Discover new products and recipes from Orkney's food and drink producers with our new feature, Exploring Orkney's Larder.
We're delighted to welcome food writer and Orkney produce champion Rosemary Moon to the Orkney.com team.
Over the coming months, Rosemary will be visiting Orkney Food and Drink members across the islands to find out more about their work and products, and she'll be creating new recipes for you all to try at home too. Rosemary's first feature focuses on the Burray-based Orkney Gin Company.
I am fast coming to realise that, after tatties, rhubarb is probably Orkney’s favourite home-grown crop. The emergence of the red spears with their crinkly dark green leaves in April signal that spring has arrived - it’s later up here than in most parts of the UK with the crop waiting until May to get into full swing - and rhubarb is amongst the finest ingredients that give the true flavour of an Orcadian summer.
Most restaurants and cafes, hotels and homes will have rhubarb on their menus in the long days of the Simmer Dim. Rhubarb and Custard ice cream from the Orkney Creamery keeps tourists and locals cool as they enjoy warm days on the Islands. Orkney Isles Preserves based in Shapinsay produce a rhubarb jam which is available in our many food and gift shops, along with Westray Chutney’s rhubarb jam and chutneys. The Westray preserves combine as much local produce as possible with Fairtrade ingredients, as Orkney is a Fairtrade community.
More unusual than ice cream, jams, tarts and crumbles is a spirit flavoured with rhubarb. The Burray-based Orkney Gin Company are enjoying great success with their award-winning Rhubarb Old Tom, and I walked across the beach from home to meet them and to find out more about my very local gin.
Gary and Andrea came to gin making through a part-time passion for the spirit which they indulged while Gary worked as a scallop fisherman and Andrea had a career with Orkney Islands Council. They steeped fruits such as rhubarb and raspberries to make flavoured drinks for themselves and their friends, as well as trying their hands at limoncello. With Gary now working a two weeks on and two weeks off rota as a Captain on NorthLink Ferries and Andrea being able to devote herself completely to the Orkney Gin Company, there is a new distillery building in the final stages of being fitted out so that this enterprising couple will be able to expand their range of seasonal spirits as the interest in craft, small batch gins continues to grow.
They buy in a neutral, wheat based spirit which is distilled seven times to produce a very smooth base for their gins. They then flavour it by a cold process, the slow, bath tub method - a phrase which they say always makes their customers smile at fairs and tasting events. As a cook who eats by the seasons I love the idea of seasonal drinks. Their most recent gin is Rhubarb Old Tom: delicious all year round, it is inspired by summer here on the Islands. Rose petals are a key botanical along with warming cinnamon and Seville orange peel. Of course all gin must contain juniper: without juniper it is not and cannot be called gin. I get a strong suggestion of strawberries from nosing the spirit - but then I have always found that rhubarb and strawberries go very well together.
Gary and Andrea’s other gins also reflect the seasons: Johnsmas a summer spirit and Mikkelmas a warmer spiced autumnal gin to celebrate the Harvest Home in the Islands, traditionally a two week long celebration. Gary and Andrea forage locally for as many of their botanicals as they can manage. The provenance of anything that they have to buy in is of great importance in maintaining the island flavour and tradition of their drinks.
An Old Tom is always a slightly sweeter gin, achieved either by the choice of botanicals or through the adding of a sweetener, with honey being the preference of craft distillers like Gary and Andrea, rather than sugar. The tart character of Orkney rhubarb is beautifully balanced in their 43%abv Rhubarb Old Tom by honey, giving a wonderful range of highs and lows on the palette with the cinnamon, orange and rose notes holding the two more dominant tastes together and creating a fragrant, fresh and fruity gin with a hint of warmth in the finish: perfect for Orcadian summer evenings which are seldom balmy for as long as they are light.
The Orkney Gin Company is the oldest of the three gin producers here in Orkney with Orkney Distilling in Kirkwall and Deerness in the East Mainland. Orkney Distilling's visitor centre will open in July and Deerness already has a shop and offers tours. Many Orcadian shops stock a full range of the local gins including Rhubarb Old Tom, and the spirits can also be bought on-line, directly from the distilleries. Gary and Andrea attend about 12 shows a year to help spread the word about Orkney gin. They hope to attend the Orkney County Show in Kirkwall in August, after they have recovered from being part of the Orkney Food & Drink stand at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, Edinburgh later this month. Last year the interest in the gins was almost overwhelming - I think it will be just the same this year too.
Rhubarb Gin & Tonic Tart
Old Tom Rhubarb Gin is, as intended, delicious as a drink but I have found it a wonderful flavouring in desserts with strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. Just a splash in a pud makes all the difference, and an accompanying tot sets this simple, stylish tart off perfectly. Reduce cooking temperatures for a fan oven according to your instructions.
For the pastry:
100g cold butter
175g plain flour (use 125g wheat flour + 50g beremeal if you have it)
1 tbsp caster sugar
100ml tonic water (the elderflower flavoured tonic is ideal)
For the filling:
300g Orkney rhubarb, sticks of medium thickness
50g caster sugar
3 x 15ml spoonfuls Rhubarb Old Tom gin
3 tbsp Orkney rhubarb or strawberry jam
150ml double cream
Select a 20-22cm loose-bottomed flan tin. Mine has slightly sloping sides but the base is just over 20cm in diameter. I’m only being pedantic about this as you don’t want to be wasting gin if you can’t get all the filling into the tart tin! Measure out 100ml of tonic.
Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until almost combined. Add the sugar with 3 x 15ml spoonfuls of the tonic water and mix to a manageable dough - this amount of tonic should be perfect. Roll out and use to line the tin, prick the base of the pastry with a fork then chill until required.
Cut the rhubarb into 2-3cm lengths. Mix the sugar and Rhubarb Old Tom in a large bowl, add the rhubarb, stir well and leave for at least 10 minutes or while the oven preheats to gas mark 6, 200C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment, remove the rhubarb from the marinade to it with a slotted spoon. Bake the pastry case blind in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes with the rhubarb on the shelf below. Keep an eye on the pastry and if it rises up, just slit the air bubble with a small sharp knife. (If you use baking beans when only par-cooking the pastry you can tear the dough when removing the beans.)
Beat the eggs then brush the base of the pastry case with a little of the egg to seal it. Spread the jam over the base of the pastry then arrange the rhubarb on top of it. Pour any juices from the tin into the bowl with the rhubarb marinade and add the remainder of the tonic, the cream and eggs. Whisk together and pour over the rhubarb. If there is too much filling, remove a few pieces of rhubarb to make room for it all. The rhubarb can be baked separately and served with the tart.
Bake for 15 minutes until the filling is golden, then lower the temperature to gas mark 4, 180C and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the gin and tonic custard is just set.
Serve warm or cold but not hot, with a tot of Rhubarb Old Tom to complete your pleasure! Strawberry ice cream laced with Rhubarb Old Tom also goes well with it!
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.
Rosemary also writes and vlogs about whisky and is particularly interested in whisky and food matching. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram and on her rosemarymoon.com and myorkneylarder.com websites.
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.