Stalking tea-time treats in the Highlands



POOR Philippa Davis – one day she’s in Provence being spoiled by the wonderful seasonal produce and the next she’s in the Highlands serving tea by roaring fires. The life of a travelling chef is so hard …



Caught between a midge and …

WITHIN minutes of arriving at the lodge in the Highlands I was faced with a dilemma. It reminded me of the funny quandary questions children often ask like: Would you rather be chased by a herd of angry elephants or a pack of hungry wolves? Or would you rather have to run 100 miles carrying a bicycle or swim 100 miles wearing roller skates and a riding hat etc.

My choice was: Would I rather be eaten alive by midges or keep the kitchen window shut and practically boil alive in my autumn attire.

I took my chances with the midges for a bit until we had regulated the inside temperature but with them being particularly ferocious this year I wonder in hindsight maybe I should have just got back into my summer kit despite being in the Highlands and it exposing more flesh to midge attack.

I used to have a sure fire way of avoiding midge bites, which was to slap on Avon Skin So Soft every morning – as recommended by the Army and anyone used to being summer/autumn savvy in Scotland.  I was put off however when I fairly recently lent out a bottle to have it quickly returned suggesting that it wasn’t the best thing to put on oneself, as it smelt of oil used by strippers. I didn’t enquire further…

travfoodPhilippaI was in Scotland for a week cooking for a party of stalkers. Having done a fair few of these kind of jobs, I felt I knew the drill. Big cooked breakfasts, groaning table spread of hams and cheeses, buns and sweets to take on the hill, afternoon tea of freshly baked cakes and lashings of tea served by roaring fires and a hearty evening meal to help refuel after the seven-hour day stalking up, down and across mountain and moor.

Everything was as expected, accept for the breakfasts. In the entire week I didn’t make one traditional cooked breakfast. There were boiled eggs galore, a really delicious quinoa-style porridge that I was inspired to make with almond milk, toasted nuts, grated pear and orange soaked raisons, a few American style pancakes, two kippers and one round of eggs benedict, but no requests for sausages/bacon/mushrooms etc. I guess this really shows that even in the most traditional of set ups people’s tastes, ideas and approach to food really are changing.

Stalking – the managed and selective shooting of deer – is generally seen as part of the essential management of a healthy and sustainable deer herd. With no natural predators, numbers must be kept in balance with what the delicate habitat can support. As deer are prolific breeders, numbers can quickly grow to the point where, unchecked, they will cause significant crop, tree and flora damage, as they expand their range to seek out food sources, especially in the winter months when starvation sets in due to excess numbers. Maintaining the size, balance and welfare of the herd, proportionate to what the hill can naturally support, is the objective of any good sporting estate and this takes much effort, skill and expenditure to achieve, which is partly offset by the revenues generated from stalking.

travfoodPhilippamidges3The job of the stalkers or ghillie (the persons accompanying the guest up the hill) is to lead the party (generally of one or two) to within range of the animal so it can be safely and cleanly shot. They have to know which ones are eligible for shooting, often the older or weaker ones, and get themselves into a safe position so a clean and successful shot can be taken. This can mean walking and crawling for hours in what may seem the wrong direction so no-one is seen and the wind doesn’t carry the stalkers’ scent and alert the deer/stag.

With such full-on days you can see why it is so important to be well fed. The hills are super steep, the weather can be hot, cold, misty or raining (possibly all of them within the hour in Scotland), and there is only one way up and down and that is by foot.

Afternoon tea is one of the best moments for me as I love it when the guests arrive back, rosy-cheeked, exhilarated and exhausted, but when they see the roaring fire, hot pots of tea and big slices of cake, massive smiles of delight break out and the stories from the day’s adventures begin.

For this recipe I would like to share one of my current favorite afternoon tea treats – spiced banana and maple syrup cake. For me this is the perfect banana cake, not too sweet, hints of spice and not too dense.

Spiced Banana and Maple Syrup CaketravfoodPhilippamidges4

3 ripe bananas peeled
2 tbs orange or apple juice
130g room temperature salted butter
2 free range  / organic eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ nutmeg – grated
2 tbs maple syrup
100g soft brown sugar
250g SR flour

Pre heat the oven to 170 ° C. Grease and line a 1 ltr loaf tin. In a free-standing mixer beat the bananas till mushed, add the juice, butter, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, syrup and sugar and beat for a couple of minutes. Stop the mixer. Scrape down the sides then beat for another minute. Stop it again, add all the flour in one go and then beat on a low speed for 1 minute and the mixture is totally combined. Scoop the batter into the loaf tin and bake on the centre shelf for 40  – 50 mins or a cake skewer comes out clean.

Follow Philippa’s travels on her website