Forest Flavors

It’s not uncommon to see people here emerging from the forest with bundles of flowers or baskets of mushrooms, among many of what foresters call “non-timber forest products” that are harvested here.
wild lilies of the valley

But what about the trees themselves? Can you use those as foods? Actually, there are many trees that produce edible substances other than fruit or nuts. In Sweden, a company called Grythyttan makes wine out of birch (björk) sap. The leaves of conifers also contain many interesting flavor compounds. I first became interested in them from reading Playing with Fire and Water, an amazing molecular gastronomy blog. She did a series on the flavors of conifers recently.


I have not encountered good juniper berries in the forest here, but I did find this juniper vinegar at the ecological market that is at the Fyris river every Saturday morning in good weather. It tastes, not surprisingly, like gin. I’ve been using it in excellent salad dressings alongside the honey I extracted in my beekeeping course.

I also made young spruce shoot beer, from the blog’s recipe. The method utilizes a simple mixture of sugar, yeast, and flavoring. The yeast eats up the sugar to provide the carbonation. The mixture has to be placed in a plastic soda bottle so you can check the gas level easily, but also to prevent explosions. Some really old fashioned recipes use natural fermentation. Yeasts are ubiquitous in nature and if prodded along you can use them for cooking, like this intimidating recipe for sourdough bread with juniper yeast. But these recipes take over a week to make, so I stuck with the yeast. It turned out wonderfully sparkly, but next time I would use less lime juice because it seemed to overwhelm the spruce.


Not missing winter


I think spring is finally here…or isn’t it supposed tobe summer? It’s May and I say “think” because just when I think it’s time to put away the sweaters, we get another day of cold driving rain.

(An experimental plantation of willow grown for biofuel)

But despite these days, life here is so much better when the days are long. I no longer worry about have to rush to the grocery store after class because there is only one hour of daylight left. Winter has its charms, like eating dinner in a cozy pub under the candlelight, but they quickly tired after Christmas.

Enduring that dark season has been worth it because these days I can spend hours and hours just walking around outside. And I’m always bound to meet someone, because everyone has to get their yearly dose of sunlight by laying about on the green lawns.

(The abject ugliness of Uppsala in late winter…)

On a sad note, I have lost my one of my favorite conversation topics, which was complaining about how dark and cold it was.

“Optima dies, prima fugit.” –Virgil

Honey: The Good Stuff

Despite the fact that the spring this year in Sweden has been very cold, my beekeeping class was able to extract some honey today.
Admittedly, during this course I’ve been a little worried that I’d be allergic to bees. I’d never been stung before and I have a tendency to be allergic to everything from horses to acai berries. I guess I was kind of hoping to get stung, so I could figure out if I was wasting my time learning beekeeping. My beekeeping professor, Ingmar Fries, does not recommend beekeeping for those allergic to bees.
I expected I’d get stung while messing around with the hives, so I’d be prepared. In fact, I’d been kind of blase when working with them because I figured I’d need to get stung eventually. But today as I was simply observing, a wayward bee decided to dive-bomb my forehead. The professor quickly got the stinger out, but I was slightly traumatized.
I didn’t have an allergic reaction, but I still have a headache. But afterwards we extracted some sweet delicious early-spring honey. Unlike store-bought honey, which is typically heat-treated for shelf life, this fresh raw honey was buzzing with aromatic volatile compounds that made eating it a wonderful way to experience spring flowers.
Here is a nice bee. As a drone, he doesn’t sting. Bonus points for big adorable eyes.

Aed in Tallinn, Estonia

I only spent a day in Estonia, but I had a great time despite the cold April weather. I don’t often eat out in Sweden because there aren’t enough restaurants that serve good food at an affordable price. So when I visit more reasonably-priced countries, I make sure to indulge in a good meal.
Aed in Tallinn specializes in “pure food”: organic and whole. There are many options for those of us with food restrictions from gluten-free to vegan and everything in between. We started out with these tomato spoons, a simple and refreshing amuse-bouche. Our appetizers, vegan pumpkin and mushroom soups, were less impressive. I’ve had vegan soups from Chicago to Krakow and I think the secret for a good vegan soup is fat and these certainly didn’t have that.
But my entree was delicious: duck salad with sea-buckthorn sorbet served on spruce-marinated pumpkin. It perfectly captured many of my favorite Baltic flavors. Sea buckthorn in particular has become a favorite of mine, which I will miss back in the U.S. It is a bright orange berry with a citrus flavor with a creamy texture.
I picked up some sea-buckthorn liquor, which was delicious and showcased the berry’s beautiful color. I actually wish I had picked up an extra bottle just to keep for display.

Lemon Curd, Rhubarb, and Chives

Recently, I decided to try lemon curd. My first try was a beautiful yellow cream with a standout lemon tang. It was actually surprinsgly easy. I used the recipe from Nourishing Gourmet, except I used just the three yolks and saved the whites for another recipe. Today I made it again, but I used the whites…and it didn’t turn out as well. It was a little more like custard than curd, but it still worked great with a mixture of roasted rhubarb and Swedish wild berries.
Rhubarb here is pretty prolific. It grows both in gardens and feral from May to September, so Sweden has many great Rhubarb recipes. I think simple recipes like crumbles are the best.
For dinner I used some some leftover tofu, bamboo shoots, and coconut milk from the freezer. Not exactly local…but I bought them this winter. I threw in some wild chives I found growing in the forest at the end of cooking so they would stay firm and bright green. They are really nice and almost like some sort of fresh green pasta. Of course they were also free, but I had to get repeatedly stung by wild nettles (which I also eat) and wade through my competitors who are a bunch of snails of varying sizes and colors. I guess I could theoretically eat those too…but I read that you have to feed them edible greens for 7 days, which seems like it would deplete my salad supply and in general not be worth it.

Recipe: Queen Bees



In my bee keeping class we are raising queens. In order to raise lots of queens, we had to manipulate the hive, by removing the original queen, who we put in a new hive, and adding larvae of the right age in special tiny homemade wax cups. Normally these larvae would have been workers, but because the bees do not have a queen they feed these special foods like royal jelly to raise new queens.

Normally, the first queen to hatch would simply kill the rest, but once we had the cells growing we removed them to the boxes in these two pictures. In the box we put some sugar and a cup of bees! Yes, a cup. We took some bees from the hive and put them in bucket, spraying them with water to keep them from flying. Impressively enough, the angry wet bees can be easily scooped up. The cup of bees will feed the queen cell until it is old enough to be put in a real hive. It’s a way to get lots of queens to create lots of new hives.


Enjoying the Hummingbird Cake

I make cake pretty rarely, but this was a great one and completely worth all the sugar. Previous post about the cake. I used olive oil in my recipe instead of canola and nobody noticed.


What inspired me to make it is the amazing carrot cake that is popular in Sweden, which I plan to make soon and post the recipe here.