Thursdays, dogs and a nice cup of tea
Why Thursdays simply are not going to be the same
Thursdays have been Red Letter Days at our house since the pandemic. Our local GPs set up a home delivery service for prescriptions during COVID and our friend Edwina was asked to do the round. Edwina’s husband is a boffin and inventor working hard on producing a totally green aviation fuel. Once he’s in his laboratory, he is zoned out of normal life and so Patch’s best friend Bryn started coming to us for as long as the Drugs Run took on a Thursday. I have loved having the two dogs together, with long walks on the beach whatever the weather, then coffee to recover before Over The Top. OTT involves me standing in our garden and chucking the ball over our WWII bunker into the rough grass either side of the path to the beach for the dogs to find. Both are then quite happy to sleep for most of the afternoon. The Drugs Run finished this week. I’m really going to miss Thursday mornings even though the dogs do see each other more days than not.
The last photo was yesterday - Day Three of snow on the ground and therefore Day Three of being allowed whisky on my porridge at breakfast. And I had it again this morning - Heaven! It is a house rule: only when snow is lying are we allowed a spirited breakfast and we don’t get that much of the white stuff here in Orkney. Every Whisky Porridge Morning is to be treasured. Whisky is a great passion of mine and, if it is one that you share, do check out my sister Substack blog Rosemary Moon - a Whisky Woman.
Tea is another great love of mine. I remember being amazed on hearing that there was tea being grown in Scotland. I was dumbfounded to learn that Lynne Collinson has established a tea garden on Shapinsay, the closest island to the city of Kirkwall, Orkney’s county town. Not that tea growing is completely unrelated to Orkney as the daughter of an organic smallholder on our island of South Ronaldsay is now growing camellia sinensis, the tea plant, on the west coast of Scotland. But Lynne is doing it here. It is almost unbelievable.
I first visited Lynne in January of 2023 for the Food of the Islands programme on BBC Radio Orkney - it’s on BBC Sounds if you’d like a listen. I loved meeting her and suggested that she might like to meet our new horticultural friend Jill Raggett who recently moved to Orkney and, like me, is a tea enthusiast. Sure enough Jill visited and promised that she and I would head back over to help Lynne prune her bushes. She needed to create the plucking table that all tea growers want. What a responsibility. And so a week ago, at the very beginning of March, with secateurs cleaned and sanitised, Lynne, Jill and I with the help of Patch set about her tea bushes for their first major prune.
It was a morning well spent and, whilst Patch and I headed home on the lunchtime ferry, it was good to reflect on the courage that gardening with other people gives when important decisions have to be made. Lynne may well get a reduced yield this year - we’ll have to wait and see - but the plants certainly needed attention to encourage as many buds with their accompanying top two leaves as possible. The plants are, like all happy camellias, incredibly vibrant in colour with juicy, thick leaves.
Sure enough Jill came home with some cuttings which are currently in my polytunnel, hopefully establishing themselves. There is a Margaret’s Hope tea garden in Darjeeling producing delicious first and second flush teas. It will be a few years before the St Margaret’s Hope tea garden - well, that’s what we might call the couple of fish boxes full of plants - is fully established. Lynne’s bushes are from a Georgian cultivar, a more cold weather resistant strain of the classic tea bush. She has produced two teas: Norse Noir, 100% Orkney tea, and Norse Ruby. The latter is an interesting blend of her leaves with tea from an artisan tea project in Mayanmar. Both teas are light but fragrantly malty. They are teas for special days - and I have to say that the Norse Noir goes very well indeed with my beremeal shortbread, but make a plain version with neither the spice or ginger in the linked recipe.
These are the cuttings that we hope will be the start of our own little tea garden. How many years will it be before our very own first cuppa?
Patch and I had to leave early (photos waiting for the ferry below) to collect my husband from the airport. When ‘things’ have to be done that cannot be accomplished at our brand new Orkney hospital The Balfour, patients have to be taken down to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The NHS flies us down and we are met by a mini-bus for the transfer to the hospital and then taken back to the airport for the flight home. It works well. We were all really pleased to be back together when Nick landed and to enjoy a supper of macaroni cheese with Orkney smoked haddock and mussels in it. A traditional supper after a morning in a tea plantation? Well, it might become one for this Orkney tea enthusiast.
I think you are thinking of a different Mary, but I’d love that breakfast recipe.
Those dogs, those tea plants, shortbread. I am loving reading about your beautiful life.