Biscuits for Bartok 4 – Aniseed and lemon spelt biscuits

At last, we are back on Uist.  After almost a month away, I am pleased.  Sunny as it is, like the rest of the UK at the moment (but minus the snow) it is bitter with a brisk 35 mph easterly cutting across the islands today.  Not much has changed since we left, particularly given the prolonged cold snap – all the plants in the garden have pretty much stayed static due to the nippy weather.

It was an incredibly busy month for us and in between travels from here to London, up to Angus, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff and back home, we covered thousands of miles.  It was great to be able to catch up with more friends than usual, some which we hadn’t seen for a while, but encounters felt all too brief as we tried to cram everything we planned in.

I have opted to break myself in to cooking from scratch gently, trying a new biscuit for the musicians, by virtue of a miracle, produced in time for their arrival this week.  Skip to the aniseed and lemon spelt biscuit recipe at the bottom of this post if the minutiae of island life is not your thing.

Autogeddon Blues

‘My car is a polluter and it’s messing up my future…there ain’t no gettin’ round gettin’ round.’

Julian Cope, Autogeddon: ‘There ain’t no gettin’ round gettin’ round’

We also had to find time to change our car while we were away.  We have decided after much procrastination to get rid of our gas guzzling 4×4 and get a newer, greener and more economical car.  It was a tough call as we have always used the 4×4 capacity as a crutch to do as we please without much limitation: off-road, towing, driving in bad weather, however, we are not that interested in cars beyond functionality and reliability.

The reality is we don’t treat cars well: two big dogs and a lot of mud = mess, our car was an ill-treated workhorse. The salt spray and damp here is very damaging and corrosive and in light of that and from the point of view of common sense, we could not justify a price tag of £25,000 for a new 4×4 (real ones cost this much).

There is also the issue of running costs.  Fuel prices here are alarming, diesel being around £1.55 per litre, tax for a big 4×4 about £300 p.a., so it seems like a no brainer, despite our initial delusion that we needed and must have another 4×4. So, we will experiment for the next couple of years with our greener non 4×4 machine, and will be very glad to save £280 on tax p.a. and +35% on fuel per month as a result. Given it is shiny and new, we might even clean it now and then!

Muirburn mishap

Having said nothing much had changed, while we were away, we learned that an out of control moorland fire had damaged a significant part of the area where we take our daily dog walk.  We were pretty dismayed to hear this and a bit apprehensive about what we might find on our return.

The area in question is less than a mile from our house and forms part of the common grazings.  In 2000, a deer fence was erected around 100s of hectares on the grazing to exclude stock and deer and a tree planting project took place, forming part of a network planted on the year of the millennium in celebration of the occasion.  This so-called Millennium Forest has been struggling to cope with the Uist weather for the last 12 years.  Pockets of trees, particularly on the lee side of hills out of the prevailing wind have triumphed against adversity, some of them reaching small thickets of 2m, no mean feat in these conditions.

Moor 1

The thicket of alder above is exceptionally sheltered, the dogs often flush woodcock from the area in winter and an otter regularly spraints along the heather-covered narrow rivulet that runs between the two lochs (in the centre of the picture).  I’m relieved this part wasn’t damaged.

Some of the plantings across the moorland failed spectacularly, mostly due to the topography and severe exposure of the site.  Native species planted include birch, hazel, alder, willow, rowan and Scots pine. Alder seems to have been particularly successful, especially on slopes and in small valleys, coping well with the water-logging typical of this blanket bog habitat.

Hectro and Darwin confused by the moonscape - Where have all the grouse gone?

Hector and Darwin confused by the moonscape – Where have all the grouse gone?

moor 3Muirburning  is supposed to be controlled burning for land improvement, as opposed to the picture of devastation we found at the ‘forest’.  Of course, it doesn’t take long for the rumour mill on a small island to start about who may have been responsible and how and why this mess occurred.  As have said before, it is a small community and I prefer to avoid controversy in this blog.  It would be easy to be judgemental and lay blame, however, I don’t know the facts and it may be that this was an unfortunate accident in a well-managed muirburn episode.

That said, by all accounts it was very windy on the day of the fire hence in these circumstances, burning was possibly not carried out in line with the good practice guidance within the Muirburn Code. The fire brigade and beaters were out all night bringing it under control as it got uncomfortably close to the houses in the township.

In these circumstances, several offences may have been committed.  This is not least because the burning destroyed the woodland, it also extended across areas of golden eagle, hen harrier and short-eared owl territory and habitat and I fear for the nest of the local golden eagles, one of which I photographed in a previous post.

The edge of the burnt moorland, showing the contrast before and after

The edge of the burnt moorland, showing the contrast before and after

A significant amount of deep heather habitat has been lost from an area where I have known hen harriers to nest for the last few years and I will miss the delight of seeing them fledge chicks as I have done for the last 3 years from this one particular area.  Fortunately there is enough suitable habitat nearby for them to relocate.

I took a few photographs as a record and will continue to do so as the heather regenerates.  Most of the trees across the burned areas are too badly damaged to regrow, or entirely annihilated. The acrid smell of burning vegetation still hangs heavy in the air.

An old deer track revealed by the burning

An old deer track revealed by the burning

Perhaps one of the most striking reveals is the scarring left by the mechanical tree planting carried out back in 2000.   I didn’t live here at the time, but by all descriptions, a vehicle removed uniform chunks of peat at intervals across the bog and turned them over on top of the surface to provide a soil mound for trees to be planted on.  I knew the impacts were there as it is almost impossible to walk across the ground due to the gouged out mounds. The scarring is quite horrendous and the damage will remain for many decades, long after the effects of the muirburn incident have disappeared as the heather regrows.

Mechanical planting holes created for tree planting

Mechanical planting holes created for tree planting

The 1000 mile challenge

Being away means I have been completely out of my running routine.  Both of us also managed to catch a pretty horrendous cold, quickly followed by conjunctivitis, upon getting back to Scotland from London – a new and unsavoury experience for us both! Needless to say, it has taken some time to recover (and see properly again!), so I have only just felt up to running again for the first time in 3 weeks, and managed a 4 mile run today. 

That said, in my wisdom, I decided to join one of my Facebook friends who has organised a group to chart progress over the year for a 1000 mile challenge – hence I have committed to running 1000 miles this year.  This would be fine had I not had a 3 week lag in March.  I better order a new pair of running shoes – I’m going to need them, sitting around 170 miles for year to date. 

Aniseed and lemon spelt biscuits

Week 4 of my biscuit-making explorations and I have decided to ditch recipes and freestyle from now on.  This biscuit is based on the flavours of pastis with a twist of lemon.  Don’t be deceived by the bland image of the biscuit – it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and packs a vibrant flavour punch.  However, the punch is an aniseed one, so if this flavour is not your bag, try more subtle caraway, fennel for similar notes, or reduce the volume of seeds added. 

The biscuits are not that sweet and are very crunchy.  Good dunked in coffee, apparently, so I’m told, I’m not a dunker. Makes about 18 biscuits.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan)

Ingredients

60g unsalted butter

40g caster sugar

40g soft brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

80g plain flour

60g spelt flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp aniseed seeds

grated zest of one lemon

Method

  • Cream the butter and sugars together in a stand mixer.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and combine to form a soft dough.
  • Allow to rest in the fridge, wrapped in clingfilm for at least a couple of hours.
  • Roll the balls of dough to the size of a cherry and place on a greased baking sheet, press the balls down gently to flatten, spacing them a few cm apart.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, check at 10, they may be ready depending on your oven – they should be pale golden around the outside.
  • Place on a wire rack to cool.  Get the coffee machine on.

aniseed biscuits

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28 thoughts on “Biscuits for Bartok 4 – Aniseed and lemon spelt biscuits

  1. What a remarkable story. I can’t help but envy you living in environs so vitally bound up in your lives. The biscuits sound like a treat. Good luck with the car. Some years ago we traded in our 4 x 4 for a Prius, which says so much about us, gasoline, changing lifestyles and ultimately, rust (the Prius is plastic, or fiberglass, or something). It was the right thing to do, but I do miss the days of roaring through snowbanks. Ken

  2. A very informative post (as well as the biscuits). The burning looks awful, such a shame about the moorland. Will it regenerate though? I know nothing about that sort of thing. I expect that your trip to London gave you the colds and eye problems. There is enough disease on the Underground and Bus network to kill a small town! You don’t say what car you did get, so it would be interesting to know, for later comparison. I bought a diesel Zafira when I moved here, as it has a lot of room for the dog, or garden waste, and most other stuff you might fill a large boot with. It is quite a high tax bracket (£250) but does fairly good MPG, even though it is automatic.
    The pictures make your home island look lovely, especially the blue skies, long absent from Norfolk! Regards, Pete. x

    • The moor will regenerate, heather, but probably not most of the trees, alas. We were very open-minded about the car and looked at just about anything with a big boot, including the Zafira, but it wouldn’t slash running costs as much as our very sensible purchase of a Skoda Fabia estate. From 30 mpg in our 4×4 to +60, all for half the purchase price of a new 4×4 too. It’s a practical, sensible choice, hopefully it will work out and I won’t be looking for another 4×4 anytime soon! Still blue skies here 🙂

  3. Ouch, some poor land management there. As you said, it’ll possibly spell trouble for those responsible if it encroached on those rare breeds.

    I had friends in a similar position who taxed and insured a cheap, battered old Land Rover for only 6 month of the year for winter use, in case they needed it. They left it off road at other times and used a ‘normal’ car (which was fine for a majority of the time). That said, they needed the reassurance they could get around if absolutely necessary so were happy to pay the extra expense.

    Oh and interesting biscuit combination! Would be good included in a dessert too – hmmm

    • I suspect no one will be held accountable for the damage, sadly. The idea of an old 4×4 for winter is popular and a good one, trouble is we don’t really need it for snow unless we are away from here (we rarely get any), just off-road fun and towing, and we are dreadful mechanics, which rules out anything old!

  4. The fire sounds dramatic – but as you say the heather will regrow, just have to hope all the other species can recolonise the area as it does so. On a more positive note, your biscuits look delicious, and not at all bland.

    • Thanks, the biscuits are long gone! The moor will be a different place for a while, until the heather regrows to provide some cover for wildlife. Unfortunately, the deer will squeeze in the damaged fencing, so suspect ongoing damage to what is left, especially trees.

  5. Oh, so glad you’re back and posting again – I’ve missed your Island Life updates!
    I do wish I could trade my big vehicle for something smaller, but 4 years with a light truck taught me the folly of that. I hope it works for you!

  6. The mechanical planting scarring looks terrible, is there a way to reverse it by filling in the holes? The biscuits sound interesting, I also find myself looking for more unusual flavours in baking (though chocolate is like a safety net).

    An interesting read, as usual.

    • Thanks. The planting holes could be filled in, using the gouged out peat – a lot of the trees planted succumbed due to exposure before the fire finished them, so there’s a lot of mounds that could be back filled – thousands in fact. However, unless I go up there with a spade and make a start, don’t think it will happen, unfortunately. It’s up to the landowner (private estate) or grazing committee up take action 😦

  7. The destruction left by the fire is tragic. I hope both wildlife and vegetation are quick to recover. And when will we ever learn, when it comes to the environment, very often the solution we’ve decided upon is worse than the original problem? I like the flavors of your biscuits, the anise with lemon, though I’ve very little experience with spelt. Might be time to change that. Thanks for sharing.

    • You are so right, unfortunately, economics usually come before environment, in this case improvement of poor land for sheep grazing has had a high cost. Fortunately, there’s plenty space for wildlife to relocate, until re growth occurs. The spelt seemed to work well, I usually use it in bread mainly. Thanks for taking time to comment, Tracey

  8. Good to see the biscuit posts back again, I may have to try this one as a leaving present :0)
    It must be frustrating to see things managed irresponsibly, or as you say when accidents happen; fire can run out of control so easily, as I have found from my own experience.
    I’m surprised that more people don’t convert their petrol vehicles to gas, it’s very popular in Europe and we had our Niva done; it now runs close to 45 MPG as opposed to the paltry 25 it did on petrol. Although we have the luxury of a gas station about every 10 miles, which makes it a viable alternative; I wonder if you can even get it on Uist?

  9. When I open one of your posts I can never predict what I’m going to read. To me, this is the intriguing element of your blog. You found your own way to share your cooking passion and, at the same time, many different aspects of your life. Everything is perfectly balanced. And I always ended up learning something new.

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging words, although my habitual digressions, which at times only loosely connect with food and island life, I’m sure would discourage readers who want to cut to the chase of the recipe! That said, it won’t change and I really enjoy sharing with those who take the time to visit and comment, so thank you!

  10. Sad about your moorland. I was just visiting in the UK and returned to our old home to walk my routine walk. I expected it to looks exactly the same, and it did. So, I can imagine what it must be like to return and find the burn result.

    Nature is amazing, however. It may (I hope) come back faster than you expect.

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