The Great British Bake Off runner-up and newly qualified doctor JAMES MORTON talks about his coastal childhood on the Shetland Islands, where he learned to bake with his gran. Interview: Alex Reece
I grew up in Northmavine, which is the northern part of Mainland, the largest island of Shetland. I lived in a very rural area called Heylor – there are only about four or five houses on a two-mile stretch of road – and it’s just a really beautiful place.
The coast in Shetland is mostly rocky, red granite, then out of nowhere there are these white-sand beaches, just like on the Western Isles. There are a lot of shingle beaches, too. My family home, where I spent most of my childhood, is on a shingle beach. It’s about 10ft from the sea, when the tide’s in.
We moved to Shetland when I was about three and my grandmother soon followed us. She built a new, Norwegian-style wooden house right next door, and every day after school, I’d go round to hers. She had the dual role of childminding and teaching me how to bake. Gran’s house had big windows that looked out from the kitchen and living room onto the beach and Ronas Hill, which at 450m is the highest point in Shetland. Whenever I stick my fingers into butter and flour to make pastry the proper way, I think of that place.
Glasgow, where I live now, is good for countryside on your doorstep – 10 minutes’ drive and you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Troon is probably the nearest beach. But my favourite part of the coast in all the UK is a mere five miles from my house in Shetland. It’s called Eshaness and there is a waterfall you can scramble down to this amazing red shingle beach. No one’s ever there – and it’s great.
How do I combine baking with medical studies? When I start procrastinating with my studies, I end up baking, and when I start procrastinating over book or column-writing, I end up studying. The main thing I want to tell coast readers about my new book is: it will solve every baking problem you’ve ever had. I’m pretty sure about that.
How Baking Works, by James Morton, is out now (Ebury Press, £20).
"Gran’s house had big windows that looked out from the kitchen and living room onto the beach and Ronas Hill, which at 450m is the highest point in Shetland. Whenever I stick my fingers into butter and flour to make pastry the proper way, I think of that place."