GROWING up in a city, and as a small child, the supermarket shelves appeared to grow a never-ending supply of fresh produce. Over the years, those supermarkets ate their way into the local butchers’ and greengrocers profits. The small local corner shops, the heart of suburban communities, were gradually closed down and boarded up.

Supermarkets grew, with neatly packaged meats, which got redder and richer in colour, under the sparkling bright lights of vast, tiled aisles. The fruit and vegetables became glossier, shinier, and bigger.

The Scottish Farmer: Islay oystersIslay oysters

Those memories of my mother’s string bag, once loaded with loose veg from the green grocer’s stall. A strong earthy smell mixed with sweet citrus notes clinging in the air. The keen eye of the grocer, grubby hands, peeping from fingerless gloves. He could calculate the amount owed with the sweep of an eye.

All that was replaced with light airy supermarkets. The neatly clipped and polished wrapping and packaging grew in almighty and colossal ways. Layers upon layers of clingfilm and brightly coloured polythene, as the taste of the produce gradually depleted. The rich flavours seep away. Nothing that a good dash of preservative, some extra salt, maybe a pinch of sugar, a few herbs and spices, and a little bit of processing in some factory, couldn’t mask. That’s how it seemed anyway.

The Scottish Farmer: Craig Archibald Scottish Shellfish Growers Association Conference 2023Craig Archibald Scottish Shellfish Growers Association Conference 2023

Years later, I was happily whisked away to live on a farm in the Hebrides, and it was the delicious taste of that pork from the farm reared pigs, living out the back. The attention to the importance of the grazing of livestock. From the herb rich pastures to the seaweed on the shore, all changing and adding to the flavour and quality of the meat. The freedom the livestock enjoyed on the vast, open landscape. The care and attention to their well-being, added to the flavour and quality of those fine steaks and joints served up in the island’s restaurants and homes.

There are the rich delicacies from the sea, shellfish, mackerel, and cod, inland salmon and trout. The delicate flavours, and the bliss of foraging, fishing, farming, and celebrating home grown produce from Islay’s larder.

The Scottish Farmer: Rosemary at the pottery Rosemary at the pottery

As diversification projects continue to grow and develop The Oyster Shed Cafe opened last year. Set beside the glistening turquoise shores of Loch Gruinart. The award-winning oysters are farmed by the Archibald family, recently awarded Scotland’s Best Rock Oysters 2023/2024. An old stone byre, retaining all its unique charm and character, was transformed into a state-of-the-art kitchen, with dining areas, looking out across the bay, where the tidal currents ebb and flow. Here, large oysters, brimming with flavours of the sea, gathered from the shoreline below, are served with hand cut chips and salads. Fresh clams and crab are to be savoured, alongside a menu of delicious joints of beef and lamb from the farm. All homes are grown on the surrounding landscape. A wood burning stove, a centre piece, crackling away on cooler days, and you honestly couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting, or fresher, tastier food.

At Nerabus Farm, and the landscape is bursting with fresh, ‘spray free’ vegetables, home reared rare breed pigs, and hens. The pigs and hens turn over and weed the ground as well as providing rich manure, a natural fertiliser for the land. It’s a fantastic market garden. Growing from early beginnings to quite an enterprise on the Rhinns of Islay. In between Distillery jobs, Heather and Kevin, an innovative young couple tend the land.

Developing and growing the variety of produce they offer annually, supplying hotels and homes across the island. Delicious vegetable boxes are delivered throughout the year. A van is left, filled with goodies from the crops, with an honesty box inside, for islanders to ‘help themselves’. There are trays of fresh eggs, and even a fabulous pumpkin patch, to ensure the island children get the best of Halloween adventures.

The Scottish Farmer: Work on the farm at PersabusWork on the farm at Persabus

Living off the land and there’s those stories of big ‘fishing trip’ adventures. Adventures shrouded in mystery, but with the odd snippet here and there I have gathered that the words ‘Fishing trip’ cover a whole variety of escapades. Those two simple words, become a wonderful sweeping ‘umbrella’ terminology that even the Oxford dictionary couldn’t begin to cover.

Picture the scene, a remote hunting lodge, in the depths of the Scottish wilderness. A location, however, certainly not chosen to satisfy the crew’s love of hiking.

A day on the loch, and the competitive spirit kicks in to fill those fishing baskets, from the fishermen who can tie their own flies to those who get in a muddle just tackling up.

Adventures that are later filled with menus of fresh langoustine, lobster, and possibly clams, washed down with some fine malt. Its age and cask are chosen specifically to complement the dish.

The 'catch of the day’, and it’s the ‘gutting’ party who assemble to prepare the fish over an old stone sink. Here there may be a ploy or two to get the day’s winner ‘filled to the gills’, to encourage him to snore soundly into his dinner, swerving the possibility of any gloating, well before the day’s results are shared with the crew.

It’s the delicacies and flavours of that wild salmon and trout. Cooked to perfection. The deliciously, sweet, earthy taste. It’s a fine process. Over cooking it's dry and hard to filet but gently steamed, oven roasted, or fried, and it simply melts in the mouth. Served alongside the best of home-grown veg.

I'm pretty sure there would have been a haunch of venison in there too. Images of the team hoicking themselves up those boggy mountains, crawling like stealth missiles on their bellies through rugged undergrowth, spring to mind. The phrase 'fishing' trip however did not stretch to cover any possibility of physical endeavour. Scrambling up mountains and over rough terrain would require the services of an Argo cat in the vicinity.

With only fishing rods and tackle to hand there would be no taking a pop at the local wildlife, but the finest of beef and venison would have been delivered, and luckily along with a chef thrown in.

There would be a good old sturdy rowing boat, as strong muscular, possibly chubby little arms would circumnavigate their way to moving the oars through the murky depths to head away out into the loch, as another day of simply casting a line commenced. Snoring stragglers on the shore, tucked into the cosy depths of waders, jackets and flat caps, sleeping soundly beside the gentle lapping of the loch, until some fish has the audacity to take a bite at the hook.

Time out and everyone needs a what could be more perfect? A break 'withoot the wives n weans' under the guise of that fantastic terminology of a ‘fishing trip’. The bliss of not having a mobile or wifi signal available. In the words of ‘The Puddock’ by J M Caie

‘Wi’ drink for my thrapple an’ meat for my wame’.

However, you choose to enjoy it, dress it up, serve it simply, home rear, or capture it on adventures, such as those exciting and challenging ‘fishing trips’, know that Scotland’s larder, the freshest, and best of produce, is right here, on your doorstep. What’s not to love?