I recently took the long road from Unst to sample the Flavour of Shetland festival at the pier in Lerwick. It turns out the flavour of Shetland is paella and strawberry waffles (not in the same dish). That and Chinese food seemed to be the most popular dishes on offer. There was a little bit of Shetlandic fare there in the form of a bannock-making exercise and one local butcher, but apart from that not much else of a Nordic hue.
Of course we all know that this festival, like all the others, is just another apparatus for merrymaking. There was no slouching in putting the entertainment tent together and I was there in my capacity as Shetland’s comedian in residence. As I was contracted by Shetland Islands Council that day I didn’t actually tell any jokes, I just promised the delivery of jokes with a guarantee that while some people will be left bemused, the majority of Shetlanders would find the jokes funny. I would then put the reactions to that statement under review and pay for an expensive consultancy to come in and analyse the data to help me work out which particular joke I should tell to the public and in what style. Taxpayers can expect delivery of the gag by March 2012.
As is usual with a Shetland festival the entertainment was of exceptionally high quality. And the paella indeed was mighty fine. In fact in the two years I have lived in Shetland I have never eaten so well. One night my wife and I had an entire meal all of which came from Shetland, most of which came from our own village. The fish was a gift from a neighbour who had caught it that morning. It was dressed in bread crumbs from the Skibhoul bakery’s bread and eggs from another neighbour’s chickens. The veggies came from the Unst Regeneration Project and the rhubarb for the crumble came from our own garden. And as is de rigueur it was all washed down with “Sonny’s Beer.” (That’s Valhalla Brewery beer to you.)
I am quite the amateur gourmet as it happens. As an actor, writer and comedian of some twenty years I have, as you can imagine, worked in a lot of kitchens: it is the staple fall back position of any serious artist interested in eating or paying rent. In my time at the stove of many a hostelry I have learned a few things about how to produce quality dinners cheaply and quickly. As a house husband with a six-month old and a working wife I have never felt that experience to be as valuable as I do now – wife home, dinner out, wean bathed, bed. Well that’s the theory but with the regular power cuts on the all-electric isle of Unst it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it’s more like-wife home, camping stove out the cupboard, beans for tea, wean swabbed down with wet wipes, bed.
Being a couple of progressive hippy types my wife and I are hoping to avoid any off-the-shelf processed foods and feed the peerie man the same meal we are having. The new regime is revitalising my interest in creating lovely grub. It took a while to get it right – I don’t know if you have ever tried to puree a sassermaet roll but it’s not too easy or appetising. However my culinary juices are flowing. If we are having chilli con carne he gets mince, tomato juice and baby rice; for haggis, tatties and neeps he gets the tatties, the neeps and a mash up of various greens with baby porridge; pizza for us? Mashed tomato, peppers and mushrooms with pizza crust for baby. And for spaghetti bolognaise, just take a generous spoonful off your own plate and buzz it with some of mother’s milk. Bellisimo!
As well as the nutritional value of such a practice the idea is that as life goes on your offspring will get used to the idea that you all sit around the table eating the same thing and you don’t end up with the whiney wean whinging “Ah don’t like that!” every time anything vaguely natural or healthy gets put under their petulant little noses.
So I have my idea for next year – the Flavour o’ Peerie Shetland. You come to my stall straight from the shops with the bag of ingredients for tonight’s tea and I construct a dish for your little one out of what you already have in the bag. No more overpriced jars of bib-staining mush. And if all the ingredients you give me are from Shetland, all the better. I know we are onto a winner.
It’ll definitely be far more successful than my stand-up routine was this year.