As a former engineer, I’m still a bit of a nerd and it’s no secret that I’m a mega foodie so when the Edinburgh International Science Festival included a ‘SCIMART’ (science farmer’s market) in this year’s programme I had no choice but to go!! In fact, between now and the 20th of April there are quite a few more ‘foodie’ events as part of Gastrofest – a mini festival within the Edinburgh International Science Festival. The SCIMART took place on Sunday the 6th of April at Summerhall, a fitting venue as it was the former Veterinary Building for the University of Edinburgh. Former labs hosted the market stalls and talks were held in the stunning oak panelled former Anatomy lecture hall. There were other things taking place on the same day – all part of the Science Festival – but we headed straight up to the first of 2 rooms full of market traders. There were lots of chocolate and cakes and sweeties but also some more unusual exhibitors; including one promoting eating bugs as a sustainable, ecofriendly source of protein. (OK – I confess I wasn’t brave enough to eat the bugs – but many people did!!)
Regardless of what was being produced and marketed, all vendors we spoke to were friendly, knowledgable and totally passionate about what they did. Even simple bread was produced ethically, using less common grains; gluten free cakes were light and delicious and accessible to those with wheat intolerances; produce was grown locally, organically and sustainably. Most producers (if not all) were based in Scotland and brought jobs to their local community. It was a pleasure not only to sample their goods but to have a chance to chat to the people behind the products. You can’t do that at the grocery store!!
I was particularly impressed with the business ethos of honey producers Plan Bee. They are doing their best to maintain the bee population with hives in the Motherwell area. They are getting support from other corporations and individuals who are sponsoring hives and buying shares in the business. Most importantly they are providing vital jobs and training to local youth and people with disabilities. Currently the only sell their product through local specialty shops and at markets – their honey and jams were delicious!! But keep an eye on the website for on online shop – I’ll keep you posted!
A stage was set up in the second market hall for cookery demonstrations throughout the day. We stumbled in on a talk about foraging; led by foraging expert Miles Irving with top chef Mark Greenaway putting the foraged goodies to use. Miles brought in bundles of greens for us to taste. He broke them down into 2 categories – cabbage family and carrot family. The greens of the cabbage family were sharp and bitter – many similar to mustard greens. They would definitely add punch to salads and pesto like sauces. The carrot family includes herb like greens such as parsley and fennel and many had an anise flavour. Mark Greenaway was demonstrating that all parts of the plant could be used – not just the leafy bits. He finely chopped the stalks for a fragrant, flavourful crunchy salad. And this wasn’t just a demonstration; Mark actually employs a local forager and uses wild, foraged produce at his restaurant! It was such a great opportunity to get to taste these plants that are growing all around us. They were so packed full of flavour that my cultivated, store bought greens just don’t taste up to scratch. I’ll definitely be booking myself on a foraging walk A.S.A.P!!
Next we headed over to the Anatomy Lecture hall for a talk by Christine Knight of the University of Edinburgh, titled ‘Scottish nutrition in the newspapers; Stalking the deep-fried Mars bar’. You really can’t pass up a topic like that!!! (sadly no deep-fried mars bars were consumed during the lecture). I felt quite scholarly sitting in the round, tiered oak benches; I was even inspired to take lots of notes!! It was particularly interesting to learn that people are studying things such as the effects of food stereotypes on health and society and that food stereotypes have existed for centuries (calling the Brits ‘limeys’ and the French ‘frogs’. Currently, the image of the deep-fried mars bar has become symbol of poor health and obesity in Scotland – and has been described as a ‘culinary obscenity’ in the news. It seems that all the great work local producers are doing to promote Scottish seafood, seaweed, oats, angus beef, organic produce can be overshadowed by one food craze!!! It’s good to know that there are people working hard to set the record straight!!
Before a last twirl round the exhibits (and a few more free samples and purchases), we headed out to the courtyard for some street food where I was met with a pleasant surprise! A few weeks ago I was heading down Middle Meadow Walk looking for something healthy for dinner and came across a TARDIS masquerading as a crepe vendor. I was tempted by the fresh ingredients such as spinach, pumpkin, butternut squash but was disappointed when I saw they were closing for the night. Well – guess who’s here in the courtyard!! The folk at Tupiniquim Pancake House also have a roving ‘Pancake Bike’ and it had wheeled itself over to the science festival for the day. Their crepes are made from their own special blend of gluten free flours – so popular that they now sell bags of it! My spinach, butternut squash and goat’s cheese crepe was outstanding! So fresh and flavourful with the perfect touch of spice and heat. Get yourself over to the Meadows (before 7pm) and have a taste!
There are still lots more events taking place until the 20th of April so check out the Edinburgh International Science Festival for more details.