Meet The Expert – Rosemary Moon
Meet the Expert
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Meet the Expert
Hello – and greetings from Orkney. We moved here 3 years ago after a lifetime in the south of England. I first came to the Islands for Waitrose to look at aquaculture and instantly fell for the place. A love of whisky made Orkney the obvious choice for our new Scottish home, boasting both Highland Park and Scapa distilleries – Scapa Skiren is a great dram with food. Matt from Seasoned Pioneers did a podcast tasting with me years ago looking at peppery notes in the spirit – these things have to be done!
I trained as a home economist when it became clear that I simply was never going to be good enough at blowing my own trumpet – literally – to make music my career. In my first job I used food to test and to demonstrate domestic appliances. However, while working as International Home Economist for Kenwood and travelling lots, I began to truly get excited about ingredients. Until then, my Road to Damascus food revelation was my first ever vinaigrette on a salad in Vichy, whilst away with the Brighton Youth Orchestra in France. We’d only ever had salad cream at home!
A lot has happened since then – 19 books (a silly number and that has to change) – a daytime TV residency at BBC Pebble Mill and lots of guest slots on radio. Standout radio moments were two pieces on Woman’s Hour – once with Judith Patten to celebrate what would have been her mother Marguerite’s 100th birthday, and once to do a whisky tasting on air with Jenni Murray. It’s hard to believe that Jenni didn’t cite that as one of her highlights at the programme! It was a great privilege to be Chair of the Guild of Food Writers and to serve on their committee. We’re certainly an opinionated bunch of people but a common love of food is the basis of many good friendships.
I think I’m the first food writer to live on Orkney and I now write the food and drink blogs for Orkney.com, an all-about site which I think has as much value for people who live here as it does for those coming on holiday. The food and drink here is truly fantastic and the local fresh produce shapes what we eat and what I shall write about in the future.
Well, the trumpet playing wasn’t up to making money, I left a very good grammar school with 2 just-pass ‘O’ levels and had no idea what to do. My Mum suggested going to college to learn to cook and I was instantly a round peg fitting into a round hole – I loved it! Demonstrating was a big part of the course – a bit of play acting or showing off? I have demonstrated ever since, although now just for charity fund-raisers. And, of course, I love to eat. I also loved to travel and so visiting places to find out about ingredients and cuisines was always great fun. Recipe writing, teaching and sharing recipes and a love of food in a fun way has been a very satisfactory career. I also owned a deli for a short while – what a learning curve that was! And a great way to lose money but gosh, we ate well.
Without doubt it was the founding of a community garden for vegetable growing, 10 years ago in Tangmere, West Sussex, the village that we lived in for 34 years before moving North. The village was becoming an urban-sprawl – loads of houses with tiny gardens – and the parish council were willing to let us have some land at a peppercorn rent. 32 people turned up for an initial meeting on a very cold February morning and many became keen members. We kept pigs, which greatly improved the land and made us a focal point in the village, as well as chickens. We had a polytunnel, an edible hedgerow and beds producing loads of fruit, veg and flowers for members. Fund raising open afternoons were always well supported as were the cookery dems I used to do. Mary Berry came and filmed with us for her Absolute Favourites TV series, which was great fun for all the garden members who had days off work and school to be involved. Shared suppers with pizzas cooked in our pizza oven and Saturday lunches cooked over a fire made on an old washing machine drum were highlights. It was a place of healing, sharing and fun and, I am delighted to say, is still going strong.
Wow! What a difficult question! And by that I mean What is my favourite ingredient?! I think it has to be vanilla and that fascination stems from a visit to Kerala with Christine McFadden, the pepper queen, when she was researching her pepper book. We saw vanilla growing and being cured together in spice plantations and I saw it as a complementary crop in coffee areas too. The danger that the growers put themselves in with this very high value spice made me think very differently about it – and, of course, the value was often much higher for those further up the chain towards commercial or retail than it was for the risk-taking growers. Knowing that the vanilla I use is responsibly sourced, either through Fairtrade or by a small-scale, specialist spice company is very important to me.
How do I use vanilla? Well, I add essence to our granola mix creating a very creamy flavour. My biggest selling book has been my Ice Cream Machine Cookbook and, of course, I use vanilla in ice creams and desserts. Inspired by Kerala, I also like to use it in subtle combinations with, for example, green cardamoms, in lightly spiced seafood dishes. Seeds in the sauce and pods in the water with either rice or linguine. Or seeds into a pasta dough with a seafood sauce. Vanilla and saffron in a Orkney crab tart is completely and utterly wonderful.
This has been a very happy and productive period for us, with lots of gardening and vegetable growing, and painting the outside of our wooden house. The Islands were very quiet until tourism slowly started up again in July and so we have had our beach – which is at the bottom of the garden – pretty much to ourselves.
It has been a great time to start gathering my favourite recipes together, to update many of them and to start sharing them on my website rosemarymoon.com. This has been slightly erratic as a sunny day in Orkney demands that we get outside to make the most of it. I’m pleased with how the collection is coming together and I can keep plugging away at it for the next couple of years. For a while the local shellfish guy was delivering once a week and so I made it a mission to devise a number of scallop recipes which you can find on my website. That was huge fun!
Nick and I are both very involved with the setting up of a new charity to promote musical and cultural exchanges between Orkney and other island and similar communities. This exciting project will pull together numerous parts of our island life and we will share with and learn from many diverse groups of people. With music and food being the two truly international languages it is going to be a very exciting project.
And for the dog lovers amongst you, I am quite surprised that we have achieved as much as we have this summer with a young collie…
Orkney crab is so sweet and juicy and it pairs wonderfully with vanilla in this luxurious – yet simple – soup.
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