Pittenweem, the picture-postcard fishing village where we are staying the weekend, is gearing up for its week in the British cultural spotlight hosting the Pittenweem Arts Festival (6-14 August). This dinky village, so tiny that it doesn’t have a cash machine, or even the ubiquitous Tesco Metro, hosts one of the best, most accessible art shows to be found anywhere. By accessible I mean that the art displayed is wide-ranging enough to please the culture-vultures (my in-laws) and Philistines (that will be me) alike. Gorgeous, colour-soaked abstract canvases jostle with simple pen and ink studies, blowsy floral whimsies and beautiful sea-inspired tapestries in this most egalitarian of art festivals.
Although Pittenweem boosts an unusually high number of galleries for such a bijou place, the ever-increasing number of artists who exhibit over the week means that the ground floors and gardens of many houses are co-opted and hung with paintings, dotted with sculptures and draped with textiles and decorative baubles. The village is always eye-achingly gorgeous, especially the Shore area, with its pastel tied fishermen’s cottages, tumbling gardens and step-gabled roofs, but it really comes alive in August. If you are anywhere near the east coast of Scotland come and have a browse around this uniquely homey art festival.
Even if nothing catches your eye art-wise there are always the home-baking stalls spilling out onto the pavement to tempt you. And the Cocoa Tree, where I use coffee-purchased wi-fi for the occasional blog post, has dangerously addictive chilli cocoa to sup while enjoying homemade crepes and other goodies. Great chocolate shop too. The fish and chip shop a few doors down is also a good find. Anstruther, the next village up, has a famous fish and chip shop (it boasts photos of celebs noshing with the plebes from cardboard trays). But Pittenweem Fish Bar is just as good at two-thirds of the price, with efficient staff to keep everyone in their place as they queue down the street for their portions of crisp-golden fish. And no cardboard tray-plates, just good old paper to unwrap while sitting on the harbour wall watching the fishing boats go out for the night.
One thing you might not find around here is gazpacho. Cullen skink or lentil soup yes, but probably not gazpacho. My mother-in-law and I have over the years toyed with the idea of making up and selling soup to hungry art buyers – with proceeds to Maggie’s, of course. But with their friends’ borrowed house already busy with father-in-laws paintings and the comings and goings of friends needing looked after, our good intentions have never come to fruition. But we decided on our fantasy soup menu ages ago and cooling gazpacho was top of the list. It is hot and thirsty work shlepping up and down the narrow wynds that lead from harbour to the headland area and gazpacho would, I’m sure, be a welcome repast. Both thirst-quenching and substantial. Maybe one day.
This globally-enjoyed soup from southern Spain is the perfect recipe for the non-cook, the hot and bothered, the tired, the rushed and really anyone who loves their vegetables. If you’ve tried gazpacho before but never made it, you are in for a pleasant surprise. It is one of those recipes that requires very little but gives so much – taste, looks, body, aroma, nutrients in abundance and what I call the ‘nurture factor’ – that feeling of well-being you get from doing something that combines pleasure and virtue.
Gazpacho is also my ultimate summer soup, maybe even summer recipe – full-stop. In a contest to decide what is the most summery soup, gazpacho would undoubtedly walk it. Like lots of seasonal soups gazpacho relies on top-notch ingredients; in this case sun-ripened tomatoes and peppers, refreshing cucumbers and pungent garlic and onions. But unlike many soups, you just roughly chop everything, bung it in a food processor or blender and, ‘hey presto’, soup. Maybe add some garnishes, some ice cubes and definitely chill it in the fridge, but essentially it is the Brad Pitt or Halle Berry of soups – effortlessly gorgeous. Minimal effort, maximum taste.
The reason I am rather pretentiously calling this a non-purist’s gazpacho is because it lacks an essential authentic ingredient – bread. Call me crazy, but I’m just not sold on the whole bread-as-thickener thing. Float some olive-oiled baked cubes of the stuff on top, fine, but leave it out of my blender. But if you wish to go the purist route chop up some crust-free stale white country type bread (about a cup) and soak it in the chopped tomatoes, vinegar and olive oil for half an hour before blending everything together.