It was barking dogs that alerted Ghillie Basan, the renowned food writer, to our approach. Wiping her hands on her apron she left her kitchen to meet us at the gate to her remote cottage and cookery school at the furthermost limit of the Braes of Glenlivet in the depths of the Ladder Hills.
We had walked for a couple of hours over the heather clad hills from the south following an old whisky smuggling route. Behind us were the bare summits of the high Cairngorms and ahead lay a patchwork of fields of green and golden barley stretching away with the River Spey to the Moray coast.
As we sank into the hills down towards Glenlivet and Ghillie’s cottage at Corrunich the gentle farmland to the north disappeared from our view and all at once there was an unexpected feeling of complete isolation. This was midsummer and the air was warm and heavy with the scent of the vividly yellow gorse and broom. However, in the winter, Ghillie informed as she showed us into her cosy kitchen, the snow accumulates readily and often blocks the long landrover track that is her lifeline to the outside world. Ghillie reckons it is the remotest cookery school in the UK and when she wrote a book about her life here she titled it, The Moon is Our Nearest Neighbour.
“Ghillie reckons it is the remotest cookery school in the UK and when she wrote a book about her life here she titled it, The Moon is Our Nearest Neighbour.”
Ghillie, however, brings the outside world to Corrunich. She has written more than 40 books on Middle Eastern, African and Asian cuisine and her kitchen although traditional is hung with dried chillies, infused with the scent of exotic spices and stacked with glossy pottery tagines. Her genius has been to marry the tastes and smells of the orient with the fresh Scottish produce to be found to hand. For the meat of the impala in African recipes Ghillie substitutes venison and in her south-east Asian dishes, Ghillie has found that meaty salmon works well with coconut milk.
Putting on a blue apron and sipping on one of Ghillie’s homemade gins I was issued with my task. While aubergine smoked over Indian fire bowls outside on the deck I attempted to wrap haggis in foraged wild garlic leaves to fashion a Scottish version of Greek dolma. Once that was done I was given the less delicate task of pounding dried chillies that had been soaked in water into a spicy paste.
When it was time to eat we moved outside to the deck. The smoked aubergines had been replaced on the fire by whole trout and as I stood looking out over the hills eating flatbread slathered with subtly smoky baba ganoush I have to confess to being just a little disorientated. The weather was warm and the food exotic but the view was unmistakably Scottish. It was Scotland but not as I had ever known it.
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