Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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The Finnish obsession of berry picking

I will have start by apologising – this is going to be a rant! Why would I complain about such an honourable activity as picking berries? Nothing wrong with berry picking as such. I, too, believe it’s wonderful that we have this free, fresh goodness at everybody’s disposal in Finnish forests. And yes, even I think that more people should make the effort to collect their own and get the benefit of fresh air and exercise as a bonus.

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However, what I have started to object to this summer is people using picking berries – or rather not picking them! – as the weapon to accuse one group after another of being lazy. Actually, it all started last summer when the Finnish media was plastered with headlines about a 14-year-old boy, later dubbed as “bilberry Oscar”, who picked 350 litres of bilberries in the forests and earned quite a sum of money. A commendable achievement, of course! Just google the name Oscar Taipale, and you’ll see loads of articles, all in Finnish unfortunately! He was soon hailed as the perfect role-model for other teenagers who do nothing but sit in their room in front of the computer screen! All youngsters, the praise went on, should be like Oscar, and get the entrepreneurial spirit early on! He was even mentioned in our President’s New Year’s speech to the nation as the model young citizen:

During the late summer and autumn, I followed the big story of young Oscar Taipale about tiny berries. Oscar made good earnings from picking hundreds of litres of forest berries. I too was delighted by the idea of a boy picking berries from bushes and inspiring his friends and many others to do the same.

Please, don’t get me wrong. Naturally, I appreciate and support what Oscar did. I have absolutely nothing against him or his enthusiasm. What I’m against is suddenly saying that everybody should do the same. After all, aren’t we all individuals endowed with our own free will and freedom of choice about what to spend our time on, or direct our interest towards?

Then come this summer and the incredible craze with Pokémon Go. Suddenly all the youngsters (and even people as old as I!) are walking around chasing after these monsters in an augmented reality mobile game. Woohoo, finally something was addictive enough to get everybody up and walking long distances every day. How great is that! We should be nothing but pleased. But no, this won’t do! It wasn’t long before some wise guy expressed his besser-wisser opinion in one of our biggest national daily papers (sorry, only in Finnish again) how young people are totally wasting their time with silly, useless Pokémon, and should be – yes, you guessed right! – picking berries and mushrooms in the forest. SERIOUSLY!

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Finally, yesterday I read another opinion where the writer disagreed with researchers who claimed that poor people can’t afford to eat healthy food, by accusing those less fortunate people of laziness because they didn’t spend their days out in the woods to pick free food for themselves! What on earth next? I guess somebody will come up with the idea that we teachers, who have been blessed with an enviable, and totally unfair if you ask most Finns, free summer should be sent to the woods to save Finnish economy!

Why can’t you just let those who want to voluntarily do it, and really enjoy it, roam the woods and do the picking? I don’t mind spending half an hour to pick enough for one bilberry pie but no more, thank you very much. The mosquitoes like me far too much, and I get too hot and bothered trying to protect every inch of my skin with protective clothing. Anything longer than that would be pure torture for me.

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I’m fortunate and grateful to have friends who happily bring us a bucket of bilberries or lingonberries they have picked every summer. They are delicious, full of important nutrients, and taste heavenly on our breakfast porridge all through winter. I really love all Finnish berries. But honestly, enough of this blame throwing! Berry picking is not the universal solution to every possible problem on earth!

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Road to the summer cottage

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Having a summer cottage is very common in Finland. There are thousands of lakes in our country, and long seaside coasts and countless islands that people have found loads of beautiful spots by water where to build theirs. The best places are in the middle of nowhere, with your own peace and quiet. That’s why, to get there you usually have to travel on smaller and smaller roads, or possibly go by boat for the last stretch. As for the cottage, the more basic and rustic, the better if you ask me. No mod cons, thank you!

This narrow, twisty dirt road through the woods to my grandparents’ cottage by lake Saimaa in eastern Finland is only a couple of kilometres long, but always seems much longer as you really have to drive slowly and carefully. The road is not properly maintained, suffers damage every winter, resulting in holes and exposed stones. Luckily, there are seldom other cars driving in or out, as there is absolutely no space for overtaking!

The best way to do this last bit is to walk, like my daughter in this photo. I have travelled this road all through my life. The woods around are full of juicy bilberries every summer, but unfortunately also elks and sometimes even bears! My older brother owns and looks after the cottage now but I visit when I can find the time for the long journey. So many memories!

Weekly Photo Challenge – NARROW.


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My pelargonias

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How I love summer, the lazy, warm, sunny days! And, of course, the blue skies, white clouds and all the greenery and flowers everywhere. A riot of colours!

This year, “the cherry on top” has been my pink pelargonias (or geraniums?) in the balcony boxes. They’ve kept blooming, faithfully through heat and rain. And demand so little care really. I’m not much of a gardener, the balcony boxes and some pot plants are about the only plants I invest in for the summer. First time I tried this type flower, and will definitely do the same next year. Well worth it, don’t you think?

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Wild and perfect

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Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

That was an extract of Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Peonies’. Got up close with these wonderful flowers this summer, with a macro lens on my camera. Wow – what a lot of intricate details inside them! And so sensual, don’t you think!

Weekly photo challenge – DETAILS.


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Cherry jam with Amaretto

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Here, by popular demand, is my cherry jam recipe, extremely simple to make. What makes it so simple, is the Finnish ‘jam sugar’, which has natural pectin in it, to get the right consistency, plus added calium sorbate, to help the jam keep longer. I don’t know if a similar sugar – a jelly sugar or something similar maybe – is available in other countries.

Last year, I used cherries from our own trees, which are very bitter and quite unsuitable for eating on their their own, but they worked well with this recipe. And a year on, the jam is still as delicious as ever! Just had some for breakfast this morning.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 kg pitted cherries
  • 1/2 dl of cherry juice (water boiled with the removed pits)
  • 500 g jam/jelly sugar
  • 1/2 dl Amaretto (almond) liqueur

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • pit the cherries (you will need about 2 kg of unpitted cherries)
  • put the removed pits into a saucepan with c. 2-3 dl of water and cook for 5-10 minutes, then sieve the juice
  • put the cherries and 1/2 dl of the juice into a saucepan, and bring to a boil
  • add the sugar and let it boil at medium heat for around 15 minutes, peeling off any foam that forms on the surface
  • add the liqueur (if you a child-friendly version, add the liqueur with the sugar, to make sure that all the alcohol evaporates)
  • pour the jam into clean, warmed up jars and close them carefully
  • store the cooled down jars in a cold place

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YUMMY ON BREAD OR TOAST FOR BREAKFAST!


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New potato salad

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New potatoes are a big thing in Finland. It’s usually around the end of May that the first ones from Sweden arrive in the supermarkets. You’ll have to wait till June for the Finnish ones. After eating old ones, which tend to get more and more tasteless and floury in consistency plus ugly with all sorts of blemishes and dark spots, all through the winter, the first small, fresh, new ones look and taste out of this world. The best place to get them is, of course, the market place where you often find local farmers selling their produce. Mind you, you can also get very decent new potatoes in most supermarkets.

Don't you just love the old-fashioned measuring tins at Finnish market places?

Don’t you just love the old-fashioned measuring tins at Finnish market places?

The simple way is the best to enjoy these delights. Just boil them, and then savour them with some fresh dill and a knob of butter. In terms of food, there is not much that can beat that in summer! It’s curious with the Finnish tradition to use dill. My late English mother-in-law found it very strange at first, as over there mint is the go-to herb with potatoes, but she got to like it in the end. And I, in turn, learned to appreciate potatoes with mint.

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A forkful of summer goodness!

Whenever I prepare new potatoes, I always get a double amount at least, as they will soon be eaten as cold snacks during the day. Hot or cold, they are good with anything – other summer vegetables, fish, grilled meat, in soup, you name it!

Here is a family favourite summer recipe of a mustardy new potato salad that I prepare several times every summer, to accompany grilled sausages, for example. The most common potato salad with grilled food is one with small cubes of potatoes, with gherkins and onions and a thick mayonnaise dressing. This recipe brings you some change to the ordinary summer fare.

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INGREDIENTS

  • c. 1 kg boiled new potatoes (quite small, round ones work best)
  • 2-3 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp strong mustard (or more if you like the taste)
  • 4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 dl oil (I usually use milder rapeseed oil for this, but I’m sure olive goes as well)
  • fresh chives
  • rucola (plus optional iceberg lettuce)

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • Prepare the potatoes. (I am usually very picky with potato peels but, for some reason, this salad doesn’t taste right if you peel the potatoes. Just carefully brush and wash them before boiling.)
  • While the potatoes boil, prepare the dressing.
  • Toast the mustard seeds on a clean, dry frying pan. Let them cool down.
  • In a bowl, mix the toasted mustard seeds, mustard, lemon juice, salt, sugar and black pepper.
  • Gradually stir in the oil to get an even consistency.
  • Halve the still warm potatoes into the dressing and mix them together. (The warm potatoes nicely soak in some of the dressing and spices.)
  • Serve layers of rucola and potatoes on a plate, or in a bowl. (Sometimes I prefer more greenery, and put leaves of iceberg lettuce on the bottom.)
  • Cut lots of chives on top.
  • If there are any left-overs, keep in the fridge, and it will taste just as good the next day!

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ENJOY WITH YOUR CHOICE OF GRILLED TREATS!


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Le temps des cerises

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Through the kitchen window, I saw a cheeky squirrel feeding on the first ripe fruit of our cherry trees today. The other day, some blackbirds were at them, too. Looking more closely, I could already see many of them devoured by our animal friends. Familiar story. Before the cherries get ready for picking, it’s usually the birds that come in great flocks and peck the lot! Interestingly, the cherries seem to be well ahead of time this year. Last year, it wasn’t until the middle of August that the trees were heavy with the red fruit. Must be the effect of a much warmer June.

Last year was exceptional, though. There were considerably more cherries than usual. In addition, it was a very good wild blueberry year in the forests, and they were ripe at the same time. There were speculations then that the birds were happy with the forest berries and left people’s gardens alone. And I was happy, managing to make several jars of Amaretto-spiced cherry jam. Looks like this year I should be pleased to get one or two, if that! Oh well, such is life. Nice sight, against the sun-lit blue sky in any case.

Weekly photo challenge – LOOK UP.