Our regular food blogger Rosemary Moon has put together the perfect guide to planning an Orkney picnic.
Nobody has actually ever asked me what the worst thing about moving from Sussex to Orkney has been.
They might venture “what do you miss the most?”. The astute ones might add “if anything…”. I think they naturally assume that the weather must beat us down, that we must miss summer temperatures in the high 20Cs, or trees. In truth we miss none of that (and there are trees here if you know where to look for them) but we are very aware that it is possible to miss out on the magic of Orkney’s scenery, to stop sitting, looking and marvelling at it, when you live here and the routine of housework, shopping and gardening can seemingly take over your days. That’s the worst thing, the danger of taking the beauty of the islands for granted.
It was gardening that brought on a picnic the other day. We had to be in Houton at 2pm and that’s almost as far away from the fourth Churchill Barrier where we live as is possible to get in Mainland Orkney. It was a lovely day so we packed up a simple picnic - sandwiches stuffed with butcher’s ham, Westray Wife cheese and local chutney, Caithness strawberries and Orkney Parkin biscuits.
We left home early to walk and sit on Hobbister Moor, enjoying the views over Scapa Flow while we feasted on our picnic. We’d not been to Hobbister for ages - in fact, not since our collie Patch became part of the family almost two years ago. Realising that showed us how we were missing out on walks and picnics, things that had made us fall in love with Orkney, and getting Patch out and about a bit further afield from home.
I was also minded of the impact that an Orkney picnic I prepared had on a group of visiting food writers. They came as guests of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation during the autumn before lockdown and we showed them Orkney from the water and the land, including a visit to the Orkney Library & Archive, taking books and cakes to pay homage to their incredible social media accounts.
But back to picnics. The sheer enjoyment of eating fabulous Orkney food on Skaill beach on not the warmest of days before a visit to Skara Brae was celebrated on Instagram for weeks afterwards and proved to be a highlight of the trip - and food writers can be pretty hard to please. I know - I am one!
As restrictions lift, the islands are alive with campervans and our self-catering accommodation providers are reporting almost solid bookings into the autumn. If you are heading north, either in your own home-on-wheels or to stay locally, if you have access to a kitchen, please may I make a plea for you to eat as well as you possibly can while you are here? All you have to do is shop and buy local - it will help Orkney to stay the special place that it is much more effectively than shopping in a supermarket will do, although the Co-op is very strong on Orkney produce and is part of the local shopping network.
Here are some fabulous picnic foods to look out for, many of which were part of my food writers' lunch.
- local breads - traditional Scottish bakes, soft rolls and buns from the Orkney Bakery, Rendalls Bakery or the Westray Bakehouse, or sourdoughs from our two newest bakers.
- Orkney butter - in 200g packs or larger blocks, direct from Orkney Cheese on restricted days (check their Facebook page) or from shops including William Shearer and the Frozen Food Centre in Kirkwall.
- Cold meats for sandwiches and salads are available from all of Orkney’s traditional butchers - Craigies, Donaldsons, the Dounby Butcher, Fletts and Williamsons - who supply local shops too. Meaty, succulent and juicy, just the stuff to revive a hungry walker.
- Cold and smoked fish - in Stromness try the Orkney Fisherman’s Society for fish or filled rolls from their shop, or you may be lucky and catch their mobile van out and about. In Kirkwall on the Haston Industrial Estate try Pierowall Fish next door to Orkney Cheese, or seek out Jollys or Hume’s products in many local shops.
- There are chutneys, sauces and relishes a-plenty from local makers, including Orkney Isles Preserves and Westray Chutney, all available in local food stores and gift shops.
- Local salads from Wheem’s Organics are sometimes available in Shearers. Flett’s butchers in Stromness have a good green grocery and so does the Brig Larder.
- Baikie’s Stores in Finstown, Doull’s and The Trading Post in St Margaret’s Hope and other local stores like the garage at Stenness carry all sorts of biscuits and cakes from the many local bakeries. You may be lucky and get home bakes in Harray Stores - they sell out quickly - and of course the Orkney Bakery has its own range of cakes and bakes in their shops in Stromness and Kirkwall.
- If you are more of a salad eater at lunch time, you might pick up a salad to go in Jollys or from a van, or pop into Archive Coffee in Kirkwall to check out their lunchtime takeaways.
In short, wherever you are staying, you won’t have to go far to find good local food, perfect for picnics out or suppers in in your Orkney accommodation. And there are an increasing number of street food vans around the islands too including Leigh’s in the car park at Finstown and Beiting & Brew in Hatston Industrial Estate.
If you would like to make something for your picnic, why not try the salmon pate that I made for the food writers' picnic? It’s also a great recipe for self-catering as it can go in sandwiches, or be served as a sauce on freshly cooked pasta or as a filling in a baked potato.
I’ve always believed in the power of the slogan Eat the View - please eat our Orkney view by shopping locally for local food. Have a great holiday.
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.