black isle bakery | ruth barry
Words by Fiona Symington-Mitchell. Photos by Lena Emery/Black Isle Bakery.
In the far-reaches of the Highlands of Scotland is the peninsula known as the Black Isle, famed for its folklore and breathtaking beauty. Ruth Barry talks about the fusion of art and baking and her homage to the Black Isle with bakes that celebrate a very modern simplicity.
“Follow the road to the top of the hill, pass the tree house and the gorse bushes bumbling with bees. Keep the honeysuckle to your left" is the lyrical poetry that Ruth Barry uses to describe her Black Isle Bakery. Recalling the beauty and serenity of her early rural life, her bakes are based on “modern recipes mindful of original and season” that capture the seasons and the beauty of working with simple ingredients. As she explains, “the simplest things are often the most delicious but also sometimes the most difficult to make.”
Initially a sculptor and manager of a contemporary art publishing house, Barry turned to baking in 2012, taking up a residency with Christophe Vasseur of Du Pain et Des Idées in Paris before returning to London to set up her now catering business. Her signature bakes for which she is known are filled with seasonal fillings ranging from preserved jams, cabbage and goats cheese to the autumnal flavours of field mushrooms and tarragon and smoked haddock, cabbage and duck’s egg. Each one is named after a place in the Black Isle like Fortrose, Muir of Ord and Tore.
Neither a store nor a market stall, Black Isle Bakery in many ways defies convention and it is no sheer coincidence that when I first speak to her, she is preparing for a pop-up brunch with Craved London. This preference for collaborative events has found her working with Poundshop, The Gourmand magazine and KK Outlet, London Design Festival and Darkroom. Such collaborations have led to an interesting fusion of design and form, food and fashion enabling her to carve out a unique niche that is once traditional and innovative.
In fact the term "artist" as opposed to the more familiar "artisan" comes to mind when describing her bakery. Her training in the fine arts is apparent as is her interest in performance and the strength of aesthetic experiences. As she explains, “when people think of Black Isle Bakery, I want people to think of that theatre, that style and of that aesthetic and to be drawn in because it looks beautiful or like a painting.”
Such sensibility has translated into the brand identity of Black Isle Bakery and unsurprisingly much has been written about its photography. It is without question extraordinary - a series of contemplative and poetic still life images by fashion photographer, Lena Emery for design studio OK-RM. The result is both striking and deliberate - one that redefines the concept of a heritage brand by instilling it with an identity that is both contemporary and experiential.
At present, Ruth is working on a range of Black Isle Bakery goods, returning to OK-RM to help her package her granola, nut butters, ginger nuts, shortbreads, savoury crisp breads and unsurprisingly, Scottish tablets. Plans are underway to open an online shop and undertake an international residency in 2015.
To return to Barry’s lyricism, “glance across to the Ben, then follow the path ridged with tree roots to the kitchen door”. I can think of no better way to describe the experience of Black Isle Bakery. To learn more visit the website and twitter for forthcoming events.
Changes to London as a food city?
I moved to London nearly six years ago and things have really changed in that time. There are some extraordinary creative food producers who are rewriting the rules as to how to have a successful business. London is phenomenally expensive as a city and this has necessitated a new approach. It is amazing to see how people have created businesses from next to nothing.
Anissa Helou. An expert in Middle Eastern food, she holds supper clubs and has written several cookbooks. She is wildly charismatic and continues to forge her own path. I also adore Lillie O’Brien from London Borough of Jam. Her jam-making abilities are a divine gift and I just love her little shop.
Best food market in London
I love Chatsworth Road market as well as my local farmer’s market in Angel as it has a really lovely atmosphere and great producers.
Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon and Tunworth Cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy. l like to get Lillie’s O’Brien’s limited editions when she is doing them, like her mulberry jam in the summer. She makes something like twenty jars. Her rhubarb and cardamom jam is amazing as is her classic fig and earl grey.
The Gruyère and olive loaf at Fabrique in Hoxton. It’s only available on Fridays and Saturdays and you need to get there early. It is so delicious. Their cardamom buns and cinnamon buns are also very good.
for your address book
du pain et des idées, 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris, France
fabrique bakery, Arch 385, Geffrye St, E2 8HZ. t.@FabriqueBakery
hansen & lydersen, 3-5 Shelford Place, N16 9HS t. @Hansen_Lydersen
london borough of jam, 51d Chatsworth Road, E5 0LH. t.@LdnBoroughOfJam
neal's yard dairy, 6 Park St, SE1 9AB t. @NealsYardDairy