It’s pouring with rain today so it’s been a good day to do some baking. I also found myself looking through my photos from our visit to Orkney. Mr McGregor and I had originally discussed going somewhere warm for our holiday – France? Italy? but somehow we ended up going north by some distance. Although this meant there was no lying by the pool in the sunshine and that we had to wear up to six layers some days (in June…), we had a fantastic time.
We stayed overnight just outside Thurso (at the far north of the Scottish mainland) and had a quick trip to John O’Groats…….
There were gales forecast for the day we were getting the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness on the Orkney Mainland, and that meant the ferry detoured through Scapa Flow. This delighted Mr McGregor, even though he is not a particular fan of travelling by boat. Scapa Flow has been used as a harbour for centuries, including by the Vikings and by the British Fleet during the World Wars. We got to travel back by the usual route which gives you a great view of the Old Man of Hoy.
Orkney is particularly rich in archaeological sites, with evidence for human habitation going back to ~7000BC and at times I was rather overwhelmed by how… well, just how ancient it all is.
Above, clockwise from top left – Skara Brae, the Tomb of the Eagles and the Broch of Gurness. Below – the Stones of Stenness
I was particularly delighted to see the 12th century Viking Runic graffiti in the Neolithic chambered cairn of Maeshowe. It turns out that graffiti hasn’t changed much over the ages……
Orkney is also fantastic if you’re keen on birds – Mr McGregor was very happy to see puffins for the first time on the cliff face at Marwick Head. I would include a picture, but the puffins were rather too far away.
Since we got back I’ve been reading The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot. In the book, Amy chronicles her recovery from alcohol addiction after she returns to her native Orkney, spending time working on her father’s farm, monitoring corncrake populations for the RSPB, walking and wild swimming. She writes about Orkney, its nature and her own feelings beautifully and I’m finding the book fascinating.
We were served Beremeal bread at a couple of places we visited. Bere is an ancient form of barley which is tolerant of the cool temperatures and short growing season on Orkney (it needs to be) and I brought back some Beremeal, milled at Barony Mill on the Orkney Mainland.
I used it today to make Beremeal Cheese Biscuits. The recipe calls for Blue Stilton or other strong soft cheese, so I used Cropwell Bishop Blue Stilton, from Nottinghamshire. We ate some with cheese (of course) and some of my Chilli and Apple Jelly (made with our own apples).
I don’t imagine many of you have Orkney Beremeal in your cupboard (though you can order it online for UK delivery), but here is the recipe anyway (Beremeal cheese biscuits). Instead, here is a recipe for Raspberry and Polenta cake – and it’s gluten free (provided you use gluten free baking powder). You might not have polenta to hand, but you can probably find it more easily than Beremeal. The cake is deliciously moist and fruity.
Raspberry and Polenta Cake (pdf: Raspberry and Polenta Cake)
225g unsalted butter, softened
60g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
100g fine polenta
1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
- Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 3.
- Grease and line the base of a 23cm springform tin with baking parchment.
- Beat the butter and sugar until creamy and pale, then beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg is added. Mix in the ground almonds, polenta, baking powder, lemon juice and lemon zest.
- Pour half of the mixture into the tin and spread out. Place half of the raspberries on top. Pile the rest of the cake mix on top and spread out. Put the remaining raspberries on top.
- Bake for 50–60 minutes until golden and just firm in the middle. Check after about 45 minutes and if necessary cover with foil to prevent raspberries catching.
- Cool in the tin.