THE renowned food writer and broadcaster, Derek Cooper, knew the Western Isles of Scotland as his homelands. From the now uninhabited Mingulay, south of Barra, to the kite-shaped Lewis in the north, the birthplace of his grandmother and mother respectively, he wrote about the whole area extensively.

Cooper spent some of his boyhood in Skye, attending Portree High School. He continued to enjoy long spells in his family home until the early 2000s, by which time his prominence as a champion of great-tasting, local food had gained momentum throughout the UK. He was also a proud ambassador of Scotland’s culinary heritage.

How he would have loved to have been reporting on the surge of interest in local food and drink we are experiencing in Scotland today, particularly throughout the Highlands and Islands. Next week, the Uists will be hosting their own, inaugural food festival, Harvest In The Hebrides, or “Toradh”, celebrating food produced in the region, together with food-related writing, books and film.

Derek and his wife, Janet, booked a table at The Three Chimneys on our very first day of serving lunch as well as dinner, Easter 1985. From that first encounter they were both incredibly encouraging of what we were aiming to create as a business. Janet, an architect, was equally interested in good food and was a marvellous home cook. We experienced her prowess in the kitchen, when the couple invited us to lunch at their home. Nervous, but honoured to receive the invitation, we discovered we were fellow guests with Lady Clare MacDonald of Kinloch Lodge Hotel. This was our first introduction, although my mother had previously introduced me to Clare’s cookery book, Seasonal Cooking In Skye, as a gift. My mother had been a little disturbed about our decision to run a restaurant, disbelieving in what seemed to her to be a crazy idea. She inscribed inside the cover of the book: “If it’s good enough for Lady MacDonald, it’s good enough for you!” I took this to be a nod of approval, although it did take her a number of years to accept our business venture for real.

Naturally, food and cooking became the main focus of conversation around the lunch table at Derek and Janet’s house that day. When Derek asked who was my greatest influence as a cook, I struggled to answer. Being of a basic home-cooking background, ignorant of the real world of trained chefs and restaurants, I hesitantly said: “Delia Smith and Katie Stewart.” I blushed with embarrassment as my fellow diners politely got their heads around this bald statement of fact, confirming my amateur status.

But I am not embarrassed now. I am proud of my background and I wish more cooking happened at home, with seasonal Scottish ingredients, sourced locally. Delia and Katie would be construed as mentors nowadays, encouraging more adventurous cooking, while ensuring that the basic technical skills were understood. Both Katie and Derek, were founding members of the Guild of Food Writers. If both were still alive today, they'd have loved to have taken part in Toradh ( ) delighting in the celebration of Hebridean heritage and its place in Scotland’s food future. The festival’s logo depicts the little crofter’s haystacks which were prevalent in Skye when I first lived on the island.

My mother-in-law loved Delia’s cookery books and a recipe similar to this weekend's dish is included in her Complete Cookery Course. This is a delicious family pudding that makes the most of our fresh Scottish berries at this time of year. Some of us grow these soft fruits successfully in our own gardens, but sadly, their place in our daily diet has diminished. Most of the fresh blackcurrants grown in Scotland today never reach the shops, as the crop is used in food production, primarily for juice and jam. Raspberries and redcurrants can be found growing wild in Scotland, as well as cultivated on a grand scale, or in our back gardens. The season is coming to an end now, but try this pudding before the summer is over for another year.

Summer Pudding

(Serves 8)

450g fresh raspberries

175g fresh redcurrants

175g fresh blackcurrants

125g caster sugar

8-10 slices from a Scottish plain white loaf

Small quantity of butter for greasing


1. Lightly butter the inside of a two-pint pudding basin.

2. Strip the redcurrants and blackcurrants from their stalks, using the prongs of a fork and sliding it from the top to the bottom of each small bunch of berries. Wash all the fruit lightly under cold running water in a colander then place in a saucepan.

3. Add the caster sugar to the pan and warm the fruit very gently over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit juices are beginning to create a syrup. Avoid stirring too much and breaking up the fruit.

4. Remove crusts from the bread. Roll the bread slices with a rolling pin to thin and stretch them a little. Line the base and sides of the basin, allowing the slices to overlap by a fraction. Press together to make a good seal.

5. Using a slotted spoon, lift the cooked berries into the pudding bowl and fill to just below the top. Strain the residual fruit syrup from the saucepan, through a fine sieve. Add the little bits of fruit to the pudding basin and keep the syrup aside in a small jug.

6. Finally, seal the top of the pudding basin with another slice of bread and ensure that all little gaps are filled. Place a side plate, or saucer, the same inside circumference as the pudding bowl, over the last slice of bread and place a weight (a tin of beans, or similar) on top. Put the pudding bowl, plus weight, in the refrigerator and leave overnight.

7. Just before serving, turn out the pudding from the bowl, gently easing it from the sides, then placing the serving plate over the top of the bowl and inverting the whole thing. The pudding should slowly slide from the bowl intact.

8. Use the remaining fruit syrup to pour over the top of the pudding, allowing it to colour any remaining white bread. Cut and serve with fresh, whipped double cream and hand round any remaining fruit syrup.