Our friends in the North

SLOW FOOD has brought me to many remote places around the globe in search of ancient cultures and indigenous foods. Recently I found myself in Sápmi (Samiland) in northern Sweden – the land of the midnight sun; it was bright almost all night.

Since time immemorial an indigenous race called the Sami have lived in an area called Sápmi that extends across four countries from the Kola Peninsula in Russia to northern Finland, Norway and Sweden. At present there are about 80,000 Sami whose main occupation is reindeer herding, handicrafts, hunting, fishing and more recently tourism.

Throughout history, indigenous people have been oppressed. Their land has been confiscated, their cultures have been suppressed and in some cases they have been victims of genocide. The Sami have had their share of challenges over the centuries. However, in 1993 the Sami government was set up by Act of Parliament and in 1998 the Swedish government apologised to the Sami people for their oppression. There are still disputes about ancestral land rights but much progress has been made and this year a representative of the Sami will lead the procession of indigenous people at the opening of the Slow Food Terre Madre event in Turin from October 23 to October 27.

The Slow Food National Councillors meeting was held in Hemavan in Sápmi this year so we had the opportunity to learn about their food and culture. Like all indigenous tribes they live in harmony with nature. The Sami language is extremely rich; for example, they have more than 100 words for snow. Traditionally their diet consisted of a lot of reindeer and elk meat, fresh, dried, salted and smoked. Every scrap of the deer is utilised – the hide for clothing and rugs, the antlers for handicraft and the bones for handles of cutlery, whistles and paper knives. In summer, they eat more fish and vegetables, in late summer and autumn, a variety of berries, wild mushrooms and fruit. They bake lots of delicious dry crisp breads before they go up the mountains to herd, it’s stored for months and then dampened and warmed again before they eat it.

We were invited to a Sami village called Daelvie to see their way of life and beloved reindeer. The entire year of the semi-nomadic Sami revolves around reindeer herding. They follow the deer throughout the seasons – up the mountain slopes in summer and down into the forests in winter. In May, they mark the ears of the young ‘calves’ – each family has a distinct mark. September is slaughter month – by then the calves are about six months old. Every scrap of meat is either eaten fresh or preserved and the surplus is sold. Reindeer is some of the purest meat on earth – very high in vitamins, minerals and omega 3. The animals graze on wild herbs, lichens, grasses, young shoots and bark. The meat is absolutely delicious; we ate it in a myriad of ways, fresh, dried, salted, and smoked, in sausages and burgers, often in conjunction with a wild mushroom sauce. Lingonberries and other wild berries are used for sauces, preserves and desserts. One evening we had cloudberry jam with waffles and cream. Cloudberries look like yellow raspberries, and grow in mossy areas and in the tundra.

We also ate wild mushrooms in many guises, morels and delicious chantrelles in a soup, little quiches and as a sauce with reindeer and arctic char – the latter is a pink fish with pale flesh not unlike trout. The wild mushrooms are dried during the season and are much loved.

Sami are expert at preserving – in the past their very survival depended on it. Originally they stored food in underground water holes. Now freezers are more common. In early spring they eat the young shoots of rowan and beech and make a soup from spruce leaves and a syrup from the needles.

Angelica grows wild; the young stalks are peeled and eaten raw as a vegetable or candied as a sweetmeat.

They also pick buckets of wild sorrel in early summer and cook it in a little water until it wilts. Then it can be stored for months. They eat it with a blob of whipped cream and some sugar sprinkled on top. This was a revelation, totally delicious and full of vitamin C – the oxalic acid is diluted by cream and milk.

The Sami women also explained that the children love to eat bilberry flowers in the mountains in early June. When I walked up the hill I nibbled some. They tasted of sweet honey.

As with many indigenous communities, they know the medicinal value of each plant and food and are passionate about passing on the skills, language, music and traditional dress (gakti) to the younger generation who seem to be hugely proud of their culture and heritage.

Years ago they lived in simple dwellings called Goahti and Lavvu. The latter was a portable tepee-like hut, the former was a permanent dome-shaped structure consisting of a timber frame sealed with birch bark and covered with turf or sods of earth. Nowadays they are more likely to live in a typical Swedish timber house.

We had a wonderful feast in the village, of local food from the valley and surrounding area including dried reindeer (Suovasa) a product recognised as unique to the Sami by Slow Food who created a presidia to protect it.

They sang us some of the haunting traditional yoiks, made us coffee in smoked blackened kettles over the open fire and gave us slices of delicious homemade rhubarb Swiss roll. Here are some recipes that are typical to the Sami for you to enjoy.

Rhubarb Swiss Roll – Sami Style

Serves 8 – 10

4 ozs (110g) plain flour

4 eggs, organic and free-range

4 ozs (110g) caster sugar

2 tbsp warm water

½ tsp vanilla extract

rhubarb and ginger jam

whipped cream

Swiss Roll tin, 1 x 10in (25.5cm) x 15in (38cm)

First make the rhubarb jam. Then make the Swiss roll.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Line a large Swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper, cut to fit the bottom of the tin exactly. Brush the paper and sides of the tin with melted butter, dust with flour and caster sugar.

Sieve the flour. Years ago, we would put the eggs and caster sugar into a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Take it off the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture is cool again. (Now we use an electric mixer, so no heat is required.) Add the water and vanilla extract. Sieve about one third of the flour at a time and fold it into the mousse using a large metal spoon.

Pour the mixture gently into the tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes.

Meanwhile put a sheet of greaseproof paper on the worktop and sprinkle with caster sugar. The Swiss roll is cooked when it feels firm to the touch in the centre, the edges will have shrunk in slightly from the sides of the tin. The Swiss roll must be rolled up immediately; if it gets cool it will crack. Turn the Swiss roll out onto the sugar coated paper. Spread a layer of rhubarb jam evenly over the surface. Roll tightly with the help of the paper. Keep covered with the greaseproof paper until cool.

To serve: Unwrap and cut into ¾ inch (2cm) thick slices and serve with softly whipped cream.

Peppered Venison Salad with Horseradish Cream, Red Onions and Chives

Serves 4 – 6

450g (1lb) loin of venison, trimmed of all fat and gristle

4 tbsp cracked pepper

Rosemary and Honey Vinaigrette:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tbsp wine vinegar

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 tsp honey

1 tbsp freshly chopped rosemary

1 tsp mustard

Horseradish Cream: (see recipe below)

1 small red onion, thinly sliced


3 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp vinegar

Pinch of salt


2 tbsp finely chopped chives

4 handfuls of mixed salad leaves

To Assemble:

First make the vinaigrette. Put all the ingredients together in a jar and shake together, taste and adjust seasoning. Make the horseradish cream (see recipe).

Marinade a thinly sliced onion in the sugar, vinegar and salt for 10 –15 minutes.

Cut the venison into 5mm (¼ inch) medallions.

Rub one side of each slice of venison with cracked pepper.

Heat a frying pan and sauté the venison in hot olive oil, season and cook very fast until just medium rare.

While the venison is frying, toss the salad leaves in a little dressing and divide between four large plates or one large serving dish. When the venison is cooked place the medallions overlapping, on top of the salad. Arrange a few slices of red onion over the venison. Drizzle with horseradish cream and sprinkle with chopped chives. Serve immediately.

Horseradish Cream

A nice big chunk of horseradish keeps for ages in the fridge or pantry. The Sami use it for lots of dishes.

Horseradish grows wild in many parts of Ireland and looks like giant dock leaves. If you can’t find it near you, plant a root in your garden. Watch out, it’s very prolific so plant it in an area of the garden where you don’t mind if it spreads.

Serves 8 – 10

3-4 tbsp grated horseradish

2 tsp wine vinegar

1 tsp lemon juice

3 tsp mustard

3 tsp salt

Pinch of freshly ground pepper

1 tsp sugar

250ml (8 fl ozs) whipping cream

Scrub the horseradish root well, peel and grate on a ‘slivery grater’. Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.

Stir in the cream but do not overmix or the cream may curdle. It will keep for two to three days. Cover so that it does not pick up flavours in the fridge.

This is a fairly mild horseradish sauce. If you want to really clear the sinuses, increase the amount of horseradish. Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel or eel. It’s also great with pickled beetroot.

Swedish Medals

These are the most delicious chocolate and apple shortbreads.

Makes 10-12


200g (7ozs) plain white flour

50g (2ozs) icing sugar

Zest of 1 small organic lemon

100g (3½ozs) butter

1 small beaten egg (you may not need all of it)

Apple Filling: 2 dessert apples, I like to use Cox’s Orange Pippin 100g (3½ ozs) vanilla sugar

Chocolate Icing:

200g (7ozs) dark chocolate

40g (1½ozs) butter

200ml (7fl oz) cream

2 baking trays

First, make the biscuits. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a bowl, add the finely grated lemon zest.

Grate the chilled butter on the coarse part of a grater (or chop into cubes). Add to the dry ingredients, toss and rub in until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add just enough egg to mix to a dough (it shouldn’t be wet or sticky).

Cover with cling film, flatten into a round and chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the apples. Put into a small stainless steel saucepan with a teaspoon of water and the vanilla sugar (or plain sugar with a few drops of vanilla extract).

Put on a low heat, cover and cook to a soft thick purée – 8-10 minutes. Turn out onto a plate and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

Roll out the biscuit dough to a thickness of 2-3 mm/ 1/8 inch. Use a 6-7 cm/2½-2¾ inch ‘cookie’ cutter or even a glass to stamp out rounds. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 7-8 minutes or until pale golden. Allow to rest for a minute or two, then transfer carefully to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, put the chocolate and butter into a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of water. The base of the bowl should not touch the water.

Bring the water to the boil, turn off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt. Using a small palette knife spread half the biscuits with the chocolate icing keeping a 2 mm/ 1/8in border around the edge. Leave on a wire rack to set.

Meanwhile whip the chilled cream quite stiffly. Put into a piping bag with a star nozzle.

To assemble, put a teaspoonful of thick sweet apple sauce in the centre of half the biscuits. Pipe a ring of cream around the apple sauce. Top each one with a chocolate ‘medal’. Serve immediately with tea or coffee as they do in Sweden but we also love them as a dessert.


Waffles with Cloudberry Jam

Cloudberry jam is easy to find though expensive in Scandinavia. If you can’t find it substitute your favourite jam or fresh summer berries.

Makes 12

175g (6ozs) white flour

15g (½oz) sugar

A pinch of salt

2 tsp baking powder

350g (12ozs) milk, slightly warmed

50g (2ozs) butter, melted

2 eggs, free-range and organic if possible, separated

Cloudberry jam

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Preheat waffle iron. Sieve all the dry ingredients into a deep bowl. Make a well in the centre. Mix the warm milk, melted butter and whisk in the egg yolks. Gradually pour the milk and egg-yolk mixture into the well, stirring continuously to make a smooth batter. Whip the eggs whites stiffly and gently fold into the batter.

Heat the waffle iron. Pour a 75g (3oz) ladle of batter onto the hot iron. Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until crisp and golden on both sides.

Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve hot with a blob of cloudberry jam in the centre and some softly whipped cream or ice cream.


- BUFFETS are the perfect way to entertain any number of guests with the minimum of fuss.

Ballymaloe Cookery School is holding a buffet course, starting tomorrow with dinner in Ballymaloe House – to give students the opportunity to see how the buffet is presented. This will be followed by a full day of cookery demonstrations on Monday. There are still some places left – book online or telephone 021-4646785.

- You need to know about a very exciting new pub – the Woodford on Paul Street in Cork city. Jacque and Eithne Barry of Jacques restaurant in the city are behind the food at the pub and it follows the same ethos, local food, well-sourced and sustainable. The yummy lunch menu includes roast tomato, red pepper and chilli soup and shepherds pie made from slow braised shoulder of lamb, 021-4253932.


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