Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Gluttony gets island gardeners get through the winter

So it gets to that time of year where most island gardeners have either retreated to their cosy houses. Or if still keen, they don ski gear tucked safely under sailing waterproofs. They then tie on a hat with baler twine, really tight.  Before venturing out they check in with the met office for a report on which direction a gale will be coming from today. This ensures they know where they will end up working in the garden when flung out of the house, prevailing winds dictate the jobs which can or can't be done in Orkney.  Carefully they then anchor themselves to the nearest solid homestead for safety (generally using climbing ropes). And, finally to ensure their safety they call a loved one, and say a fond hello, just in case the wind gets up further. We don't do this everyday obviously, just *most* days, gales at any time of year are common, but we're getting into 'winter' gale season.
A tad windy in winter, Orkney boasts a lot of wind. Artistry courtesy of Alex Leonard at The Giddly Limit.
Whilst I have often taken the second option, this year, so far I have opted for the cosy housed option, preferring to watch 'outdoors' from the comfort of the wood burner. The bird table antics viewed through double glazed glass are as near to outdoor life as I manage at home at the moment, aside walking the dogs, there's not much to be done 'out there' at the moment. It's entirely for the plants own safety you understand, as they will all either a) drown or b) get blown away, whilst we do get frosts (occasionally) mainly the soils get soggier than a trifle sponge sooking up sherry. Therefore, gardening abandoned due to inclement weather. Wellies off, bring on the gluttony.
Actually, truth be told, the gardening was largely been abandoned due to kitchen gluttony taking over as the days got wetter and the light got shorter. You know it's winter when you're avidly planning meals and challenging suppers to keep you occupied. We've even instigated a 'cook-a-long-a-curry' night at home, which has been great fun. I'm supposed to pass on my rather random culinary skills to the cellist (as the man child has escaped). It has been productive, youll be glad to hear, so far onion bhajis (with home made dips), chicken passanda, fragrant rices and melting gorgeous local lamb tikka skewers have been wolfed down.
Lamb tikka, the food of glutonous gardeners trapped in the kitchen. And, yes it looked that good!
In theory this culinary bonding experience sounds very rewarding, however my lack of weighing/measuring is challenging. My cooking by canny eyes isn't easy to pass on, unless I de-eyeball myself, which isn't appealing. So I'm gong to attempt measuring, wish me luck. I don't think this will end well, I'm worse at measuring in the kitchen than I am outdoors in the garden. So that doesn't say much for my garden either does it? I have very pretty measuring cups, I'm just not use to using them, except for work.....loving food and hating waste is part of my daily work routine......
Love food and Hate waste by perfect portion sizes, measuring helps!
The cellist has also decided to explore more with fish in her diet and orkney is a fantastic place to do that, a grand plan I thought, until Sunday. We had a lovely medley of local fish and shell fish with a scallion infused reduction (or spring onions in a sparse yet delicious fish gravy if you prefer...), whilst the scallops got a wrinkly cellist nose, the monkfish got a huge thumbs up. Much to the displeasure of Mr Flowers, who it would seem regards all monkfish to be his own flock. Oh dear, perhaps the gardening clobber should be donned and the garden tackled whilst they both sort it out. So I consulted the weather, wet and cold, much as predicted but NO wind, slightly odd in hurricane season, I ventured out.
Monkfish, more tasty than its ugly face would ever let on.....
The rose peeking at our culinary activities by the kitchen window is STILL growing and attacking unsuspecting visitors at the front door. Whilst I'd hoped to sneakily give it a haircut whilst it slumbered, I may need to attack it whilst it's alive and resisting winters slumber.
Step away from the pruning this late in the year lady. Its not worth it.
However I remembered the local island addage to pruning:
 'ne'er a branch chappit aff til March or April and the gales have dun their best fir ye, if ure share (sure) the plants no entirley deid, then chappit aff anything that's looking deid or whits left if ye've enough tae grab on tae cut it doon tae the grund, unless its richt deed then dig it up and chuck it'.
Wise logic which translates as thus....

[Pruning in an exposed island location is done after March or April, not autumn or winter as the constant gales will damage your cutback further, potentially killing the entire plant. Best practise is therefore to prune once the buds begin to swell or winter induced stem dieback is obvious in March or April. Prune to a living bud (if you have one) or to get rid of the dead stems or to the ground if you suspect the plant is dead, or lift the entire plant if the winter winds have been particularly unkempt.]

You may think this slightly more dour advice on pruning than an ordinary average Scot, fear not, it's merely experience. Most autumnal jobs in Orkney are best left til March or April, if of course your garden or home hasn't been swept away by the winds.

With that sage advice in mind, the rose can continue to attack predators at the door and I guess it's back to the kitchen for me for a while..........back to my pinny (apron).


  1. oh, your curry cooking class sounds divine! maybe you could post some recipes on here. I am also of the cooking-by-canny-eyes variety, so not too worried about exact measurements. Tying on a hat with baler twine, that is too funny.

    1. My recipes are a bit haphazard but I might try! Baler twine is essential winter accessories here.

  2. when we had that gale, Chocolat stepped out, hunkered down in shock, and came back in to wait for better weather.

    1. Oh dear poor Chocolat - Haggis today stood unimpressed by the doorway as the rain hurtled down. He was not keen, like Chocolat I think preferring to hang on til better weather. Which will be a long wait.

  3. Those Tikka bits look scrumptious. And I love scallops....so good! I'm surprised you have a wood-burner. Isn't it tricky finding reliable wood sources on Orkney? And bloody expensive, I bet!

  4. Cooking up a storm rather than trying to walk around in one sounds thoroughly sane! Your measurements comments made me laugh, as I remember asking my Mum how to cook various favourite dished before I headed off to Uni and getting totally frustrated by her "little bit of this", "a pinch or two of that" approach. Of course, I am now pretty much the same...

  5. They were indeed as scrumptious as that photo. Scallops I've taken to recently having had them undercooked once, I took a while to recover. I'm renting Iain, but do feel lucky to have one, the alternatives here (electric or oil) are also expensive. In Orkney logs come in many varieties - mainly square or flat. Pallets are an excellent fuel source as are fencing stabs. But you're right a bag of logs here (10kg) - 6.95 wood is hugely expensive here. So we forage for pallets and stabs and driftwood!