The larder you try
Catherine Fellows takes out a TV dinner to watch Derek Cooper in search of the best Scottish food.
Scotland’s Larder is a schmaltzy title for a programme presented by Derek Cooper, best known for the long running Food Programme on Radio 4, and the person who has done most to raise food from the ﬂuffy side-lines and put it where it belongs — at the heart of the economic, environmental and health debate. The press release for the second series of the programme, which started this month, is even more surprising. ‘We avoided, deliberately, the areas of contention that surround much of our food and agriculture industries,’ it reads. ‘Scotland ’3 Larder is not a political series.’
As those who saw the first of the current programme will know,
there may have been plenty of scenic shots of the Highlands, but there was nothing misty about Cooper’s commentary. In presenting some of the best food on offer to Scotland’s many tourists, the programme made a point of covering the whole spectrum. The healthy home-cooked fare on offer at Loch Morlich youth hostel received just as much attention as the seafood extravaganzas on board the Royal Scotsman luxury train. In fact, as Cooper described the rail cruise as an endless succession of rich meals
available only to those with a spare £3000, to the accompaniment of images of a chef snapping in half hundreds of live langoustine, it was easy to imagine where his sympathies lay.
Not surprisingly, Cooper had nothing to do with the press release. ‘Whatever you say about food you are making a political statement,’ he says. ‘It is just that there are two ways of campaigning, with a bludgeon, or more gently, more deftly. It would have been easy enough to produce a diatribe against
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the hundreds of hotels and guest houses in Scotland that live out of the deep freeze — you should see the bagfuls of letters I get complaining about just that - but that wouldn’t have been very helpful. Far better to show individuals who are producing really good food, and getting great satisfaction out of doing so. I hope to infect pe0ple with their enthusiasm, to make them think yes, I could do that too, or, this is the direction we should all be going in.’
As Cooper implies, where the ﬁrst series took for its themes the unique foodstuffs of Scotland — its game, fish, grain and lamb - the second concentrates on people involved in the food industry. One of the forthcoming episodes looks at crofters and small farmers and the ways they are diversifying in order to survive; another looks at the impact of EC regulations from the perspective of the small businessman; the penultimate edition concentrates on the initiatives of marketeers who are selling Scotland’s quality produce; and the series ends with the stories of people who are preserving and regenerating traditional food resources and processing techniques.
For Cooper, what is most impressive about the Scotland he has unearthed during filming is not the scallop mousseline on board the Hebridean Princess liner, nor the bread made with honey and olive oil by a particularly dedicated B&B hostess on the Isle of Lewis - what he draws attention to is the state of mind of the crofters and other small producers. In the current difficult climate, it is obvious that these people are driven by a deep belief in what they are doing: they love it and they love the land it depends upon. As one of them, brewer Roger White, put it: ‘If what I wanted from life was to make loads of money I would not be on Orkney. I am here because I want to make good beer in a rather nice place.‘ What Cooper implies is that the production and consumption of good food is intimately bound up with our whole value system. And what food programme could have a message more radical than that?
Scotland ’3 Larder, Scottish, 6pm, Sundays.
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The List 25 September — 8 October 1992 73