It’s time to think stocking fillers and, this year in particular, gifts that are consumable will be hugely welcome - tasty treats to perk us all up or to contribute to the Christmas feasting.
Whether these suggestions remind you of Orkney fare enjoyed on holidays past, or make you more determined than ever to get here to Orkney very soon, we know that you will love them, wherever you are this Christmas.
Here are some of the Taste of Orkney gifts that I would love to find in my stocking on Christmas Day.
This gin and vodka distillery in Orkney’s East Mainland also produces a delicious coffee liqueur called Orcadian Moon. I know the view of the moon over Copinsay and the sea as well as Stuart and Adelle do - we share it, but from different directions - and Orcadian Moon is such an evocative name for a rich, thick, magical experience.
Teaming their liqueur with their own vodka and some coffee equips you with everything you need for the perfect Espresso Martini, one of the trendiest drinks of the season. And if the kit lures you here to visit, this enterprising couple are building a whisky distillery and cafe too.
Also bang on trend are the luxurious Orkney Marshmallows. A lockdown project success story, Gary began making pizzas for people to bake at home when we couldn’t go out, then he somehow morphed into making marshmallows - it’s too long a story for now!
Top of my checklist for why these are good is the collaborations with other Orkney producers. Some flavours come and go as seasonal specials but you will always find Vanilla, Beyla gin and two Orkney Ice Cream flavours: Strawberry and Toffee Swirl. Beyla is a honeyed raspberry gin from the Orkney Distillery whose visitor centre and cocktail bar dominates the harbour front in Kirkwall. The two ice cream flavours are tops with Orkney Ice Cream lovers.
Ice cream-flavoured artisan marshmallows - what's not to love?
How to describe these delicious traditional Westray bakes? I would say they are a cross between shortbread and a Garibaldi biscuit - you know, ‘squashed fly’ biscuits, the ones with currants in? The thing is that you need to eat them to know just how good they are.
Jane and Paul at JP Orkney cut theirs a little thicker than some - in Westray, one of our outer islands, I have had them rolled slightly thinner. Either way they are moorish. Jane and Paul are tour guides specialising in food and drink so if you are planning to visit Orkney and love your food, make a note of their names. And while you are perusing their website why not add a jar of Bloody Mary Sauce to your basket? It’s another great local collaboration.
If baking is a passion for you, or for someone in your life, check out the size of bags of beremeal that Barony Mill can send to you this Christmas. Bere is Orkney’s ancient barley thought to date to the Neolithic, and the only mill in the world producing flour from it is in Orkney’s West Mainland. 2023 will be the 150th anniversary of Barony Mill, another reason to visit these islands next summer.
Home and commercial bakers throughout the islands use this sweet, nutty, flavoursome flour. For extra inspiration, order a copy of Liz Ashworth’s excellent The Book of Bere with your flour.
Sweet and savoury, our bakers showcase our baking heritage in their biscuits made with beremeal.
These are a few of my favourites. Westray Bakehouse's Beremeal Crackers, which are thinner and crisper than more traditional oatcakes, are good with both sweet and savoury toppings. The Orkney Bakery do a wide range of biscuits baked with beremeal, from digestives to shortbreads, the latter being my favourite. Rendall’s Bakery at Baikies Stores in Finstown bake the beremeal biscuits sold exclusively by Barony Mill - check them out on the Barony Mill website.
With two breweries, both of which have growing reputations far outwith the islands, I have selected one beer from each which I know my beer drinkers would be delighted with on Christmas morning.
Dark Island Reserve from the Orkney Brewery comes in at a massive 10% abv and is one of the most complex ales that I have ever tasted, although it is not sweet like so many aged dark beers. It is finished in ex Highland Park whisky barrels, adding to its mystique.
Swannay Brewery on the wild north coast of the West Mainland offers several different styles and ranges of beers so you need to keep an eye on their website to see what is available. Being a bere fan I particularly like their Scapa Bere, a 100% bere malt ale which is as good as a pre-meal drink as it is with a feast of cold meats and baked potatoes, the traditional Boxing Day meal for many.
Rhubarb, cucumber, carrot and beetroot - they are all crops that grow well in Orkney. Jane and Paul at JP Orkney turn theirs into pickles and more. Longer established in the island of Shapinsay is Orkney Isles Preserves, where Glynis Leslie makes her wind-powered preserves whenever her turbine is spinning - which is most of the time! I am very fond of her Orkney Beer Chutney made with Swannay Brewery's flagship beer Scapa Special. Glynis is renowned for her collaborations with other Orcadian food producers, working with the Island Smokery to produce a smoked tomato chutney and also with Judith Glue to produce Puffin chutney, specially for them to sell and to use in their Real Food Cafe. Fear not, no puffins are on the ingredients list…
Westray Chutney is another isles-based business, producing delicious chutneys and preserves in the north west of our archipelago. They source ingredients from local Fairtrade supplies where possible, and also use home grown vegetables from their own garden. All their products are handmade in small batches and contain no artificial preservatives, flavourings or additives.
Any of these preserves would bring a flavour of Orkney to Christmas leftovers, be they cold meats, nut roast or salmon.
Think ‘smoked’ and Orkney and you probably arrive at salmon. Fabulous as that is, we have other smoked products that are deserving of both your attention and your tastebuds. The Island Smokery specialises in smoked Orkney Cheddar and they produce a whole range of the flavoured cheeses that are so popular for adding something a little different to a cheeseboard. The Highland Park whisky, cracked pepper and red onion varieties are all particularly good on toast for a warming snack after a Christmas walk.
Humes artisan smokers also smoke Orkney Cheddar and you might be lucky enough to pick up their Scapa whisky variety. Top of my list from them (that is not salmon) is a tub of their Great Taste award-winning smoked Orkney queenie scallops.
I’ve mentioned distilleries before but, unless you are very lucky, the spirits in your stocking will probably be in miniatures, or at least not full-sized bottles.
The Deerness Distillery offers miniatures of its gins and vodka, and the Orkney Gin Company has a new Christmas Old Tom miniature available on pre-order - find out more via their website. You can also pick up a small bottle of their delicious 'Sloe and Crow' gin.
J. Gow Rum, who produce their rums by the Italian Chapel, are named after an Orcadian pirate upon whom, it is said, Sir Walter Scott based his novel The Pirate (“Oh yes he did!”, “Oh no he didn’t”). Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta The Pirates of Penzance is also thought to be set on the life of Gow, although they shifted the action from Orkney to Cornwall. That has to be inspiration enough for buying these ground-breaking Orcadian rums. Select them as a taster set or individually - and pop a tub of the J. Gow rum and raisin tablet into your basket too - it’s highly recommended.
Talk of tablet brings us to other sweets to add to stockings and top of the list just has to be Puffin Poo - which we call Tammie Norrie Poo in Orcadian. Selkie Poo chocolate raisins are also fun - a selkie is half seal and half human, according to legend. Orkney chocolate pebbles and seagull eggs vie for inclusion in my stocking with Orkney tablet and fudge, the fudge coming in many flavours.
For some of my recommendations, like JP Orkney, the breweries, the Deerness Distillery Espresso Martini kit and J. Gow Rum, you will need to head to the individual producer's website. However, many of these products can be put into your own selection box for you by Judith Glue.