Whoosh! The past few weeks have flown by, with August already nearly over, and my great intentions to blog about my visit to Perth Show earlier this month have so far shared the fate of myriad other items on my 'to do' list, i.e. they are not yet done! However, Perth Show is such a fun family day out that it would be remiss ... or indeed jolly poor show (pun intended!)... if I couldn't find half an hour amidst the frenzy of everyday life to encapsulate the essence of this fabulous 'town-meets-country' event, which takes place each year on the first Saturday of August on Perth's gloriously green South Inch.
In our haste to get there in sufficient time to wander round the showground for a few hours before picking up SuperGran's secret 80th birthday cake (of which more anon), we cleverly forgot to visit the cash machine in Kinross to source some legal tender for the man on the entry gate, who – it transpired – wasn't armed for credit card transactions. Fortunately, the said kind gentleman advised me that I could buy a ticket online, so I hovered by the entrance on my iPhone and did the necessary. [Note to self for next year: buy online tickets the night before!]
In a previous life, I used to be a regular exhibitor at Perth Show, accompanied by my posse of pedigree Shetland ponies, so the Shetland ring was naturally one of the first places on my itinerary. Another priority, unsurprisingly, was the sheep lines, where a futile search for Shetland sheep revealed that they don't figure on the otherwise prolific list of sheep breeds at the show.
Next stop was the craft tent, where DD1 spent a happy five minutes perusing Tarrag Naegel's gorgeous equine-themed jewellery. Her eye was caught by a new line that features the characteristic farrier's nail pendant plus an additional silver nail shaped into a circle. [That's one Christmas present sorted...]
The final pit stop on our speedy show circuit was the Food and Drink tent, where I could have happily spent the rest of the day browsing the fabulous fare on offer. From gloriously decadent pink raspberry meringues from Mhor to healthy fruit protein snacks from a fabulous health food shop whose name I can't remember (please do let me know if it's you and I'll happily mention your name!), the array of stalls catered for every taste. Better still, we found HunterGatherer in a new role, assisting at the stall of an exciting local start-up, Strathearn Cider Company. DD1 tried out their medium sweet and medium dry amber apple nectar, promptly pronouncing herself to be a fan of both varieties (and she wasn't just saying that because her godmother is a co-owner of the company!!). Our attention was also taken by the Madderty Micro Flavoured Gins stand on the other side of the tent. So much choice - and all local Perthshire companies :-)
All too soon, our flying visit to the Perth Show had to come to an end, as our next destination, the Celebration Cake Station, was due to close at 3pm. A quick trip up Tay Street, along the banks of the eponymous River Tay, and we were there, eager to see how the cake I'd ordered a couple of weeks before had turned out.
As ever, we were NOT disappointed: it was a perfect, personalised cake creation to mark the occasion of SuperGran's 80th birthday! All six grandchildren, her two bridesmaids (from a few years ago...), FarmerBruv and I had each nominated an item that made us think of granny.
The items atop the resultant confection ranged from pink high heels to her old school crest, and from a sheaf of wheat (symbolising her hard-working childhood on her parents' farm) to a four-leafed clover (she had FarmerBruv and Yours Truly searching for those in hayfields for most of our childhood - excellent way to keep children occupied!). The superb birthday lunch the following day at Huntingtower Hotel was a joyous occasion, with the lovely Caroline Trotter on hand to take some stunning shots for posterity.
All in all, despite the odd (metaphorical) hiccup, August has been a pretty good month here at The Sparrowholding :-)
Several months ago (all right, January 2016 to be precise!), the gift of a luncheon deal voucher from a thoughtful friend allowed HunterGatherer and Yours Truly to fulfil a long-held dream – a meal at The Peat Inn Restaurant in Fife. Precisely why it has taken me until now to write this blog post is a mystery, and I’m not even going to attempt to excuse my appalling tardiness at putting pen to (virtual) paper. However, I’m now going to right that wrong, and what speaks volumes about that long-distant luncheon is that so exquisite was the whole Peat Inn experience that, even after all these months, memories of the panoply of flavours which tantalised my palate that day are still indelibly printed in my mind.
As anyone who knows me well will confirm, I appreciate good food – and I positively adore great food. So as we drew up in the car park at The Peat Inn Restaurant that January day, anticipation was rife in the Sparrowmobile. Unfortunately, the weather had been far from inspiring during our drive across from neighbouring Kinross-shire, and an East coast smirr (a mist-like precipitation, for anyone unfamiliar with Scots) was doing the Fife scenery no favours.
However, if we felt a tad sad on account of the dismal climatic conditions outside, our melancholy was banished the moment we entered the comfortable and spacious lounge at The Peat Inn, where the warmth of the blazing fire was surpassed only by the warmth of the welcome extended by the team of immaculately presented staff.
Our coats were whisked discreetly off our backs, our order was taken efficiently and unobtrusively, and within a matter of minutes a slate adorned with assorted amuse-bouches arrived with our drinks. It was an auspicious start, and to our delight the gastronomic good times just kept on coming.
Having heard so much about the culinary genius of Chef Geoffrey Smeddle and his team, we should not have been surprised. Over the next 90 minutes (we were in no rush, and neither did the staff rush us), one delicious dish followed the other.
To mark the imminence of Burn’s Day, a soupçon of haggis was delivered in a quaint little dish, accompanied by a delicious creamy sauce, and not long after this, our starters arrived. HunterGatherer’s penchant for onions saw him select a whole baked Langside Farm (near Kennoway) onion stuffed with oxtail, onion purée and finished with Parmesan chips. I opted for the Anster cheese mousse– although the said mousse came in the form of a parsnip. Yes, you read that correctly – a parsnip… For this dairy delicacy had been sculpted in such a way as to resemble a bona fide parsnip (see the photo below if you need proof!). It has to be said that I’m a huge fan of Anster cheese anyway, but this fabulous and unusual presentation merely enhanced the flavour.
For our main courses, HunterGatherer opted for roast breast and confit leg of wild mallard duck, while I favoured the pork fillet; both dishes were served relatively simply compared with our more ornate starters, and were accompanied by a scattering of perfectly cooked vegetables. HG seemed delighted with his duck, and my choice certainly didn’t disappoint either. The superlatively smooth parsnip puree (you may have gathered that I’m a fan of parsnips!) was a particular triumph.
HunterGatherer opted for the duck main dish
Despite being married to a ‘sugar gourmand’ such as Yours Truly, my better half doesn’t ‘do’ desserts, which left me the weighty (no pun intended!) responsibility of being the sole partaker of pud. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it… And I was very glad that I did, as the tangerine sorbet which accompanied my chocolate parfait was a veritable treat for the taste buds – neither too tart nor too sweet. However, just to ensure that my sugar levels didn’t fall too low, I felt obliged to sample the cuboids of luxurious fudge and the triangular 3-D fruit jellies which were served with HunterGatherer’s coffee. They created a fabulous and fitting finale to a meal that ticked every gastronomic box with gusto.
The utterly delectable tangerine sorbet was a big hit with Yours Truly.
Bravo to the entire team at The Peat Inn! Their service was faultless from start to finish, and Chef Smeddle’s menu was simply outstanding. Even had I not been fortunate enough to have been in possession of a gift voucher, it would have been well worth the cost of £22 per head incl. canapés, amuse-bouches, homemade bread and homemade butter. We will certainly return.
It's that time of year again, which means that last week saw the big annual haircut (aka sheep shearing) taking place here at the Sparrowholding, with HunterGatherer wielding a pair of old-fashioned hand sheep shears – no fancy electric clippers for him, as we don’t have enough sheep to justify them.
In the olden days, all the wool collected annually during sheep shearing formed a small, but significant, part of the sheep farmer's "harvest", with the fleeces being rolled up after shearing (there is a technique, of course!) and piled into large wool sacks before being collected by the ‘Wool Marketing Board’.
Eventually a cheque, which varied in amount according to the weight of wool, would wing its way to the grateful farmer. However, in the 21st century, the advent of myriad modern synthetic materials such as Lycra, Acrylic and Polyester has gradually depressed the price paid to farmers for fleeces, and in most cases the wool cheque amount no longer forms a significant part of a farm's income.
Nowadays, the cost of sheep shearing in time, money and effort can almost outweigh the value of the wool on some sheep farms, but the job still has to be done for welfare reasons. If the fleeces are not removed, bothersome blowflies can lay their eggs in the wool and the maggots hatch out in these cosy climes and start tucking into the sheep’s flesh. Not a sight you’d ever want to see, I can assure you. So off come the fleeces around the middle of June every year!
With just 15 adult Shetland sheep here on The Sparrowholding, we wouldn’t have enough wool to fill even one of Wool Marketing’s giant wool bags, so we keep our fleeces and use them during the rest of the year for various tasks around the garden, e.g. lining the base of planters to keep moisture in or acting as ‘blanket’ of weed protection between (rows of) plants in the summer, plus keeping plants snug and warm in their pots in the wintertime.
Wool is also very handy for various crafting activities, such as rug or card-making and spinning, so we tend to set the best fleeces aside in our trusty little ‘wool’ shed and sell whole or part fleeces to keen crafters, who love Shetland fleeces because of the 30+ different official 'colourways' they come in (ranging from white through to dark chocolate).
Talking of sheds (please note seamless link here!), you may remember that the Square Sparrow blog was one of the finalists in the Waltons’ smallholder blog competition some months ago. Now Waltons have asked us to be involved in their current competition to win a 5x3 ft mower (or any other garden stuff!) store. The details of their competition appear below, and the closing date is 28th June, so get your entries in soon to be in with a chance of winning yourself a handy garden store. Good luck!