Shetland is made up of more than 100 different islands and islets, only 15 of which are inhabited by just more than 20,000 people.
It has a cuisine defined by survival: being cut off from the mainland in bad weather and food shortages is a reality for the inhabitants, so many of its culinary traditions stem from making the most of produce readily available on the land – rhubarb, potatoes, livestock – or the sea.
Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World is co-authored by father and son Tom and James Morton. Both are writers: Tom is a journalist and broadcaster, while son James was a finalist on Great British Bake Off in 2012 and won the Guild of Food Writers’ Cookbook of the Year award in 2014 for his book Brilliant Bread. He also works as a doctor in Glasgow, where he also owns a brewery.
Shetland is separated into many different aspects of ‘Shetland cuisine’: foy (celebration) on the beach; bannocks (bread) and reest (reestit mutton); sea; smoke and fire; land; earth and thrift; the tradition of Sunday teas; and bake.
From simple lentil soup recipes to the more complex, such as buckies with kelp beurre blanc and dulse beurre noisette, the book also outlines techniques such as hot and cold smoking, pickling, dry-curing and smoking mutton to produce ‘reest’ and even how to prepare and cook piglets’ testicles. There is also a guide to traditional Shetland ritual feast days for those interested in what goes on during Up Helly Aa, Beltane and Bena Sunday.
The book focuses on the culture, traditions and produce of Shetland and is a great sit-down read as much as a recipe book. It is beautifully illustrated with photography by Andy Sewell and written with humorous and touching personal anecdotes from both father and son (“literally everyone does have a rhubarb patch”), who have a clear passion for and connection with the place.
I dare anyone to read Tom’s guide to creating a ‘Viking pit feast’ and not be inspired to head to the nearest beach and throw some potatoes and mackerel onto a barbecue.
Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World by James and Tom Morton (Quadrille, £25)