If you’ve ever visited a farmers’ market you’ll know you can near enough purchase anything your stomach desires.
I usually pick up a few bits and bobs, with no real idea as to when I’m going to use them, or what I’m going to pair them with.
But as Calum Lockerbie, owner of chauffeur-driven food and drink tour firm Bothies & Bannocks, and chef Stuart Donald have shown me, I can now easily create a three-course menu all from a farmers’ market fit for any dinner party.
I was invited to join the duo’s monthly Market Day Cookery Class, which takes place once a month on the third weekend of the month, and kicks off around 9am until around 5pm.
The correspondence I received from Calum in advance told me to meet him and the others going on the trip outside Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE), on Poynernook Road in Aberdeen, at 8.45am prompt that Saturday morning.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d signed up for, but I was looking forward to finding out more – albeit flying solo.
The farmers’ market
We were introduced one by one and then bundled into his branded mini van and carted off to Banchory Farmers’ Market which takes place the third Saturday of every month.
It has been running for 20 years or so and is regarded as one of the north-east’s longest standing, having originally started in the Scott Skinner Square. It now takes place in Bellfield car park in the heart of the town.
Our job here was to source ingredients with Calum which chef Stuart would show us how to make three dishes with. For starters we’d identified a love of seafood in the group, so Cullen skink was agreed.
For that, we headed to Granite City Fish for the finest smoked and regular haddock. We were introduced to the team and Calum gave us a rundown of the business as one of the young lads bagged up our fish.
To fuel our shopping trip, Calum introduced us to the team at Wark Farm. Their pies are legendary in the area and always sell out. And with 800 to 1,000 individuals attending the market monthly, that didn’t surprise me.
Video of what to expect
I opted for the venison pie and it was divine. The pastry was so buttery and the filling just packed with flavour.
Mains was trickier to decide. Lamb was out of the question as one of our party didn’t like it and the desired beef was out of stock. Instead, venison steak was selected from HM Sheridan which we’d pair with seasonal veg (savoy cabbage, carrots and potatoes) from a local farm.
For dessert, we picked up some fresh strawberries, and a raspberry chilli jam from Richie’s Chilli Sauces. There was talk of apples, but no real indication as to what we’d be cooking up.
We now needed a tipple to wash this all down with so headed to local bottle shop, Strong Water Company, round the corner on the High Street.
Majority of the couples picked up a bottle of white or red wine to enjoy, but as I was on my own I selected two beers from Six Degrees North. The owner, Guy Finlayson, who is behind Banchory Beer Festival, gave the group a bottle of white on the house to enjoy with our starter.
We were then carted back to CFINE in Aberdeen where we’d be cooking up a storm – not before nearly leaving our seafood behind at the market!
The cook school
There was plenty of natter in the van with talk of Brussels sprouts and soy sauce at a Ballater restaurant and “road kill croissants” (butteries).
We had met a couple in Banchory so they followed us back, bringing us up to a party of six. It took less than 30 minutes to get back to the city.
CFINE has its own training kitchen which was the perfect place for us to be put through our paces. I teamed up with fellow solo guest Iain, who seemed pretty confident about his cooking abilities. We were off to a good start.
Using a balance of hands-on cooking and chef’s demonstrations, Stuart talked us through different elements of the dishes that we had to create, while also making other elements himself.
Initially he got us to work on making shortbread, and after the biscuits were in the oven, we then watched him make the Cullen skink, with some of the guests lending a hand.
We all sat together to eat our starter as Stuart prepared for the next course. He and Calum shared tips on how to cut veg properly, how to store pre-packaged meat and even shared their Cullen skink do’s and don’ts.
Our mains were in our own hands. Venison with a red wine jus and roasted seasonal veg with some chorizo. We pan-fried the chorizo, coated the chopped veg in oil and bunged it into a pan. It was then piled into one dish and placed in the oven.
As that cooked away I made the red wine jus, reducing it down as Iain looked after the steaks. He liked his medium so for the sake of ease I went along with him – although medium/rare is how I’d have mine.
Once cooked three to four minutes on both sides we were ready to plate and sit down with the others. I was so impressed with the flavours and the simplicity of the dish. Stuart said it would make a cracking dinner party meal and is super easy to prepare in advance.
Dessert was a build-your-own cranachan which Stuart had fixed up a selection of toppings for us.
There was toasted oats, chocolate, raspberries, and a toffee sauce which we all loved. I added some whisky to a wee bowl of the sauce to make a boozy version – it was lush!
And, the best part? No washing up to be done.
I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed the group was as a whole throughout the day, and I was even more relieved that I was on a market day with some lovely people.
Everyone I met was a joy to speak with, and we had a lot of laughs not just at the market or in the car, but in the kitchen, too.
The set up at CFINE is very impressive and the fact we were cooking with local, seasonal produce was just excellent. I was most impressed by Stuart who is relatively new to the company.
His dishes were absolutely delicious and his tutoring was spot on. The way he thought up dishes on the spot with the diversity of ingredients we’d purchased just goes to show his knowledge of food.
Price: £95 per person for a morning trip to the market, the cookery class and a three-course meal. Drinks are not included.
The trip is a full day and the mini bus leaves Aberdeen at 9am and the class finishes up around 5pm at CFINE.
Collection and drop off can be arranged anywhere on the A93 Deeside route (Aberdeen to Aboyne) to make this tour more accessible.
There are no more than eight places on any one tour.