Finland Stole My Heart

Getting lost in the woods

It’s a strange thing to have your heart utterly captured and stolen, not by a person, but a country, a place, a village and a forest. But this is exactly what happened during my trip to Finland last year. Yes, I realise it’s now 2019 and I’m very late in posting about this, but somehow, and not altogether surprisingly, time has seemed to just get away from me. But here I sit now, reminiscing about a time, that was for me, utterly bewitching.

The green, green forests, wonderful food and the inescapable sense of belonging, all added to a magical time that I cannot wait to relive. Sitting at home now and thinking back on that time, I feel as if I experienced what it would be like had I wandered accidentally into a fairytale, for the forests are truly something right out of a story usually read at bed time. 

Picking red currants
Pancakes on a fairy stump
Cranberries in the forest

Every time is set food into the pathless forest I felt as though I might come across any number of creatures that are rumoured to live in the trees, caves and moss covered floors of the Finnish forests. I am quite sure that many times I was closely watched by Peikko, a creature similar to a giant, who can become invisible and change size at will. Or a Keiju, a fairly like creature, tiny and beautiful and rumoured to have wings like those of a dragonfly. I felt their presence many times while picking berries in the forest. Particularly if I was alone. Sometimes I would sense a slight prickling of the skin, not unpleasant, and it was in those times I was quite sure a Keiju must be somewhere close by. It was incredible experiencing the forest like this, remembering the  folklore, proverbs and old wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Also, I’m quite sure that on at least two occasions I was bamboozled by a Menninkäinen (a Hobbit like creature), who are said to be full of mischief who lead unsuspecting folk deep in to the forest. I was sure I had marked my track carefully, but on my return, it was as if the landscape of the forest had totally changed, and I ended up coming out in a very different part of the forest than I had planned. Mischief ineed.

Finnish Forest
Mushrooms in the forest

But mischievous Hobbit’s aside, the forest offered some wonderful culinary delights, which are very much part of the traditional Finnish diet. And in the little village where our cottage is, these culinary delights are a big part of the diet of the local people there, who rely on a good bounty of berries, mushrooms and apples to get them through the freezing winter months. This is a tradition that is still carried out all over Finland and I think it’s just so wonderful. Of course, the majority of the foragers are 60 plus and for them, this is a way of life. It is not so much performed by the younger generation, which I think is a shame. But still, there will always be those who are interested in keeping the old traditions alive. I am one of those people, and I hope to pass down my foraging enthusiasm to Ävälon. Interestingly, she didn’t eat the berries, but very much enjoyed picking them. To her, it was a treasure hunt on a giant, and almost daily, scale.

Standing in the apple orchard
Apple Tree with ripe red apples
A whole crate of freshly picked apples
Forest and moss
Sunlight filtering through the forest
Little mushrooms of the forest floor

I have never been to a place that offered such delicious, lovely and readily available snacks. There were the sweetest little strawberries, raspberries, lingonberries, bilberries and mushrooms. Regularly we would go into the forest, our feet in stout boots and our hair tied up in a scarf to protect it from getting caught in branches and from picking up little forest creatures on our foraging travels. We gathered so many lingonberries that we had trouble eating them all, so the excess was given away to our neighbours, who very happily popped them into their freezers for the winter, to be made in to jams and eaten with pancakes. My favourite thing to come across, because of the vibrant colour and the fact they are quite rare, was the Chantarelle mushroom. I loved finding little yellow blots peeking out through the moss on the forest floor. These mushrooms are so loved that if someone finds a very good spot, it is a firmly held secret. Even our neighbours did not reveal their best Chantarelle foraging spots, but they were very generous in gifting us plenty of them, which I turned into delicious pasta dishes. Oh, I can still taste it! Chanterelles were such a treat for me, as it’s not easy to come by fresh Chantarelles in Australia. 

Brown boot and a brown little mushroom
A basket full of mushrooms found in the forest
A lone mushroom
Fairy mushroom on the forest floor
Our cottage

If we did not get a chance to venture into the forest, the market stalls everywhere where always overflowing with seasonal produce and local delicacies. What we did not find in the forest, we found at the markets. What we also found there was all the mouth watering (to me at least) Finnish food I grew up with. Karjalanjpiirakka, little pastries made with rye four and filled with potatoes or rice. We usually ate these for lunch, topping them with pickles and eggs. We ate rye bread and korvapuusti, ear shaped cinnamon buns, by the bus load and Näkkileipä was a daily staple. I adore all this food, and it was such a treat to be able to pick it up from the local market, or the store, as here at home in Australia I have to make it. Not that I mind at all. I love the way making the traditional food of my childhood and my heritage, brings me closer to a country, history and people I cherish.

I felt such a sense of belonging when we stepped off the plane in Helsinki, but especially when we arrived at the cottage. I felt as though I have walked those forests, swam in those lakes and wondered at the nature there for many lifetimes. It was a feeling of coming home, to an ancient place, where generations of my family have lived and died, and their presence there was keenly felt.

Cottage kitchen
flowers from the garden
Pumpkins and books in the entry
Magical Finnish lake
Blueberries in a cup
Boots on the moss covered ground

Well, I have been long overdue for a post and this is it. A fond memory that keeps on inspiring all that I do.

It is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts that I am writing as we begin a new chapter in our life. Very soon I will be writing from a very different table, in a very different kitchen, in a very different place. A place that actually reminds me a lot of being in our little cottage in Finland, where peace and quiet reigns supreme and living in tune with the seasons will become as effortless as breathing. Or at least, I hope it will.

In remembering my time in Finland, a place of green forests, endless lakes, bright berries and the midnight sun, I am reminded of what is important to me, and how I hope to live as we start our life over in a new and unexplored part of Victoria. 

Love and light,

Susanna xo