Barley and oats

Barley and oats

Barley is underrated in this country, perhaps perceived as fusty thanks to an association with traditional soups, but change is in the air now that fashionable Italian and North African restaurants have been including pearl barley on their menus. Barley makes excellent breads of rich, sweet flavour. Even better is beremeal, a special variety of kiln-roasted barley flour from Orkney. Oatmeal is perceived around the world as a distinguishing ingredient of Scots cuisine; they are not native to Scotland but do grow very well there. It's important to match the grade of oatmeal to the dish you are cooking. Medium oatmeal is versatile. Pinhead oatmeal is excellent, but hard to buy outside Scotland.


The term game refers to animals or birds that are hunted and killed before eating, but has come to mean those species no matter if they have been caught in the wild or farmed. True game is seasonal, as there are restrictions governing when the animals can be hunted. The start of the grouse shooting season is 12 August, however it's not a good month to eat them, because they need to be hung to develop their flavour. Farmed game is available year-round. If you like the idea of trying game but are nervous about the flavour being too strong, start with pheasant, or farmed venison.


There is a growing appreciation of how the diet of the sheep affects the flavour and nutritive benefits of the meat. Animals reared on salt marshes, such as Romney Marsh, have a deliciously salty, herby flavour. Extensively-reared Shetland and Hebridean sheep, small traditional breeds that graze on heather and grass covered hills and taste superb, have higher than average levels of conjugated linoleic acid in them. This natural unsaturated fatty acid is believed to be linked to a reduced risk of cancer and coronary heart disease.


It's a difficult time for lovers of salmon. Wild salmon is considered the best, however stocks are extremely low, and if everyone insisted on eating the best all the time, there would be no salmon left. The introduction of farmed salmon has brought down prices considerably, and created wider demand. Salmon farming practices are highly controversial, however there are good producers, especially organic ones, who use ocean pens that allow the fish to swim quite freely and develop strength. Ireland's Kinvara smoked salmon is made from such fish. Smoking styles vary according to the traditions of the smokers. The Jewish "London cure" (considered by many chefs to be the best) is different from Celtic curing. In recent years hot smoking, which results in a pale cooked texture rather than the bright pink translucency produced by cold smoking, has become more widely available and is a delicious alternative.

Soft fruit

We tend to think of soft fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries as quintessentially British, but most are not native to this country. Raspberries originated in East Asia. Gooseberries were not cultivated in the UK until Tudor times. Red, black and white currants came from the Netherlands, Denmark and Baltic regions. We have some claim to the blackberry however - it grows all over the world but has done so in Britain since at least Neolithic times. Most blackberry varieties are available now. The Scandinavians would argue differently, but Scotland does produce some of the world's best raspberries, because it has the ideal climate.


The Belfry Deli, 5 Church Lane, Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Tel: 02870 342 906.

Blas ar Fwyd, 25 Heol Yr Orsaf, Llanrwst, Wales., Tel: 01492 640 215.

Chatsworth, Farm Shop, Pilsley, Bakewell, Derbyshire., Tel: 01246 583392.

Clarke's, 122 Kensington, Church Street, London W8., Tel: 020 7229 2190.

Donald Russell,, Tel: 01467 629 666.

The Fine Cheese Company, 29 and 31 Walcot Street, Bath., Tel: 01225 448748.

Forman and Field,, Tel: 020 8221 3939.

Fortnum and Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1., Tel: 020 7734 8040.

La Fromagerie, 2-4 Moxon Street, London W1., Tel: 020 7935 0341. Branch in Highbury, London.

Harrod's Food Hall, 87 Brompton Road, London SW1. Tel: 020 7730 1234.