Food Journeys

Food Journeys with Liz Ashworth

Written by Liz Ashworth

Moorish moments at Skaill House

The dining room at Skaill House has so many stories, with the family portraits on the wall, and the dinner service reputed to have come from Captain Cook’s ship Resolution when it lay in Stromness in 1780, back from Hawaii with the news of Cook’s death.

The tablecloth that accompanied a Moorish-themed tea following a talk on Washington Irving, itself had a story. Irving, who wrote of Rip Van Winkle and of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, came from an Orkney family: his parents left the farm of Quholm in Shapinsay to settle in Manhattan, where he was born in 1783.

Several decades later, a Kirkwall man lived in a large house in Albert Street in Kirkwall, and his name was Thomas Warren, my great-great-grandfather. He owned the dairy farm of Warrenfield which supplied Kirkwall and the surrounding area. He and his wife Isabella and their daughter Jane were very active in the community.

Time passed. Jane Warren fell in love with and married an Orcadian seaman, William Cumming. Employed by the firm of Garden’s, who ran the islands’ travelling shops, he was transferred to their offices in Leith, so moved his young family south along with all their worldly goods. Jane had a beautiful lace tablecloth which her daughter Elizabeth, my paternal grandmother, treasured, keeping it tightly wrapped in yellowing fine tissue paper on a shelf in the linen cupboard. That beautiful cloth eventually found its way into my possession.

Where else could it go but back to its Orkney home? Covering the banquet table at Skaill House is, I think, a fitting return to ‘active service’.

Set out on the tablecloth for the afternoon tea were a range of Moorish-themed delicacies, each made with Orkney ingredients in a style that might have suited the tables of long-ago Granada. Amongst them were Alhambra Moorish Spiced Apple Cakes and Mackerel Tarator.



Alhambra Moorish Spiced Apple Cakes

You will need:

175g stork margarine
85g soft brown sugar
85g caster sugar
3 eggs
200g plain flour sifted with 2 teaspoons baking powder


3 eating apples – peeled cored and chopped
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1.    Heat oven to 180C, Gas 4, 350F.
2.    Cream the stork and sugar till light, beat in the eggs alternately with a little of the flour.
3.    Fold in the rest of the flour.
4.    Divide into small cup cake cases and top with the apple mix.
5.    Bake 15 minutes till risen and firm.
6.    Cool and drizzle with a fresh lemon juice water ice.
7.    Should make 40 per batch.


Mackerel Tarator

You will need:

Ground hazelnuts – 140g
3 smoked mackerel fillets
Flat leaf parsley
Small onion
Vinegar – balsamic bramble

Grind in a food processor till smooth.


About the author

Liz Ashworth

Liz Ashworth is a Scottish food writer and food product developer, with a particular interest in using local products to make high-quality wholesome food. Inspired by the work of F. Marian McNeill and her teacher Catherine Brown, she believes strongly in the value of preserving Scotland’s food heritage and using it to develop new products for the present day. The author of a pioneering series of cookery books for beginners of all ages, she writes food columns in various publications, and coordinates the food programme in the annual Orkney International Science Festival. Her most recent book is Orkney Spirit.