A Taste of Scotland’s Islands by Sue Lawrence

What makes the food and drink of Scottish islands so fascinating to explore?

The islands are fascinating to explore in so many different ways – obviously their stunning beauty – but also the quality of their produce is incomparable. There are so many traditions associated with the simple everyday dishes – and wonderful anecdotes about them throughout the islands, though sadly often from older islanders. Also, though there is a similarity of ingredients on all the islands, there are so many regional variations.


To what extent do you think local food and drink traditions are still being upheld around our islands?

There are some traditions that are sacrosanct. Guga on Lewis is one prime example and though it is not easy to get our hands on a Guga, it is not impossible and much easier to speak to someone (usually from Ness in the north of Lewis), who count it as their favourite meal.

Sadly, with the demise of local abattoirs (at the time of writing there are only seven island abattoirs), common dishes such as black pudding can seldom be made with fresh blood. Compromises must be made if we are to maintain these ancient traditions.


Was there anything that particularly surprised you on your travels from a food and drink point of view?

I was surprised – and delighted! – to find more and more artisan producers all over the islands, from the bakery in Walls, Shetland to all the island gin producers now emerging.

But, it is not easy for artisan cheese makers, given all the legislation. Indeed, the Isle of Lewis Cheese company, that I had visited for the book and tasted their delicious goats cheeses – now sadly no longer produces commercially. But they still make for themselves; lucky them!


Scotland aspires to become a global food tourism destination.  What role do our islands play in realising that ambition?

There are so many iconic ingredients and dishes on the islands that they play a major part in Scotland’s role in becoming a global food destination. There are so many fabulous restaurants all over now, from the seafood bistro on Scalpay and Chef Chris Loye’s pop-up restaurant on the west of Harris, to ‘old-timers’ like the Scalloway Hotel in Shetland whose lobster dishes are worth the long journey north every time.

Also, with specifics such as Shetland Lamb and Luing beef and Isle of Mull Cheddar being so unique, we have our USP’s without having to try very hard!


Tell us about some of the most interesting dishes in the book

Interesting dishes in my book include Stewed Olick (young ling) from Out Skerries; Ardbeg Smoked haddock chowder from Islay; Seville and dulse marmalade from South Uist; Tiree lobster baguette ; Mull haggis pastilla ; Venison scotch egg from Jura ; Beremeal shortbread from Orkney ; Isle of Skye gin tablet ; Colonsay gin and tonic cake.


Sue Lawrence’s A Taste of Scotland’s Islands is published by Birlinn during Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight 2019 (£20, hardback) www.birlinn.co.uk