Time was that Scotland did not celebrate Christmas that much - so when it comes to eating and drinking we have a lot of catching up to do!
Did you know that Christmas day was not classed as a public holiday until 1958?
An Act of the Parliament of Scotland back in 1640 made the celebration of Yuletide frivolities illegal. This was repealed in 1686, but it took the nation roughly another 400 years to come round to the idea that Christmas was a good thing. That’s why we in Scotland have always made much more of Hogmanay than the English and Welsh ever have over New Year’s Day. Amongst our festive food specialities are steak pie and black bun for January 1, and it seems a shame that these are now starting to decline a little in people’s consciousness - so let’s make an effort to bring them back into the limelight. When it comes to throwing a party or hosting a feast we are so incredibly lucky here in the West Highlands and islands that we have some of the finest ingredients in our larders. Now, for the sake of this article, we are looking at two larders - the one of produce and ‘dried goods’ and the other a cold larder, what our great-great grandparents used to have before refrigeration.
“And let’s not forget the cellar where all the drinks are stored.”
In the dry goods larder we have a profusion of local makers of jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles. Not only is every church or charity sale full of jars we also have many small businesses making these products and they are thriving And what better to serve these with than a good, locally made cheese. There are some brilliant cheese makers here in Argyll. The lush pastures of Kintyre and the islands make for happy cows producing beautiful, creamy milk. The pedigree herds of Kintyre are consistent winners at the Royal Highland Show. They are also very happy cows - many are fed on the distillery draff left over from the whisky-making process. That is before we get on to the fine art of biscuit, oatcake and cake baking. Shortbread is another delicacy which is now known globally but has its origins here in Scotland.
“When it comes to our cold larder, prepare to be amazed. The meat and fish reared and harvested here in the West Highlands are world-class.”
Our fish and shellfish farms and fishermen do not just supply the local market; their produce is in demand across the world and consistently wins major food awards. Scottish smoked salmon is considered a world leader and our smokehouses also produce an incredible number of smoked cheeses and meats. Lamb from the West Highlands is a nature intended; the sheep are left on the hill and have a natural diet. So is the beef and you can taste the difference. There are plenty of wild deer here in Argyll and the venison suppliers across the West Highlands have some of the choicest meat, joints and cuts plus sausages, burgers and pies on offer.
“When it comes to the cellar - well what can you say? Argyll can boast of two unique malt whisky regions - Campbeltown and Islay.”
Islay and Campbeltown produce some of the most-coveted malts in Scotland. Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world beat a path to visit the homes of their favourite malts - and we have them on our doorsteps to enjoy. Scotland is synonymous with celebrating the changing of the year and seeing in the New Year without a dram is near unthinkable. One remarkable thing that has happened here in the West Highlands and islands over the last two decades is the rebirth of local breweries and the revival in the fortunes of gin. When it comes to brewing we have an impressive portfolio of beers to enjoy, all made at micro breweries throughout the region. These originally sprung up in protest at the mass-produced beers and lagers which dominated the industry and these days some of these breweries are not so micro - as they beers and lagers gain in popularity and esteem. Gin has become fashionable once again - amazingly so. Never forget that Scotland, and the west coast in particular, is a historic centre for the production of gin. Today it seems that every village and island has its own brand of gin. So many gins . . . . . and so little time.
“So enjoy the contents of your larders this Christmas, take time to stock them up and take pride in the local produce therein.”
And also be very proud that Christmas and New Year celebrations and feasting around the world includes products from our country - shortbread, smoked salmon and whisky.
“Ooh, and we forget to mention marmalade that’s ours as well!”
And remember these vital points if you are the cook this year and are feeling pressured . . . . if it isn’t a white Christmas, just drink the red or rose instead and did you know that stressed is desserts spelled backwards, so tuck in!