We are lucky to work in some of the country’s most prestigious and historic venues, whether as the full-time caterer or for one-off events. Just being in these spaces provides a wealth of inspiration. For our chefs at Blair Castle – a stunning stately home and visitor attraction in Highland Perthshire – the recent Highlanders’ Parade provided the perfect occasion to get creative and pay homage to the venue’s own Highland army.
The Atholl Highlanders are Europe’s only remaining private army and are based at Blair Castle. More than 1500 visitors descend on the venue on the last weekend of May to watch their annual march. Keen to ensure the food played a central role in the celebration, Head Chef, George Urquhart, teamed up with the Castle’s own archivist to study and translate centuries’ old recipes stored in the attraction’s records, choosing three to re-create to serve to guests attending the May parade.
The dishes, which were added to the menu in the Tullibardine Restaurant, included Roe Deer Mariane – a very slow cooked venison stew, which in the 18th century would have taken almost a month to prepare, and Essence of Beef – a pulled beef dish served with mash and spring greens. This recipe was shared with the Atholl family’s cook during a trip to Westminster in the early 1900s.
Sweet treat Gingerbread was offered for desert with local tipple, Atholl Brose – which is similar to Baileys but consists of oats, honey and whisky (and is available to buy from the gift shop). According to local legend, the drink is named after the 1st Earl of Atholl, who quashed a Highland rebellion in 1475 by filling the well of the rebel leader with this mixture. It is said that the enemy enjoyed the drink so much he passed out and was easily captured.
Chef George Urquhart, of Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events at Blair Castle, said: “We wanted to create a really special dining experience on what is a spectacular and historic day for the Castle. What better way than to leap in to the archives and take inspiration from the cooks that have gone before us.
“Despite changes in modern technology and cooking styles, it was very humbling to discover that these old recipes reflected the core ethos of the restaurant today – to serve hearty, Scottish fayre using the best local ingredients available.”
As well as discovering recipes for hearty meals, the archivist also unearthed guides to medicinal potions, such as a cure for ‘The Vapours’ (hysteria and fainting) dating from 1690, which involved collecting and soaking woodlice in whisky, before crushing the mixture and drinking it on an empty stomach twice a day! Seems like Chef George chose the right recipes for the celebration.