Tappit Shetland Hen
These hens are very rare and all originate from only the Shetland Isles. Their existence was made possible thanks to the Isbisters of Trondra who saved this breed single-handedly. Thanks to them the true breeding Tappit Shetland Hen is still in existence and it has been looked after since the 1970’s on the island of Trondra.
Rare breeds of poultry are often undervalued and easily cross bred and lost forever. Their biodiversity is invaluable and their genetics must be kept in living genebanks. Nowadays there are approximately 3 dozen of pure bred of Tappit Shetland Hens left on the isle; their number is then too low to count as a noteworthy food supply.
They are originally from South America, then arrived on Shetland islands via Spain 430 years ago. They may even have been brought to the islands by a Spanish galleon. There were 2 Spanish galleons actually wrecked on the Shetland shores. These hens were remembered by many of the older generations of crofters approached when initial research was done.
The surviving hens were from Foula (meaning bird island), a remote western isle 20 miles west of Walls, the westernmost part of Shetland mainland. From Foula they came to Walls and it was this surviving flock that the Isbisters purchased to start the breeding programme. These fowl matched the type described by many independent sources.
It is descended from South American hens likened to the Araucana Hen from Chile and is relatively heavy with a characteristic tuft ‘Tapp’ (as known on Shetland) of feathers on its head. Tappit means tufted in Scots. There was a mutation in South America before the Spanish conquests for tufted hens and the blue green egg colouring comes from the Spanish influence in its genetics. Finally it gained influences from the Original Shetland Hen already present on Shetland centuries ago. The breed comes in a variety of colours.
As these first have a long and happy life they tend to be mature before they end their life so a moist slow cooking method is both advisable and delicious.
Eggs – boiled, poached, fried, scrambled or omelettes, soufflés, flans, cakes and desserts. Hens’ eggs make a good binding agent in all sorts of recipes too. The flavours in the yolk are excellent because they live outdoors and eat insects, seeds and weeds.
Hens – jointed and slow cooked on a stove for several hours with seasonal vegetables and Shetland Black Potatoes (Ark), lightly seasoned and served steaming hot in warmed bowls. Can be accompanied with a condiment such as rowan or crab apple jelly. This type of hen can be used for dishes where you allow the flavours of the local herbs/spices absorb into the meat during the long cooking. This just does not work with modern fast growing breeds.