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
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.