Our Orkney food blogger, Rosemary Moon, has been taking a look at some local larder ingredients that would make perfect Halloween treats.
October provides the second-best retail opportunity of the modern shopping calendar, Hallowe’en. I am still amazed that it is behind only Christmas as a time for us all to spend money and celebrate. And it’s a Thing here in Orkney too.
Perhaps in the islands it is because, as October brings our short days and long nights, we like to get together. We have our annual Storytelling Festival - Orcadians and islanders just love a blether and a good tale. And it’s the Tattie Harvest holiday, a two-week-long half term, traditionally to allow the children to help with gathering in the potatoes from the fields. Orkney tatties are amongst the best. Our wonderful local retailers including William Shearer and The Brig Larder, and all the village shops, have Orkney tatties and veg, and neeps too for carving into lanterns - more traditional here than pumpkins.
We moved into our house on 1st October six years ago, having arrived a week earlier unsure if our sale had gone through or not. Were we here to stay or would we be turning around and heading back to Sussex? Luckily it all worked out and within a week or so of moving in we were invited to a parish Hallowe’en party. Knowing quite a bit about pumpkins and squashes, traditional Hallowe’en foods, I made my favourite squash paté to take along, with oatcakes to spread it on. On going to collect my dish at home time, there was the paté, untouched, just as it had arrived. It was a step too far in the first weeks of island residency! I had cooked the same dish with Matt Baker on BBC1’s Countryfile, but no matter. We enjoyed it for a week or so after the event. All the tangerine pumpkin lanterns went mind, so I learned a lesson there.
After pumpkins and neeps, another traditional Hallowe’en food is apples, be they for catching by bobbing in a bowl of water as a game, as cider or apple juice to be mulled, or as apple cake. Many people plant apple trees in their polytunnels on the Islands to grow their own fruit. Crab apples are more likely to flourish outside - yes, there are trees in the islands - but I would regard apple growing as one of Orkney’s horticultural challenges.
A few weeks ago, I went to visit Callum MacInnes at The Island Smokery in Stromness. Callum smokes Orkney Cheddar and won every single prize possible for his Dark Smoked Cheddar at this year’s Royal Highland Show - unheard of before for one entry to win every award in its class. Now Callum is gearing up for Christmas and producing his rapid-selling flavour-added cheeses. A special for this time of year is his Christmas Spice Cheddar.
Callum buys his Cheddar from The Orkney Cheese Company and when you visit Orkney you must be sure to taste their Extra Mature Cheddar which is only available here.
As I left Callum, with a sample of the smoked Christmas Spice Cheddar of course, I started thinking about my favourite apple cheesecake recipe. ‘The cheese would be just perfect in that’ I thought - and so it is with its smoky background flavour. The cheese is available now and so here is the recipe for a perfect cheesecake to share at Hallowe’en. And yes, why not make it again at Christmas?
I made my cheesecake with a pastry base using some beremeal, Orkney’s ancient barley. It’s widely available in all our shops and you can buy it online too from Barony Mill, or from Judith Glue’s with other Orkney products. I really like the look of the cheesecake with its wiggly pastry base but you could make a biscuit crumb base using 250g of either ginger nuts or digestives, and 125g butter. If your lemons are small, use one for the filling and one for the apple topping.
- 100g plain flour
- 50g beremeal
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 75g butter
- 50g sultanas
- 3 eggs, separated
- 200g tub cream/soft cheese
- Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
- 150g soured cream
- 2 medium eating apples, about 250g
- 150g Orkney smoked Christmas Spice Cheddar
- 75g plain flour
- 125g caster sugar
- 2 large Bramley apples
- Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
- Granulated sugar to taste
- Preheat the oven to 190C, gas mark 5. Lightly butter a 22cm spring form or deep sandwich/gateau tin. Soak the sultanas for the filling in water.
- Mix the flour, beremeal and caster sugar for the base together, add the butter cut into small pieces. Rub it in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix to a firm dough with cold water then knead lightly and roll out to a circle about 2-3 cm larger than the prepared tin. Line the base and lower sides of the tin with the pastry and prick the base all over. Line with baking parchment, fill with baking beans and bake blind in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
- Prepare the filling while the pastry is cooking. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with the cream cheese, lemon zest and juice and soured cream. Grate the eating apples and the Christmas Spice Cheddar, adding them with the flour and beat well. Drain the sultanas and add them too.
- Whisk the egg whites until stiff the gradually add the caster sugar to make a meringue-like mix. Fold this into the apple and cheese mix in two batches, using a large metal spoon.
- Remove the parchment and baking beans from the base and pour in the filling. The pastry will not be totally cooked at this stage - don’t worry about that. Return the cheesecake to the oven, reduce the heat to 160C, gas mark 3 and cook for 90 minutes, until browned, risen and firm to the touch. Turn the oven off, partly open the door and leave for 30-60 minutes. The cheesecake will sink in the middle, which is perfect for adding the topping.
- Peel, core and slice the Branley apples, then cook them until soft with the lemon zest and juice and sugar to taste. If you add water, just a tablespoon or two should suffice. Spoon the apple over the centre of the cheesecake. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.
Cook’s note: the cheese may crumble as you grate it - that’s fine.
Rosemary Moon ‘retired’ to Orkney after a long association with the salmon industry in the islands. The author of 19 cookery books and countless more recipes, including writing for Waitrose and Lakeland, she has brought journalists and food writers to Orkney in the past to show off our diverse and delicious food and drink. After several holidays here Rosemary and her husband Nick have settled in South Ronaldsay but, once a cookery writer always a cookery writer, Rosemary is finding it impossible to stop jotting down the new recipes that she is creating with the island produce.