When most people think of the Scandinavian seasons, they either think of the bitter cold and round the clock dark winter days – or the vibrantly colourful summer season with its rolling green hills and sparkling silvery lakes (although, some, admittedly, think only of blonde women, Ace of Base and meatballs, but these have little to do with this post). However, the often forgotten thing about autumn in Scandinavia is that it is certainly also a time to cherish and a time of exceptional beauty – as well as being full of some of the most amazing foodie treasures known to man.
With all the hoo-haa of Midsummer Parties and dancing around maypoles well and truly over, summer in the Nordic countries comes along in fleeting bursts and before we know it, the days are once again getting shorter and the nights colder. By the middle of September, the whole of Scandinavia has changed its green summer coat for the rustling, golden comforting blanket of fallen leaves, and it is time for long walks in the forest, for slowing down and fattening up for winter time.
Back in the Viking times, autumn signalled the time for preparing for the days when hardly any daylight at all shone through. From the summer with its abundance of fruit and vegetables, winter proved always to be a testing time and our forefathers hunted and gathered everything they could for easy storage. In the Northern countries they hunted for game which they salted and dried. In the south they fished, preserving what they could by drying and curing – as well as slaughtering a good proportion of their farmed animals. Everywhere, the Vikings harvested and milled – and stored grain and oats for the long months. Yep, it was porridge for everyone, all year long, even back then.
Autumn nowadays in Scandinavia is first signalled by the arrival of the crayfish season in August, which carries on well into September. Mainly in Sweden and Finland is this season a big celebration, with most people spending many a weekends enjoying the fruits of the sea along with the jolly company of some amazing aquavit and some good friends (whilst being attacked by the last hungry mosquitoes of the year). Plenty of “snapsvisor” – aquavit songs – are sung during the crayfish season and many a horrific hangover endured.
The game hunting season is another big autumn signal in Scandinavia. In all of the Northern countries, the moose hunting season starts and eager hunters stalk out in the forest, hoping to get the catch of the season – and that all important moose-head to stuff and display on the wall at home. Roe deer, wild ducks and red grouse, to name but a few, are also hunted. Game in Scandinavia today is not intensively farmed at all and is of the highest of quality in the world, giving it a seriously hefty price tag – but well worth a taste if you’re ever lucky enough to be offered it. Lately, the much publicised Nordic Diet has claimed that wild game is the meat we should all be eating for health reasons, likely ensuring even heftier price tags in years to come.
Scandinavia also harbours a vast amount of incredible treasures when it comes to late summer berries. From wild raspberries, the plumpest, juiciest blackberries and blueberries imaginable, you can find them all here. Of course, not forgetting the all important lingonberry either, an essential jam served with Swedish and Norwegian meatballs.
Towards the end of July to beginning of August, the much sought after cloudberry blooms across the colder areas. The cloudberry is an orange berry that looks a bit like a plump, overgrown fat raspberry but which grows on stalks instead of bushes – and the plant itself can withstand temperatures of down to -40 C. It is very difficult to cultivate and is most often found only in the wild; it is very hard to pick as the fragile berries burst instantly in the hands of unseasoned pickers. Most cloudberry is therefore made into jam and sold across the world, but nowhere is it more popular than in Sweden, where this jam is often heated and served with vanilla ice cream. Cloudberry is expensive – even during harvest season locally, prices often top £12 a litre – but the tart, unusual taste of this wonderful berry is certainly worth splashing out for.
In Finland, cloudberry is often made into an exceptional liquor called Lakkalikööri – and you can also find cloudberry yoghurt and cakes in certain shops. Lately, the humble cloudberry has also enjoyed quite a bit of press attention, which has hailed it as one of the best berries to eat if you want to follow a Nordic Diet because of its high vitamin content.
In the UK, cloudberry jam is available in a few different brands, the best, and the one that has the highest fruit content, is the Felix version – which is also less sugary than others. Fresh cloudberries or even frozen ones are pretty much impossible to get hold of outside Scandinavia.
But even if you can’t make it to the Nordic countries to collect your own fresh berries this autumn, it is easy to sample some of the other the treasured goods from the comfort of London. Arrange a bit of a crayfish and aquavit party for a fantastic, traditional Scandinavian feast. Get hold of some of the amazing autumn berries on offer – either in fresh or jam form – and get cooking and inventing for both savoury and sweet dishes. All you need then is a good bunch of mates and an autumn evening and you’re all set. Hold off on the moose hunting, though, even after the 4th glass of aquavit when it all seems like such a good idea (even in Hackney): it’s usually not.
Three easy-peasy ways with Cloudberry:
Cloudberry Jam and Vanilla ice cream
The ultimate Swedish dessert. Get hold of some good quality vanilla ice cream and heat a few spoonfuls of cloudberry jam – pour over the ice cream just before serving. Alternatively, make it a bit more exciting by adding some crushed meringue and whipped cream and gently fold in – a sort of “Swedish Mess” (inspired by the British dessert “Eton Mess”).
Cloudberry layer cake
Three sponge layer cakes (we recommend Karen Wolf “Lagkage”, which comes in three pre-made thin layers, easy to assemble, or make your own Victoria style sponge and split to three). Pop a layer on the serving tray, add a thin layer of cloudberry jam, add a thick layer of patisserie cream. Add sponge layer 2, repeat over. Cover cake with a nice layer of whipped cream all round and on top and decorate with a light dusting of chocolate shavings. Leave to set for a bit in the fridge before serving.