Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Late summer fruitfulness

Lingonberries, cloudberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants: the Swedish countryside yielded up its riches in August. Large bears can consume 100kg of berries each in a single day, my Fulufjället National Park leaflet tells me; we were more modest but could have lived off them quite happily. What I'm proudest of is discovering the rarest, the sensational cloudberry (hjortron)- so called because of its imitation of a cumulus, not because of the altitude at which it's found - the piquant taste of which when it bursts in the mouth no jam, with its added sweetness, can convey.

I read that cloudberries are most likely found on Alpine slopes in boggy areas, so it made sense to look out on the Fulufjället mountain plateau above Njupeskär waterfall. Which must be revisited in a blogramble, but for now here's the kind of terrain we're considering

and there, either side of several boardwalks were the occasional cloudberries - posed here, of course, because they do not readily reveal themselves in the vegetation.

Their strawberry-like leaves were already autumnal in colour, suggesting the end of the season, but Jamie and I feasted on most of what we found before taking back a handful each to the other two who'd gone ahead back down the cliff.

The more cultivated but still lovely terrain around Lake Siljan, further south-east, yields its fruits, too. There are wild raspberries

though the bushes of the other berries tend to belong to the owners of the attractive red-painted wooden houses in the villages on the shores. One such had a notice with an arrow, 'please help yourselves', alongside it. So Sophie (pictured with the sign behind her), J and I did

and gathered plenty of redcurrants

to go with Sophie's mother Inger's sublime baking.

Could we have had a more delightful traditional time in the little house by the lake? For starters, Inger had decked herself out in Swedish national costume to welcome us fresh from the campovan driven by Gillis, the adorable man Sophie has always called on her blog MNL (Mother's New Lover) followed by MNH (Mother's New Husband). Inger is in her early 80s and Gillis is 87, can you believe.

He was a forester, a hunter and a pilot, decided at 80 to give up shooting and flying before he killed someone but still knows a friend who can supply an elk. Which is why we had elk balls (as in meat balls, not testicles, I hasten to add) with breakfast

as well as elk tongue - thanks, Gillis, for pointing out the tip  - elk liver and elk kidneys.

We didn't see a real life specimen but Gillis was happy to pose alongside a stuffed one in the Naturum at the Siljansnäs Nature Reserve.

Inger is about to explode with mirth, as she did when we played her the incomparable Florence Foster Jenkins as the Queen of the Night. Gillis sat straight-faced, hearing nothing amiss. Nature is his element; I only wish we'd gone on a forest walk with him so that he could have pointed out his huge knowledge. Here he is, followed by his stepdaughter, on the jetty at the bottom of the garden.

I love it that, though officially belonging to the house, the little beach is accessible to all under the Swedish Rights of Access. Rambler-persecuting Jeremy Clarksons wouldn't have a leg to stand on here. Houses rarely have fences around them; the communal spirit remains strong, for better mostly and also for worse (read one man's account of the ambiguous social legacy in Andrew Brown's Fishing in Utopia).  And certainly in Dalarna you can park anywhere and for free. My kind of country.

Can I detain you with one more ritual before we leave Leksand? I loved the national costume, the elkmeat, the Schnappslieder (to which traditional specimens I could only retort with the Iolanthe Nightmare Song). I hated more than any food I've ever tasted - and remember I love Palermitan spleen in a bun plus other offal - the seasonal delicacy of fermented Baltic herring, the infamous surströmming.

This can is a stink bomb waiting to be released. Which it can't be until around 15 August every year, and then not in public unless you've hired a restaurant or a railway carriage specially for the purpose. Why is this? I read that the herring are caught in April or May just before they begin to spawn. 'The fermentation starts from a lactic acid enzyme in the spine of the fish, and so the fermentation is by autolysis; together with bacteria, pungent smelling acids are formed in the fish such as proponic, butyric and acetic acids. Hydrogen sulphide [for God's sake!] is also produced'. At the end of the 1940s a Swedish royal decree prevented improperly fermented fish being sold. That's no longer law, but the trade still relies on the mid-August release date.

The family told us that the smell about to be unleashed in the picture was much milder than usual. But when the horror was served, I had to hold my breath so as not to gag on the ammonial stench. I did eat one - texture as vile as taste - and then had to endure the smell in my nostrils all night.

No such monstrosities were inflected on us down in gentle Lacock, where the beloved hosts of the best outdoor birthday party ever welcomed us back for a long weekend of walking and eating. Here, along with beans, courgettes and sensational baby corn on the cob, which you eat husks and all, were blackcurrants (thank you for the nudge below, Deborah) from the garden

and the sweetest of plums.

You've seen the hedge sculptures and the garden rooms before if you've been visiting for long, but in addition to an inedible giant pear by Deborah

and a fruit cornucopia of a hairdo

let me indulge fresh angles on the ascendable tower

and the earth mother, who waxes in strength of legs

and curvaceousness

We could have been quite content with the treasures on our doorstep and bracing local walks up to the ridge and back, but I'm mighty grateful Deborah and Andrew took us to the stunning garden at Iford, designed by Italophile Harold Peto who bought the house and grounds in 1899.

The assembly of Roman and Renaissance sculptures adorning pastiche historical structures, the beautiful integration of these with serene planting, seemed familiar - and then I read that Peto also designed one of the most beautifully located gardens I've ever seen, the island idyll of Ilnacullin in Ireland's Bantry Bay, visited on a day I'll not forget. This was almost as ravishing. Thus Peto in The Boke of Iford: 'Old buildings or fragments of masonry carry one's mind back to the past in a way that a garden of flowers only cannot do. Gardens that are too stony are equally unsatisfactory; it is the combination of the two, in just proportion, which is the most satisfying'.

The setting is daring, on a steep slope down to the house and the River Frome beneath. I'd better admit the serendipitous concatenation of events which led us to have the garden to ourselves, not knowing for a while the reason why. The narrow road down to the house and car park was blocked by a broken-down car so Andrew parked at the top and we walked along the coach lane, entering the terrace from above. When A went down to see about paying,  he found that the garden was officially closed on Fridays. Well, we didn't linger much longer but we'd already enjoyed the whopping great mulberries

and one fig each from the tree so aptly planted alongside the beautiful cloister where every summer operas are performed.

Much better, I reckoned, to enjoy it in tranquillity, with a fig to heighten the pleasure.

This little miracle of nature, though, found by the side of an upper pond, is definitely not for eating. Please note a great sculptor's fingers.

Finally we did get to the bottom of the valley, with the lovely old bridge over the Frome surmounted by the statue of Britannia Peto placed there, beneath which two gilded youths disputed as if, Deborah thought, in an advertisement for the romance of Oxbridge. You're fortunate that for that and the subsequent early evening whizz around Bradford-on-Avon the camera battery was flat. But this isn't the last you'll hear of BoA. We must return at the first possible opportunity and see again whether it would, as I impulsively thought gazing enviously on a Georgian weavers' terrace high above the Avon, be the perfect place to live.


Deborah vdb said...

Late summer warmth is especially to be savoured, and we did just that....Just had to make a very minor correction: those are blackcurrants not red, stewed in a blue bowl. Red scoffed by blackbirds long ago.

David Damant said...

Sad to say, David, that when you write of Dalarna "my kind of country" you should really say " my-and-not-many-other-people's kind of country" For it is numbers that have taken away the spirit of so many places. When I first visited the Sistine Chapel, or the Escorial, there were scarcely half a dozen others in those memorials of famous things. On the great Temple at Ankhor there were only two - myself and a saffron robed priest chanting and burning incense. Now they have built seven hotels, and the coaches.....

And the motor car. BoA is vaux le voyage, but stand back and imagine the view with no cars......a little town itself for ever, and quiet, until "Poop poop!!
Toad and his descendants arrive.abolishing distance.
And finally - the decline of the land owning class, owning whole villages. There was a different feel,appearance at Belton ( Lord Brownlow ). Elvedon ( Lord Iveagh) or Mentmore ( Lord Rosebery) . And one can see it still at Lacock because most of the village - not just a house - was left to one owner, the National Trust. A certain rural and wonderful unkemptness. But elsewhere in England, as the generations pass away, no one will remember the hedgerows full of flowers, and the village people of such continuity that a directory could be published giving all the residents.
But now we-and-lots-of-others are everywhere

David said...

Slip of the brain, Deborah - I still had redcurrants on the brain from the earlier pics. Of course they are, and I can always trust you for rightful correction or enlightenment. Rightly you do not seek to correct the 'great' attached to 'sculptor'.

Anyway, no strange flowers for you to identify, but wait until we get to the fungi...

Absolutely right, David. I also have a few before-they-were-ruined memories: Ephesus in 1981, empty except for the brief visit of a cruise-ship group; Venice in the dead of winter (busy now at all times). In countries with an obvious handful of sites, like Mali before the war, the attractions brought with them all the worst excesses of tourism.

We are as much to blame as anyone, always wanting a little corner to ourselves. Or maybe almost as much: it's the mass, group tourism that I think I can still hold my nose at. But why shouldn't they?

I do believe, though, that every country has pockets, especially countryside, which escape all this. There are certain natural sights like the Pillar Rock on the fjord near Stavanger in Norway which our friends Susannah and Jamie said was like Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. But they had other equally beautiful sites to themselves.

toubab said...

A wonderful account of your visit! I will let my mother and Gillis know she will be thrilled. Thank you So much David!

David said...

I've emailed them and sent some more photos I couldn't use here. They are the models of what we all want to be in advanced old age, right? And good to see you here - even if only Sophiecentric material can lure you, dearheart...

Susan Scheid said...

Such a joyful, lovely post! Now Sweden must go on the list for the berries in high season. I'm aware of cloudberries, but have never tasted one. Lingonberry jam I've had & loved, though I know it's not a not a patch on the real thing. Every single thing about this post is delightful, Sophie and her family, even your description of that terrifying herring in a can!

And do you know, I remember that birthday party post--it seemed so grand a time. How nice to have more views of such a clearly lovely place.

On the subject of lovely places not yet overrun, I am reminded from time to time how lucky we are to have one here. We seem to be between the places where the "second-homers" lurk, so have the place largely to ourselves, aside from the buck and two does who stood just outside the windows, and later on the red fox going through, and then there were the four fledgling bluebirds taking turns at the bath . . . Now, if we only had cloudberries . . .

Laurent said...

Bears can eat 100 kg of berries a day, cannot say I know any bears who do this, I must be more observant in the future.

David said...

Indeed, Sue, the Hudson Valley is one of the loveliest places on earth and my whole perspective on New York changed when I went to Bard. How can whole swathes of it still be so quiet so near to the big city?

Laurent, I hate to solicit, but since you and Will are heading for your 35 year mark, did you not notice a lesser anniversary at the bottom of the previous post that deserved a little 'bravo'?

Laurent said...

David I read you comment and in a panic went to look back. With apologies! I left a comment on my and Will's behalf.

David said...

Oh dear, I didn't mean to make you panic with my panhandling. But thank you again!

David Damant said...

It is said that berries from northern climes have a better flavour than those growing further south, so long as the summer really brings warmth, as it usually does in Sweden. I have tested this theory twice on raspberries from Scotland ( more intense flavour)and it appeared to be true ( although this hardly counts as more than anecdotal)

It is suggested that the colder weather in the other seasons provides the discipline from which the flavour can build once the sun arrives

Henrietta said...

I want to go to Sweden. It looks utterly ravishing as do Sophie and her parents. Amazing how she looks a million dollars in a simple blue sweater... I will do as the bears do and eat the berries but not in any way the elk and fermented herring. Stomach churning hell as far as I am concerned.

You are such a great photographer. Loved the Lacock pictures too but blackcurrants looked very vin ordinaire after the spectacular cloudberries. hx

David said...

I like that theory, Sir David. And well put about 'the discipline from which the flavour builds once the sun arrives.' Sweden has, of course, like us had an exceptional summer.

Plain those blackcurrants may look, Hen, but there's nothing like the freshest and the best: Deborah's plums and, this weekend, damsons from the hedgerows and greengages freshly bought by Jill, both so fresh and sweet. Unfortunately it was very much wet and blustery - and, in Houghton Hall gardens, bitterly cold - autumn. But we had a window of dry weather after the first hour of Saturday's walk.

wanderer said...

Well yes Laurent, when bears eat 110 kg of berries a day, one must indeed be more observant, of where one steps I presume you mean.

Now we live a warm climate and the berries are crap. Not inedible crap (like eel, which was served on a plate to me in Hamburg, as a routine, like toast and marmalade in any other part of the world, and to this day I just can't do it), but the flavours are only hints of a good cold northern berry. David D is right, again.

Anyway, I can remember no queues for the Eiffel Tower, if that is any yardstick. Oh, and a luggage car on the train from Rome to Venice, with a lounge of green leather in the last car of the train, and the (Roman) luggage man made overtures as I collected by bags in Venice, and we had dinner under a full moon just off the Rialto and ...

David said...

Try Paris between Xmas and New Year for Eiffel Tower queues...but still, it's a big city, there are always escape haunts.

On Laurent's blog, where he comments on a scary film about Venice sinking under tourism, I did want to counter the respondent who said he never wanted to go to Venice now. No, no, go, or you haven't lived! As you write, there are always wonders - arriving by night train or public vaporetto from the airport, some of the lesser-visited churches and districts. And good food is still to be found in select restaurants, though Venetian cuisine is not famed (I love seppie, though).

David Damant said...

The first visit to Venice is the one which hits you with the magic of the place - after that one begins to rationalise. But one visit is essential. Venice is sensationally unique. Apart from the astonishing setting and buildings,if you are interested in history go to the Arsenal and imagine the ships being put together before setting out for Lepanto. See the plaque on the wall of the Cathedral, reminding us that Angelo Roncalli was Patriarch there before leaving for Rome and "his glorious Pontificate". And remember that Napoleon described St Mark's square as the most beautiful drawing room in the world. As for David's cuttlefish, they are chewy unless very fresh, which they are in Venice

David Damant said...

" Put on very dark glasses: protect yourself. Venice can be lethal. In the historic centre the aesthetic radioactivity is extremely high. Every angle radiates beauty; apparently shabby: profoundly devious, inexorable. The sublime pours in bucket loads from the churches, but even the calli [small streets] without monuments, the bridges to the rii [small canals], are picturesque at the very least. The facades of the palazzi are blows of the face, as kicks are blows of the feet. You are face-butted,slapped, abused by beauty. Andrea Palladio topples you over. Baldassare Longhena lays you flat. Mauro Codussi and Jacopo Sansovono finish you off......"

From Venice is a Fish, by Tiziano Scarpa

David said...

Agreed, though I find Tiziana rather hyperbolic and a bit pretentious (I've been to Venice countless times but Baldassare Longhena has never given me the slightest wobble).

I don't think the magic shrinks, though you may find quarters you thought you possessed now a little more thronging...not, I fancy, around the Arsenal, which you just remind me I had a long and involved dream about months back.

And we all treasure our favourites, tell everyone to see them. Food at La Vedova, the Catena in Santa Maria Mater Domini (one of the smaller churches you DON'T have to buy a pass to, and hence can revisit at will), wandering at will around Cannaregio and especially into the Madonna dell'Orto, if in the dead of winter, mulled wine in the little cafe I know how to find but not how to name; even Torcello, if we were to go back in February, though it has to be nearly deserted not to shatter the dream.

I really want to go back now I'm the happy owner of Giulio Lorenzetti's guide, the most detailed of all, which I bought for £6 in some second hand bookshop, I forget where.