Let me take you with me on an East Lothian adventure to one of my favourite places in the world – Colstoun in Haddington. A couple of weekends ago the lovely Alison, Cookery School Manager at Colstoun, invited me along to the Spring Entertaining Colstoun Cookery School course. I had previously attended both Summer and Autumn seasonal foraging days and enjoyed them greatly. Alison’s passion for local, seasonal and foraged produce is infectious and reinvigorated my love of wild food as well as reviving my interest in all things preserving. I was excited to find out what seasonal entertaining would involve, knowing I would leave with a head full of ideas and a full stomach!
When it comes to choosing recipes, I’m usually quite instinctive and even impulsive, going for recipes that make me excited. Thinking about that balance between different courses, flavours and textures is something I was keen to learn more about and Alison and Fiona had put together a clever seasonal menu making the use of Spring produce and beautifully balancing flavours. We started the day with freshly baked primrose cupcakes and a restorative cuppa after our early journey along the A1. After meeting the other students we settled in for our demonstration, ably led by Fiona who made bread, pastry, pesto and mousse and made multi-tasking look easy!
We started with the brown yeast loaf: a clever wartime recipe without any kneading and with a short rising time – but absolutely not compromising in flavour with its delicious treacle-rich crumb. Beetroot mousse was to follow: another simple but effective recipe involving blitzing all the ingredients together – no faffing separating eggs! Served with a cardamom and orange yoghurt dressing and the wild garlic pesto, this starter would wow your guests. After watching Fiona make the sweet pastry it was time to don our aprons and roll up our sleeves. The practical element of the previous courses I had been on involved hands-on foraging, so this was the first time I’d cooked in the Colstoun kitchen. It can be a bit daunting cooking in a kitchen that’s not your own but I quickly felt at home thanks to the friendly atmosphere and thought that had been put into preparation. Hands-on is the best way to learn after all!
Working in our pairs, one person was responsible for the mousse and the other the pudding. I prepped the beetroot while Al tried his hand at pastry – something he had never done before – and we made a loaf each. Once the mousses were made and bread in the oven we were ready for lunch and a wee break (though the less said about leaving the bread in the oven and its resultant toasted aesthetic, the better). We enjoyed a hearty artichoke soup with the wild garlic pesto to start, followed by our freshly made mousses alongside a locally foraged salad made by Alison. We ate our lunch in the gorgeous Coach House, Colstoun’s stunning wedding venue (and host to Sally Rankin’s Kin Yoga weekdays I believe – if only we lived closer!).
Soon it was back to the kitchen to blind bake the pastry cases and prep the rhubarb filling. While Al got on with the pud, I was charged with our main now. Alison had thought of everything and sourced us a wonderful risotto primavera recipe, complete with vegetarian Parmesan (top tip – get the one from Tesco! Alison and I agreed that it tastes closest to the real deal). So often veggies can be an afterthought, but the same thought had gone into planning our delicious menu. Risotto is one of those dishes that I don’t take the time to make enough, what with all the stirring – but it was so worth it for the creamiest result, allowing the seasonal greens to shine. I’m planning to make it again this weekend!
While I worked on my chef’s biceps in the form of our risotto, Al was whipping up the meringue to top the freshly cooked rhubarb. Given a quick flash in the oven, they were ready for us to sample a small morsel before we packed the rest up to enjoy later. A quick stroll around the beautiful grounds and we were back on the road to Edinburgh, full of new ideas for Spring and Alison’s irresistible enthusiasm for all things seasonal.
Disclosure: Al and I attended the Colstoun Cookery Spring Entertaining course free of charge for the purposes of review, but love of wild food, seasonal cooking and rhubarb meringue tarts entirely my own!