As autumn moves into winter, the nights are getting ever darker. But the crisp weather also means a wide range of fruit and veg is in season. We spoke to Shetland-based food blogger Elizabeth Atia about her favourite seasonal produce and her passion for reducing waste.
From Canada to the Shetland Islands
Elizabeth was born on a Canadian army base, before moving to the Shetland Islands in 1999 and working at a local health food store. It was her childhood in Canada that sparked her love of cooking, and she was inspired by the foods in her garden and the surrounding hedgerows.
“In Canada we grew our own vegetables and ate the wild food we found. My earliest memory of cooking is helping my mother make jams and jellies with the wild fruits growing near our house. We would spend days harvesting berries – strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, you name it, and my mother turned them into the most amazing preserves
“My mum went out to work full time so I took on all the cooking duties around aged 12. We didn’t have many cookbooks and my Mum isn’t the best cook, so I taught myself really. My Grandmother was a baker back in England, but she passed away before I was born. She passed her cookbook on to my mother though which was a great inspiration.”
A Blog Is Born
Elizabeth’s blog has humble origins, but Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary has grown into a source of food and photography inspiration for many, and not just in the Shetland Island
“As procrastination from an Open University degree I was studying, I baked a lot and put photos of my treats and recipes up on Facebook. My friends kept encouraging me to create my own blog to house all my food posts, so at first I had a private site on Blogger which was invite only. After I joined Twitter, I came across other food bloggers who were so friendly and supportive that I created Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary and made it public.”
“The food scene in Shetland is constantly growing and the fair is in its 4th year. There are cooking demonstrations from various chefs, all using local ingredients, and local farmers selling their produce.
“Recently I was invited to give a talk at a local school about how to turn a food blog into a viable business. I love what I do and it really doesn’t feel like work – I get to meet inspiring chefs, try great food and share my recipes with others.”
Cook the Seasons
Due to her remote location, Elizabeth primarily uses seasonal, local produce in her cooking. But that’s not a bad thing.
“I can’t just go to a large supermarket and get things like strawberries or mangos out of season, as we’re so isolated. It’s definitely influenced my cooking style in that I work with what’s available – lots of vegetables, smaller quantities of good quality meat, seafood and natural flavourings like herbs and spices.
“I get a weekly vegetable box delivery from a local farming site throughout March to December, which dictates what dishes I cook. Things like pumpkin, squash, beetroot, kale, leeks, parsnips, celeriac and potatoes are in season right now, and seafood like mackerel, coley, ling, brown trout, clams and prawns are readily available.
“A great tip I’ve picked up is that you can cook the tops of beetroots – just chop and sauté it like you would with leek or onion.
“My favourite vegetables right now are pumpkin, beetroot and rainbow chard which are all really substantial, so great for making stews and casseroles.”
Seasonal Doesn’t Mean Dull
Using seasonal veg doesn’t mean you can’t be adventurous, even if you live in Shetland, as Elizabeth explains.
“My favourite dish is a thick and warming stew like Moroccan lamb with lots of vegetables and flavoured with cumin and coriander. This dish has been influenced by my husband, who is half Iraqi, half Norwegian. He has inspired me to become more adventurous in using middle-eastern recipes and spices. His mother also taught me some traditional Norwegian recipes such as kransekake, which is an almond flavoured cake shaped in a ring.”
Buy Locally. Waste Less.
Elizabeth thinks there should be a change in people’s attitudes towards food – more local produce and less waste!
“I don’t think many people really understand where their food comes from or realise that by the time it’s reached the UK, it’s lost much of its nutritional value. People don’t know what food is available seasonally as they’re so used to being able to get everything from a supermarket all year round.
“I definitely recommend finding a local vegetable box provider and befriending your local butcher, fishmonger and cheese counter – they will be able to give you the best advice on how to cook their local produce and will be able to tell you exactly where it comes from. It’s a great way of shopping sustainably that supports local businesses and cuts out the middle man, meaning all the profits go back into the local area.”
Growing fruit and veg is an even better way of sourcing it – right from your own garden.
“Sadly I can’t grow my own vegetables as my house is far too exposed and the strong winds rip up my garden, but I would definitely recommend others do so. All you need is a wind shelter, a decent plot and some patience.
“Find a local vegetable growing class if you need help and some advice. They should also be able to do a soil test for you to make sure it’s not too acidic or high in carbon which can be difficult to grow anything in.”
Elizabeth is also taking part in a challenge to waste less food.
“I hate wasting food so I’ve recently got involved with the No Waste Food Challenge. It’s a challenge to use up your leftovers and slightly past-their-prime food that we are all guilty of throwing away. I hope to inspire people with this challenge and my blog to waste less food and use more local, seasonal produce.”