IAIN Dubh was a crofter, living in a neighbouring township to Colbost in Skye. A handsome, mischievous character with greying, dark wavy hair, he could turn on the charm and tell a good yarn. His favourite chat-up line was: “Aye, you’d make a good crofter’s wife,” a suggestion I shyly took to be a compliment when I first met him. Like many of the older members of the community whom we got to know when we moved to Skye, he lives on in my memory; not least – like so many of his cronies – because of his penchant for a pocket-size bottle of Navy Rum.

We discovered this weakness for the wee quarter bottles when – spotting a gap in the market for sales of Talisker single malt – we opened a whisky shop next door to the restaurant. Back then, in the mid-1980s, there was no shop or visitor centre at the distillery, and no licensed gift shop to speak of at any of the island's main visitor attractions. The Co-op, upon which we all depended for family provisions, was down a narrow lane in the centre of Portree, with no car park and somewhat limited stock.

Customers often asked where they could buy the whisky they sampled at the restaurant, just as they wanted to buy the wines made by Moniack Castle, near Inverness, which Eddie included in his first wine lists. Wines made from the sap of the silver birch tree, meadowsweet and elder flowers, were just three of their traditional range that included sloe gin and mead.

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We hit upon the idea of applying for an off-licence and opening a whisky shop which would also sell my homemade preserves along with Christmas cakes and shortbread made to order.

Little did I know that much of my stock would be sold out by around June. Keeping up with demand and the time-consuming work of potting, labelling and decorating the preserve jars soon became too much to handle. We concentrated on our whisky range, ensuring there was always a bottle of something unusual and collectable to choose from.

It was interesting while it lasted, but eventually, we closed the shop and used the space to extend the restaurant with a tiny bar. By that time, many more retail outlets, including supermarkets, were selling an extensive range of malts, and we could no longer compete on price. The days of locals calling in on their way home from collecting their pensions from the Post Office at Skinidin, were also fading fast.

A tot of dark, navy rum was traditionally given daily to sailors at sea at midday. This practise was a long-held tradition and many objected strongly when the rum ration was revoked on July 31, 1970. In the Hebrides, many men joined the Merchant Navy, sailing the seven seas to transport our own goods, in exchange for those from around the world. Unsurprisingly, they were excellent sailors with a natural affinity with the sea. Life in Skye soon acquainted us with many ex-seamen and their love of a traditional tot of rum.

So, in honour of National Rum Day on August 16, plus all Skye crofters rearing beautiful Scotch lamb, here’s a summer recipe with a taste of foreign lands thrown in for good measure.

Rum-soaked lamb kebabs with fruity cous-cous

(Serves 4)

To make the marinade:

125ml dark, navy rum

75ml soy sauce

Juice of 1 large orange – minimum 50ml required

Stripped rind of same orange, preferably cut with a zester

4 tbsp olive oil

2 rounded tbsp muscovado sugar

1 medium red onion, chopped very small

1 medium hot red chilli, deseeded, chopped very small

2 large cloves garlic, peeled, chopped very small

1 rounded tsp ground all-spice

Sea salt and black pepper – a generous amount for seasoning the marinade


1. Prepare the vegetables and place in a bowl with all other ingredients. Mix together well. Cover with cling-film and refrigerate overnight, or for at least three hours.

For the kebabs:

4 thick-cut Scotch lamb leg steaks

1 large red pepper

4 fresh apricots

4 white mushrooms


1. Trim lamb of all fat. Cut into similar size pieces for each kebab skewer. You are aiming for four pieces of meat per skewer and two skewers per person. The meat should be roughly cube-shaped, approximately 2cm square.

2. Place lamb in marinade and mix around. Cover with cling-film and leave overnight before making up the kebabs.

3. When you are ready to cook the kebabs, wash the apricots, cut through the middle lengthways, twist the two halves to separate them apart and remove the stone. Cut each half in half again.

4. Wash mushrooms, remove stalks and pat dry. Keep the caps whole.

5. Wash the red pepper. Cut off the top and stalk. Remove seeds and white membrane from inside. Cut pepper into quarters then cut each piece into four shapes approximately the same size as apricots and mushrooms.

6. Make up each skewer as shown in the photograph, beginning with a piece of red pepper, meat, apricot, meat, mushroom, meat, apricot, meat, red pepper. Brush vegetables and apricots with some of residual marinade. Once all eight skewers are complete, set aside on a tray.

7. Strain marinade into a saucepan and place on hotplate over a high heat until reduced by half. Set aside at least 50ml to add to the finished cous-cous.

8. The kebabs will take no more than five minutes to cook under a hot grill, or over a barbecue.

To make Cous-Cous:

150ml water

110g cous-cous

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium red onion

2 fat cloves garlic

4 spring onions

4 fresh apricots

1 lemon, juice only

1 red, orange or yellow pepper, or 1 small one of each colour

2 fresh corn on the cob

12-18 pods of broad beans

1 rounded tbsp pine nuts

Sea salt and black pepper

1 large handful fresh mint leaves

50g fresh redcurrants stripped from their stalks


1. Bring water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add cous-cous and simmer for 2-3 minutes until water is completely absorbed. Turn off heat, cover with a lid and set aside.

2. Place corn on the cobs into a pan of boiling water and simmer for five minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and plunge into a bowl of ice-cold water. Once cool, scrape the corn kernels from the cob with the blade of a sharp knife and place in a large mixing bowl.

3. Remove broad beans from their pods and place in a pan of boiling water. Return to boiling point for no more than 1 minute. Strain and plunge into a bowl of ice-cold water to cool. Pop the bright green beans from the pale green, papery shells. Discard the shells and place green beans into a bowl with the corn.

4. Wash and dry the peppers, remove seeds and visible white membrane from inside. Chop coloured flesh into small pieces approximately the same size as corn. Add to the bowl.

5. Top and tail the spring onions, keeping as much of the green as possible. Chop into small pieces similar in size to the other vegetables. Add to the bowl.

6. Wash the apricots, cut in half through the long side, twist to separate the two halves and remove the stone. Cut the apricots into similar size pieces as corn. Place in a separate bowl and cover with lemon juice.

7. Peel and finely chop the red onion and garlic cloves. Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add chopped onion and garlic. Stir in hot oil until soft. Add all other prepared vegetables and apricots. Mix together well. Season with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.

8. Add the cooked cous-cous plus pine nuts and mix everything thoroughly, ensuring that the cous-cous is well separated and not sticking together in clumps. When all is warmed through, heat 75ml of the retained marinade and pour over mixture while hot. This will be quickly absorbed.

9. Just before serving, stir through the finely chopped fresh mint leaves and redcurrants. Check for seasoning and serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate to serve as a cold salad to accompany the hot kebabs.

Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-by on the Isle of Skye www.threechimneys.co.uk