Children's #163;2 cooking contest is obviously worth the whisk
Occasionally a small cloud of flour puffs into the air as the pupils work on their dough mix. It's a scene of intense activity as the children of Foveran Primary get to work on their lunch menus.
Their task was to create a healthy packed lunch for pound;2 or less for the primary schools' competition at Taste of Grampian, an annual showcase for the north-east's finest produce. It draws almost 15,000 visitors to Inverurie each summer.
Four Foveran teams were among the 15 finalist teams from Aberdeenshire schools. The primary has a successful track record and took first and second places last year. "No pressure," joked a teacher amid a blur of whirring wooden spoons.
It's a popular event on the school calendar and had brought Jan Sutherland out of retirement to join the fun. "I like getting a chance like this to come in. It's such a lovely tradition, the Taste of Grampian," said Mrs Sutherland, who retired two years ago, after 29 years here.
Foveran Primary is a small rural school, on the coast a few miles north of Aberdeen. There are just over 40 pupils, some from nearby farming families. It has a close partnership with The Store, a farm shop half-a- mile away, which pupils visit often for talks, tastings and to choose produce for the competition.
There were four children in each of the four teams, all preparing a different three-course packed lunch they had researched and designed themselves, along with a healthy drink. It meant a busy schedule in the 48 hours beforehand, with homemade bread to make for smoked salmon, homemade cookies and croutons for the soups, as well as salads and smoothies and desserts to be prepared.
Upper-stages teacher Joyce Mackie was presiding calmly over what could easily turn into Hell's Kitchen. But it was amazingly calm and everyone in her composite P4-7 class seemed to know exactly what they were doing.
Mrs Mackie is a Highland gamekeeper's daughter from the Black Isle and a passionate supporter of the educational benefits of this competition. "I really believe in this project. I've done it for a long time now," she said, as the children round her kneaded their dough conscientiously.
"I believe it's something the children need to know - for their health and well-being - and they need to know we live in rural countryside. It gives them their culture and heritage and appreciation of where good food comes from."
The competition also meets the aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence. "That's 550 grams of flour and you need 750 - so what's the difference?" Mrs Mackie asked the four boys measuring flour beside her. "It includes language, literacy and maths - everything is coming into this - it's real Curriculum for Excellence," she said.
"I love making bread," said 10-year-old Liam Parry, carefully blending water and flour with the help of his team-mates The Famous Tasters. Liam's mum, Jo Parry, had come in to lend a hand and was helping four girls prepare their wild berry cookies for the oven.
Isabel Hobday, 12, her sister Gabi Hobday, 9, Katherine Atkin, 11, and Emma Simpson, 9, had ditched the raisins in their cookie recipe in favour of fresh blueberries and raspberries. It was the first time the aptly- named Courageous Cookers had tried this out and it worked well - the fruit still moist in the crumbly cookies emerging from the oven.
The judges must have thought so too, as two days later the girls took home a special award for Best-Researched Proposal at Taste of Grampian.
The homemade bread also paid off and Liam Parry and his Famous Tasters: Ben Ross, 11, Emma Kirk, 9, and Euan Pirie, 11, won first prize. Their winning menu was carrot and coriander soup with garlic croutons; smoked salmon on homemade bread with salad leaves and cherry tomatoes; strawberry yoghurt with crunchy, crumbly topping and a milk-mixed berries smoothie.
Second prize went to Rothienorman Primary, and Daviot Primary won third prize and a special award for Best Use of Art and Design. The schools' displays drew queues of admirers - as one visitor commented: "They've made a lot of effort. It's a lot better than my man's pieces.