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!
After weeks of relentless sogginess in Central Scotland (and a range of temporary water features in the garden and paddock here at The Sparrowholding!!), at last the weather seems to have taken a turn for the better in the first part of this week. Over the weekend, I had tackled the three unwieldy bushes which were all but blocking the garden path, reducing them by around 50% in volume and giving them a short back and sides. I suspect I was not cut out for a career as a hairdresser, as their coiffures look fairly frightening!
Then on Monday, Son&Heir was minded to get some fresh air and sunshine, so he kindly tackled both the front and back patio areas of the garden. He edged the lawn along the path, removed all the dead leaves from the borders, plus scraped the grass and mud off the paving stones. And what a difference he's made!
Meanwhile down in the polytunnel...
So much for the patios... However, just 20 metres away, in the polytunnel, there's still a LOT of work to be done... HunterGatherer is out in the fields seven days a week at the moment, and Yours Truly has been making her way (wo)manfully through mountains of proofreading, so we've rather left the poor polytunnel to its own devices over the winter.
To save having to water them during the frosty spells, HG dragged most of the Tublyx tubs (of which he's built up quite a collection!) containing herbs out of the polytunnel way back in November. As soon as we can get some time, the plan is to fill half the polytunnel with them (and get some seedlings planted) while keeping the other half free for a couple of lambing pens. Although lambing is about a month away (unless Ivan the Terrible sneaked out of the field when we weren't looking one night!!!), we hope to get the pens set up this coming weekend. I can hardly believe it's over eleven months since the last wee woolly bundles bounced into the world - scary how quickly the last year has flown. (Eek! Now I'm beginning to sound like my mother...)