you had to be quick to get a piece. Croft 36 also will come to your self – catering cottage and deliver freshly made meals something we intend to try for next year.
I loved Croft 36. The simple idea of what they were doing. The setting and the fact that quite simply that finally I had come across somewhere that showcased what Scotland’s natural larder is about. But more than that it created great memories. The first was with friends eating the freshly baked scones still warm with jam and mascarpone cheese from the local shop in Leverburgh as we looked over the sea to Uist with a home-made knife made from the mascarpone lid! Every time that photo appears on my laptop a big smile appears on my face which I suspect will be even bigger as winter greets us. Equally I now have just to see a poppy-seed and I long for that bread. Then the fish. Great meals that we all loved the lobster in itself felt like Christmas had come early though the risotto that was made from the stock was also hard to beat. But best for me was the freshly caught mussels. The four of us love mussels and during the first week of the holiday as we drove up to Croft 36 it was mussels we hoped they were selling. We were never in luck. Then we met one of the owners who explained that the mussel man was on holiday and then he very kindly told us where we could pick the mussels ourselves. This we did and I have to say they were the best mussels I have ever tasted and again the photos and memories will stay with me till we can return and pick them again. Huge thanks to the generosity of the owner of Croft 36 for sharing his mussel secrets with us.
We also enjoyed some great meals out from coffees to lunches to dinners. Yes this year we actually got to eat out not once but three times! Coffees we loved the Skoon Gallery fantastic cakes at a wonderful location. We were delighted to return to the Hebridean Art Gallery both for cakes but also for the wonderful soup. The only disappointment was the painting I fell in love with was sold by our second visit. The bank balance is glad of it but I still wish I had bought it when we saw it first time round. Temple Café near to Croft 36 is also worth a mention as is the coffee shop just near the tourist information centre in Tarbet. The real star of our eating out though was those dinners. Our cottage was just beside the Hebridean Hotel which we discovered on our second night as we went out to celebrate Andy Murray’s great victory at Wimbledon with friends who had kindly let me watch the match instead of more exploration of the island. Then and the time afterwards I enjoyed great fish and chips. A typical dish but sadly not often done well here it was. However arguably the best meal out I have had all year was the seafood platter which we treated ourselves to on the last night. There were the best scallops we have ever tasted. There were oysters, prawns, langoustine, peppered mackerel, herring, mussels and lobster and smoked salmon. A feast of the produce from the Hebrides giving us another reason to return to the Islands of Blue.
Scotland does indeed have a wonderful natural larder. In my experience it is not always easy to source. You have to search for it and this is usually done not in the giant supermarkets but by shopping locally and knowing and supporting your local farmers and producers. In Harris we found it relatively easy to do. The food was there on our doorstep from the local shops in Tarbet to the wonderful Croft 36 and the fantastic places to eat out on the Island. Not so easy to do on the mainland and even here in the Scottish Borders but if you do take the time you will be rewarded to take a well-known supermarket’s phrase not just food a feast of food. And for the first time ever we returned from holiday not just with a sense of well-being but actually a few pounds lighter too. Eating local produce not only supports local businesses. It’s good for you and also might help the obesity issue too.
So a huge thanks to the food and eating out businesses in Harris you made me happy to realise that not everywhere is a slave to the mediocrity of the supermarket and you really are showcasing Scotland’s natural larder.
Questions for ScotlandHour 28 August 2013 at 9 – 10 pm are:
9:00 Q1 – Which food and drink events would you most recommend to visitors? #ScotlandHour
9:10 Q2 – What locally produced food would you like to access more easily? #ScotlandHour
9:20 Q3 – What event or appearance would make you decide to attend a Food Festival? #ScotlandHour
9:30 Q4 – Tweet us some photographs or tell us your best serving suggestions with Scottish oatcakes #ScotlandHour
9:40 Q5 – What’s your favourite place to have lunch while out in the Scottish countryside? #ScotlandHour
9:50 Q6 – What locally produced Scottish food, or drink, is your favourite and why? #ScotlandHour
Scotland hour takes place this Wednesday the 28th August on Twitter between 9pm and 10pm do join us.