Good morning lovely people,
Autumn colours are ever so slowly creeping in and with the darker nights, I lost Rocco. We’d gone for a walk about 8pm. Unusually the street lights haven’t adjusted to the darker evenings and as the clocks haven’t changed yet, it was practically pitch black. Perhaps it’s another council cut to save on electricity? I honestly couldn’t find our wee puppy. The sweetheart was right beside me. Note to self to start wearing my glasses. I stopped when I had on those blooming masks, which unless forced, I have no plan to resurrect.
The garden is prime time autumn. The colours are so beautiful, Victor’s got a pumpkin patch that’s taken over from the fun carefree months of summer borage and courgettes. Pumpkin jam at The Scottish Cafe, delicious. Autumn feels a vaguely melancholy time of year, but news that makes me angry, Covid-19 bank loans fraud is up 43% on three months earlier to £1.65bn. These were approved by banks and 100% guaranteed by the government. Another cost to all of us to pick up. It’s shocking that the necessary money borrowed to keep people in jobs is costing an even higher price, usually up to 10%. We can’t get out of our children’s mobile phone contracts at £39 a month; how can you just right off hundreds of thousands?
In 2001, Victor and I had the privilege of visiting British friends who had chosen to retire to India. Part of their journey ended on a plantation in Kerala, a place chosen for the climate which is also beautiful for growing pepper. They equally adopted and were adopted by the locals, hugely adding to their own well being and their new communities. Para ’s Wynad pepper was born. Beautiful people helping beautiful people in what I can honestly say is the most beautiful landscape we’ve ever visited. These are the things that inspire me and restore my faith. They say it’s the best in India, we think it’s the best in the world and for many years we’ve been using it in the restaurants.
This single estate crop is naturally farmed (organic but not certified), vine ripened, hand picked and then sun dried in tiny batches. We were lucky to see the process at each stage. The pepper, which is actually the berry from a vine that grows up trees that can be 30 to 40 feet tall, are harvested by men scaling perilous heights to hand pick only the ripe berries jewels. It can take up to three trips to harvest one plant. Hugely labour intensive but the result is a world class ingredient. So fragrant and aromatic.
The plantation forms a remote farming community on the edge of the jungle. They have known real hardships. When we were there a family member had been trampled by a wild elephant stampede, usually as tame as Rocco and and accepting. Tigers, however beautiful, sadly cause death too. Precarious life for man and beast that we can’t even imagine. Crop failure around six or seven years ago resulted in the highest suicide rate in the world at the time. Naturally selected elderly family male members chose to support the wider family. True love. Unimaginable challenges. What we buy is a tiny support for a community that needs help. Small actions do make a difference. It also makes you value this special spice as the prized ingredient it is.
Paras’s son, Vishnu, who now runs this family business is looking for our help and your orders. If you’re a commercial business and would like to use what is the best pepper you’ll ever taste, please contact www.parasspepper.com .
To read that Scotland’s mortality rate has dropped for a third year in a row leaves me so sad that we have so much but can’t seem to protect it.
Yesterday the National Gallery opened their new gallery space. Our nation’s unique and world class collection of Scottish art feels protected and in very safe in this stunning new home. All your favourites are back, and looking like old friends giving you a huge hug when you’ve not seen them for a while. The story of Scotland’s art is also so beautifully shared, with strong women’s voices being heard too. I’m looking forward to having time to really take it all in, there is far more to see than I had anticipated. This is a new happy, calming and exciting space for everyone. The engineering feat of connecting the spaces under two early 19thC buildings, suspended over a Victorian rail tunnel, that was built on a former loch, has to be marvelled at alone. That’s just the building, never mind the stunning art that is now so perfectly displayed. Every colour you can imagine must be on those canvases. What a joy. The views out to East Princes Street Gardens are a treat too, if I was a trainspotter I could lose many hours just gazing from the windows. Congratulations to all the team for completing this huge task and a thought to Gareth Hoskins, the original architect, sadly no longer with us, who was so inspirational at the initial inception.
Visit the gallery and be inspired by all those colours and if you visit The Scottish Cafe and try some pepper, it won’t be black. At the moment, it’s white, the black pepper with the skins removed, all the way from Kerala. Holding the heritage of white pepper in Scottish cooking, a far more traditional ingredient than the fiery Mediterranean black pepper, subtle but significant. Modest world class pepper alongside magnificent world class art all under the one roof.
Keep well and remember to wear your glasses.