October 13, 2012 § 7 Comments
Last year I organised Glasgow’s first Tweed Ride and such was the demand for another one in 2012 it would have been rude not to oblige.
Being so far from the city meant that this time around I took a back seat / saddle and placed the event in the hands of two Glasgow chaps I knew would make a sterling job of it.
And that they did…
October 3, 2012 § 11 Comments
It was a weaving day. Probably the most satisfying and literally liberating part of this new life is the freedom to do what you want to, every single day. There are no time cards to punch for anyone, no set hours to satisfy any employer, no meetings, managers, bosses or staff to tell or be told what to do. I rarely plan ahead, the days work is determined by the weather and what grabs me that particular day. Of course there are obligations, animals need fed, larders and wine racks need stocked, bills are to be paid…but how I go about meeting these obligations is entirely in my hands.
And so to weaving.
The loom shed is around thirty paces from the back door amd thats the morning commute. From this spacious old byre I can saddle up and turn 100% pure new woolen yarn into yards after yard of genuine Harris Tweed. And the tweed I make gets turned into luxury goods by designers all around the world. And into money for me. Some days I can’t believe my luck, to be one of only 130 weavers able to do this. And all from this humble croft in the back of beyond. Amazing really.
The first task of the day was to prepare the loom, finger pumping a little red oil can to lubricate all the moving parts, a lick of paraffin to ease the passage of the rapier and a sheen of WD40 on the drive belt. A handturn of the main cog, just a click, to maintain tension lost overnight, a quick check of warp and wefts and we’re ready to go.
The loom is running really, really well in its new home. After months of hitches and glitches it just sings, all of its faults seemingly ironed out and any that remain I can remedy myself now I have a greater feel for the beast and a little more knowledge. The first turn of the pedals and the loom springs into life with its familiar ta-tickety clicks, a little stiffly at first but warming up quickly as friction and oils begin to work together. The temperature can affect the looms feel some days, assuming it’s to do with the viscosity of the lubricants and the tiny expansion and contractions of the metal parts. Today it feels good and yard after yard of a grey plain twill begins to form before my eyes, the rapier flying, reed beating, rollers turning yarn into cloth.
I usually do 29 meters a day, half a standard tweed, which can take anything between 6 and 8 hours depending on how well the loom is running and how many breaks interrupt the flow. Today the loom is flying and the day passes quickly. I break every hour, usually after a pair of warp bobbins runs empty and head back to the kitchen for a cuppa. While I weave there’s usually an audiobook burbling in the background, today it’s Gilead, perceptible, just, over the cacophony of the machine.
I finish up for the day around 3pm, sweep the floor of yarn threads and wool fluff, pack away the various tools that had been fished out during the day’s activities and wonder about what the rest of the day might entail. Mac the dog sits at the gate, thick coat ruffled by the prevailing south westerly and watches to see whether he’ll be included in the remains of the day’s plans.
I suddenly feel hungry so need to fix some lunch, there are half a dozen scallops in the fridge gasping to be cooked so after mashing a tin of anchovies through some butter they all go into a pan until caramelised and brown. Tipped onto a plate with lots of the butter and accompanied by a guilt-free glass of Sav Blanc it proves to be pretty decent late lunch…
September 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
This is Calan, the first ram on the new croft!
He’s a Hebridean and has three ewes joining him in the hope of getting some lambs on the go and expanding the flock next year. FYI the Hebridean is a pretty primitive wee sheep, attributed to descend from the flocks of the Norse folk before being introduced to the highlands and islands of Scotland.
They are small sheep with striking black soft fleece with two or four horns. Until recently they were classified by the Rare Breed Society as an endangered breed. Fortunately, through the dedication of a small band of private breeders, this threat has now been lifted.
The breed thrived along the West Coast of Scotland where they enjoyed the freedom to roam highland, lowland and seaside at leisure. Originally their high butterfat content milk and fine fleeces resulted in them being kept by Highlanders as much for their milk and wool as for their meat. They were at one time common throughout Scotland until market forces found them to be too small and they were superseded by the Blackface and Cheviots.
I decided to keep them instead of the traditional white-fleeced breeds for a few reasons. Firstly they’ll be easier to keep for a time and cash-poor relative novice like me, they lamb easily and are very hardy. Their meat is a wholly different taste, much darker and gamier and I’m interested in producing niche products from the croft if I can. And I like the fact they are a native breed, they look pretty cool and I think it will be interesting to work with a breed I’ve never worked with before, I’m starting from scratch with them. There’s also some possibilities with the fleece and weaving but bit more research needed on that front.
The native Hebridean is a far smaller sheep than modern commercial breeds found in today’s supermarkets, taking around twelve months for lamb to reach maturity in comparison to modern commercial lamb such as the Texel and Suffolk which are far greater in size and ready for market in only six months. This allows Hebrideans to enjoy a full and natural life. Slower maturing lambs permit the meat’s flavour to fully develop in a way we now rarely have the opportunity to appreciate.
When butchered locally, weigh around 14kg – 19kg and are hung for 12 days to permit the meat to finalise its maturing before cutting is begun.The meat is unique with a rich dark hue, succulent tender texture, and a gamey – utterly delicious long forgotten flavour. The purity of the meat also offers important health advantages over modern commercial breeds of sheep – with the meat being very lean. Recent tests have shown that it has a significantly lower cholesterol level than most lamb.
“The meat from Hebridean sheep is unique. It has a rich, dark colour, succulent tender texture, and a gamey, utterly delicious flavour. Tasted against locally produced butchers’ lamb and some very good Welsh lamb, there was no contest: the Hebridean won hands down. It was tender with a really good bite, and rich but didn’t leave that greasy, fatty taste in the mouth. And it was so full of flavour that some of the young tasters couldn’t believe it really was lamb.”
Alex Barker: Guild of Food Writers..
So there we are, next up the chickens…
[Info via www.hebrideansheep.com]
August 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Bit overdue on flagging this up but be sure and bookmark / follow this blog by local crofter Donald MacSween from Dell, just up the road from me.
Expect a no-holds barred insight into island life, livestock and lots more of that sort of thing with some informative writing and good photos thrown in for good measure.
October 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“Scottish chefs, farm shops and premium stores are the initial target for Scotland’s first premium sea salt, due to launch in January.
Hebridean Sea Salt is the brainchild of Natalie Crayton, based on the Isle of Lewis, who was inspired by the launch of Cornish Sea Salt in 2008 to create a Scottish version.
Crayton, a former sales and marketing executive, says she has already had a good response from retailers including House of Bruar in Perthshire and Craigies farm shop near Edinburgh – even before her packaging is finalised.
Hebridean Sea Salt has also attracted interest from chefs and from manufacturers hoping to incorporate a Scottish salt in their products.
Crayton says she will be selling mainly on ‘Scottishness’ but also stresses that the Grade A waters around the Outer Hebrides are as clean as can be found around the British Isles.
She is currently producing sample quantities at home but will move to a small but “properly engineered” sea salt plant by the end of the year, producing batches of 250 200g packs.
“I’ll be working on a test batch machine to begin with,” she said, “but the plan is to move into a larger unit with 12-18 months.”
Grant aid for the launch has come from bodies including Highlands & Islands Enterprise, the Western Isles Council and the Technology Strategy Board.
Crayton, who hails from Edinburgh but whose husband is a fisherman in Western Isles, has also received backing from Scotland Food & Drink and the Prince’s Youth Business Trust.”
August 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
Image © Dominic Cocozza. All rights reserved.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Every other city with style had done it and after a few beers and some banter with the courier folk I know there was obvious scope for Glasgow to hold its own Tweed Ride.
Started in London in 2009, the idea of getting one’s Victoriana on, donning tweed and riding out on a stylish velocipede caught on quickly and the likes of New York, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Paris and Toronto all soon followed suit. Riders set out on a tour of their home city, dressed to the nines in dapper fashion,
took in some sites, popped into a hostlery or two and generally enjoyed a pleasant day out in good company.
I’ve organised and run events for over a decade for thousands of people. Up mountains, in forests, on boats, in warehouses, legal, illegal, day, night, summer, winter…it doesn’t phase me.
This was easily the hardest to pull off. No budget to speak of, apart from my right hand man Stoofa no staff to lean on, no “official” status to lend weight, no time, no pay, an increasingly ambitious gameplan…
And to top it off, me being me, chose to name the Glasgow ride The Harris Tweed Ride, instantly appropriating a brand name that some people have been spending a lot of time and money and effort successfully re-establishing. The marking of Scotland’s first tweed cycling event with the world-famous orb seemed a no-brainer. With hindsight, a rather naive no-brainer.
The idea of this event ending up a marketing disaster plagued me from very early on, failure to pull it off with any sort of style, flair or credibility would see me a laughing stock, barred from island circles, the man who made a mockery of the clo mor.
No pressure then.
A whole host of local, independent businesses and partners were pulled together to feed, water and entertain the 100 riders who had signed up. Almost all of them were small but leaders in their field with a particular Scottish bent. Argyle teas, SY marag, West Coast oysters, Scottish cream scones, whisky cocktails, Scottish gin, all plied by some of the most respected bars and restaurants in the city (Brown’s, WEST, Gandolfi, Ben Nevis, Crabshakk, Stravaigin, Blythswood Square…).
The design and identity was strong, using a local up-coming designer, the marketing was low-key, underground, word of mouth and social media driven and there was no big press hullabaloo. The riders were drawn from right across the Glasgow scene, couriers, musicians, artists, fashion folk, tweed geeks, bike nerds, foodies, friends.
No big names, no celebrities, no scenesters or “faces”. No sell out, no awful brand associations, no cynical marketing, no big statements. Just grassroots enthusiasm, a genuineness, a true reflection of the many good things about Glasgow.
In the run-up, the omens weren’t good. The weather forecast was awful, volunteers called to let us down, last minute meetings with the council and police were called due to confusion over event timings and routes. All signs pointed to my red-faced resignation from the world of weaving.
But on the day?
For my part, it was an honest event. Damp but far from damp spirited. There are things that could have been improved on, things that I’d have done differently but such is the nature of an inaugural outing like this. I think everyone genuinely had a great experience and that’s what matters. So many people and businesses gave so generously of their time, energy and efforts too. It was all most heartening in so many ways
The event was my last project here in Glasgow. It pulled together all the things I love about this place, good people, good food and drink, good music and it rounds off a year of big changes, a year in which I’ve been more “out there” than I generally feel comfortable with. It has been fun. A lot of fun. But now it’s time to reel my neck in and get on with doing what I do, under the radar and away from the limelight.
A quieter life beckons.
July 24, 2011 § 2 Comments
225g carragheen seaweed
1.1 litres milk
thick cream and good jam to accompany
Put the carragheen, milk and sugar into a pan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes.
By this time the seaweed should have half “melted”
Strain the liquid into a bowl and place in the fridge to set. It should turn out easily once it has.
Serve with a very rich, thick cream and a blob of the good jam.
This may sound like a bland milk pudding but let me assure you the carragheen gives the dish many particular qualities, some of which are hard to put one’s finger on…
May 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The new spring menu from our food project goes live this week after a soft launch at the weekend.
[click 'n' zoom pic to view]
Other nods to the islands come in the form of peat-smoked haddock, gulls eggs, crowdie and oatcakes and if we didn’t have to purchase a half carcass of the beast we’d have had Highland beef from the Brue fold too. Hopefully we’ll have that at our Highlander’s feast, spit-roasted, at the end of the month.
Won a few awards last year so fingers crossed 2011 goes well too…
Biadh @ MacSorley’s, 42 Jamaica Street, Glasgow. 0141 248 8581
February 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment