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In our latest blog, we look into the origins of some of the most exceptional food and drink produce that Angus offers to visitors, locals, and customers from all over the world.

Throughout 2022, we will be sharing a series of blogs celebrating the Year of Stories.

Year of Stories

As part of Scotland’s Year of Stories celebrations in 2022, we’re highlighting how some of the region’s fantastic food and drink produce is a constant source of wonderfully rich stories in Angus.

From fishing and farming to pasties and gin, Angus produces a wide range of delicious produce for locals and the rest of the world to enjoy. The area is famous for the Arbroath Smokie, Forfar Bridie, fruit and spirits.

In this blog, we look into the origins of some of the most exceptional food and drink produce that Angus offers to visitors, locals, and customers from all over the world.

Image: Arbroath Smokies

Arbroath Smokie

We start with one of Scotland’s most famous fish dishes, the Arbroath Smokie. A whole industry has been created around the Arbroath Smokie and continues to thrive today as the skills to catch, prepare and cook the fish are passed through the generations.

The origins of the Smokie began in the fishing village of Auchmithie, just north of Arbroath, where fishwives smoked fish on sticks in whisky barrels. In the late 19th century, the fisher people settled in Arbroath with the lure of better housing.

No one can say for sure where this method for preparing fish first came from. However, the generally accepted story is that it came across with Scandinavian settlers during the time of Viking activity along the coasts of Scotland. The Scandanavians have a great tradition in ‘smoked seafood’, and the Arbroath Smokie is smoked using a similar tradition.

Another popular story about the origins of the Smokie relates to a cottage in Auchmithie. Haddocks were hanging up to be dried for preservation in the cottage when a fire broke out and unfortunately burned the house to the ground. According to the tale, it was during the process of sifting through the ashes, wood, dust and associated debris that Smokies were unintentionally invented.

The first known recording of the village of Auchmithie was in the Chartulary Records of Arbroath Abbey in 1434. At the end of the 18th century, the village supported around 180 people and six fishing boats. By the end of the 19th century, the village was in its prime with a population of around 400, with 12 white fish boats and six large boats.

Then, in the late 19th century, the fisher people began to move to Arbroath, being lured by the promise of better housing, a better harbour and generally better prospects that were promised by the town council at the time. They settled in the area of Arbroath known as the Fit o’ the Toon and became one of the greatest contributors to Arbroath’s economy.

The Smokie has protected status under European law, which means that it can only be called an Arbroath Smokie if it’s produced in the traditional manner within a five-mile radius of the town. You can enjoy a fresh, authentic Smokie in one of Arbroath’s restaurants or buy one from a local fishmonger to take home.

Image: Forfar Bridie

Forfar Bridie

The famous Forfar Bridie is a simple but delicious hand-held meat pie made in a horseshoe shape using shortcrust pastry, with a filling of steak mince, secret seasoning, and sometimes onion. Traditionally, they were eaten as a Saturday lunch in the town.

Jeems Stark, a one-time local character and frequenter of bakehouses, described a bridie as “juist a brodie – a big roond slap o’ dough wi’ the tap hauf spread wi’ steak cut sma’ an’ chappit ingins.” “Syne the boddom hauf’s luftit an’ laid ower the tap an’ scolpit ee aidge.” “Nick oot twa holes ee tap, fauld, an’ there y’are – a brode pie – a brodie – a bridie.”

The Forfar Bridie originated in the early part of the 19th century. First made by Mr Jolly, a Forfar baker in the mid-1900s, opinions differ on the origin of its name. There are several different stories about the exact origin of the bridie. One story is that they were made for wedding meals (the Brides’ meal), which explains the horseshoe shape (for luck). Another story is that they were made by Margaret Bridie from Glamis, who sold them at the Buttermarket in Forfar.

For a traditional Forfar lunch experience, enjoy a Bridie at Saddlers, a popular bakers and tearoom. You can also buy one from McLaren Bakers on Market Street or The Cross to enjoy while exploring the town centre. Established in 1893, McLaren Bakers have a long tradition of baking the Forfar Bridie.

And while visiting Forfar, why not stop at the Meffan Museum and Art Gallery to learn more about the town and the history of the Forfar Bridie. You can even stroll back in time along The Vennel, the Meffan Museum’s recreation of an old, narrow cobbled street where you can see a traditional baker’s shop with bread and bridies on display.

Image: Owen’s Angus Jams

Soft Fruits

There is an abundance of soft fruit grown in Angus. From raspberries and strawberries to asparagus and potatoes, there is an impressive choice. During the height of the growing season, pop-up farm shops, vending machines and stalls offer the opportunity to buy directly from the producer.

It’s no wonder then that Angus has some of the best jam-makers in the world, like the famous Mackays business, for example. Scotland’s largest producer of jam and marmalade, Mackays Ltd is best known for its household name brands – Mackays and Mrs Bridges. Since its humble beginnings in 1938, Mackays has remained true to making every jar of its marmalade, jam, and curd in the authentic way. They still use traditional techniques such as hand-stirring and the iconic copper bottom pans.

Owen’s Angus Jams in Forfar produces delicious jams based on a secret family recipe. When the founder of the business was 12, he used to go around his local village selling free-range eggs. And when the egg supply dried up, he started looking for other ways to earn money. So he asked his grandmother to teach him how to make a pot of jam and decided to have a go at selling around the local village. To his surprise, he sold 50 jars in less than a week. That was the start of a very successful business that today sells a wide selection of jams, marmalades, and even fruit infused gins from their Forfar-based factory.

Angus has many farms where you can pick your own fruit and vegetables. For example, the family-run Charleton Farm near Montrose has old favourites like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, as well as apples, cherries and even pumpkins to pick. And visit HOPE Organic Garden in Arbroath between April and December to buy organic vegetables and fruit grown on the grounds of Hospitalfield House.

Image: The Bothy Experience, Glamis

Distilleries

Angus has a rich history of producing vodka, gin and whisky from the fertile crops in its fields.

As Scotland’s national drink, no county would be complete without its own whisky distillery. Glencadam in Brechin has been distilling whisky since it was established in 1825. The distillery was owned by David Scott and his descendants from 1827 to 1891. The distillery was temporarily closed during both world wars when the warehouses were used to barrack soldiers. There is still a mark left on the grass next to the No. 2 warehouse from where the commissary (a store for provisions) was located.

In some of the most remote and wild places in Angus, small basic buildings called bothies once offered a simple place of refuge when clouds gathered, darkness fell, or weary limbs demanded a rest. They were a place where travellers converged as kindred spirits, and hip flasks full of gin and other spirits were passed around, often as a source of warmth and comfort in harsh conditions. They were a place of stories and songs – many ‘bothie bands’ were formed in these small shelters.

More recently in 2014, entrepreneur Kim Cameron began hand-bottling batches of her artisan gin in a tiny bothy at Peel Farm, Lintrathen. The gins – infused with seasonal produce from local berry fields and farms – were hugely popular, and the business was swamped with orders. Today, Kim’s Gin Bothy business makes award-winning gin using fresh Angus berries, rhubarb, pine needles, heather and other locally-sourced ingredients.

Visit The Bothy Experience to learn how their award-winning gin is made and have an unforgettable tasting experience. The Bothy Beginnings room takes you through the entire Gin Bothy journey, while their Bothy Tales room gives you an in-depth history of bothies across Scotland, with fascinating stories and songs to enjoy.

Ogilvy Distillery, based at Hatton of Ogilvy Farm just two miles outside Glamis, produces award-winning Ogilvy Scottish potato vodka. You can experience first-hand how the distillery’s ground-to-glass, single-estate vodka is made on the Ogilvy Distillery Tour.

Jump on the distillery’s Tattie Box Tours trailer and go behind the scenes to learn how the vodka is made from scratch, using farm-grown potatoes. Their tour finishes with a tasting of their award-winning vodka after exploring their new visitor centre. You’ll find the singular spirit warm, welcoming, smooth and sweet.

The family-run Arbikie Highland Estate on the east coast of Angus includes a sustainable, field-to-bottle distillery. They produce vodka, gin and whiskey, including Tattie Bogle Vodka, Scotland’s first potato vodka.

Arbikie Estate is a family-owned working farm on the east coast of Angus in Inverkeilor, near Arbroath. The Stirling family has been farming at Arbikie since the 1920s, when Bill Stirling moved to the area. Today the 2,000-acre estate is owned and operated by three brothers, John, Iain and David, who first conceived the idea of building a distillery on the property over a few drinks on a night out in New York. Their ambition was to produce the finest malt whisky in Scotland using a farm-to-bottle process, which is made possible because they own the fields and water source.

Their sustainable, field-to-bottle distillery was created from an ancient barn. The first spirit to run off the still was a potato vodka using Maris Pipers and King Edwards grown on the farm, followed later by gin and whisky. The family believe there was a distillery operational in the area as far back as 1720, although the earliest record of a site is a map from 1794.

Their innovative products for sale today include Nadar Vodka, a climate-positive vodka made from peas, Harr vodka made from zulu wheat, and a special strawberry vodka that’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans. All using ingredients grown on the farm or in the local area.

You can enjoy a tour of the distillery and farm at their new visitor centre which opens in April 2022. Book a whisky, gin and vodka, or cocktail experience to learn more about their fascinating field-to-bottle process and taste their high quality spirits for yourself.

Murton Nature Reserve
Image: Murton Farm & Nature Reserve

Agriculture

Agriculture plays a significant role in the Angus economy and culture. Angus has some of the richest and most fertile agricultural land in Scotland, which makes the crops and livestock produced here some of the best in the world.

You can buy many different goods directly from farm shops, guaranteeing freshness and cutting down on food miles. Just some of the specialist shops and delis here include Milton Haugh Farm and Corn Kist tearoom. Here you can purchase a wide variety of local produce, including preserves made on-site by Sarah Gray.

Tillygloom is a traditional family farm situated on the outskirts of Brechin. Here you can buy free-range eggs, duck eggs, tatties, neeps and other seasonal produce. The farm also has a vending machine called The Egg Box which you can use to buy eggs, jam and some delicious homemade tasty treats.

South Powrie Farm is another family-run farm. Located in Newtyle and Sidlaw, just above the hills of Dundee, they rear premium quality KellyBronze turkeys. They also provide a range of festive trimmings, including locally-made Christmas puddings, stuffing and farm-fresh vegetables. You can buy their products on their website and from local shops.

And when you visit Angus, you can experience life on a real working farm, meet the animals, help to feed the hungry mouths and learn more about where our food comes from, thanks to the many different farm experiences on offer.

For example, Murton Farm, Tea Room and Nature Reserve offers a whole day’s entertainment and education about farm life, as well as some ​​beautiful walks around their stunning lochs and wetlands.

Murton Farm dates back to the 18th century when the land was developed into farmland, and the farm was established to produce corn and flax for local mills. It later produced grain and potatoes. Beef cattle were also once reared on the land too. Three Bronze Age cists, around 4000 years old, were found at Murton – evidence that some of the earliest inhabitants of the area date back to the Bronze Age.

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