PERTII & THE PRINCESSA: SUNDAY LUNCH FINNISH STYLE
On the last leg of my current stage of the EAT MY GLOBE journey, I find myself in Helsinki.
A strange place many people (the majority of whom, of course, had never been here) had told me, for an excursion based around food given that its reputation is right up there, or indeed down there with good old Blighty as Jacques Chirac famously pointed out at the cost of one Olympic Games.
However, it was always going to be on my schedule once my hugely annoying Finnish fritend, Martina promised me a bit of huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ with her family at their country house some 200km north of Helsinki
Despite her warnings about my lack of personal hygiene and unsavoury personal habits, they seemed happy to host me and, after a five hour journey from St Petersburg, I was met at the station by her sister, Paola. After depositing my bags at my hostel, I was soon hurtling northwards through the Finnish countryside.
The scenery is impossibly beautiful as indeed is the house in which I stayed for the next couple of nights. By the edge of a lake and surrounded by forests ( still populated by wolves and bears, I was told) it was the perfect place for a bit of R&R after a gruelling few months on the road.
The days were filled with walks through the woods to hunt for local mushrooms and the evenings with hunting as Martina’s brother in law, Henry and friend, Niko took me under their, er wing as we went off in search of local grouse and duck.
Joining us on the hunt was Pertii, in his late 70’s and having spent all his life in and around these woods, he knew every last blade of grass and tree. It was unsurprising then that, while we stood empty handed, he managed to bag a brace of birds which he laid out on the ground “ in respect to the forest” while he had a quick ciggie and waited for us to catch up.
It was to his house we all adjourned on the Sunday for a late lunch which gave me the chance to meet up with his wife, Kiti, known to one and all as The Princessa.
The Princessa is one of those women you read about in Enid Blyton novels where, after a big adventure, children are treated by a local farmer’s wife to a tea with ‘ lashings of ginger beer”
Larger than life, her house and kitchen is like something out of a fairy tale with books tumbling from shelves and tables literally groaning under the weight of the food she seems to be making constantly.
When I arrived, she was busy baking, with her daughter, for a church event while preparing to feed the eleven or so people she had invited to lunch. Her cellar was fileld to the brim with bottles of cordials made from local berries, jams, chutneys and pickles not to mention the birds that were hanging there waiting to be plucked.
I spent a very happy morning with her talking about the traditional cooking she grew up with as a child all the while being plied with cake, ginger and rhubarb cordial and tea. Then I helped her prepare three wild mallard for the lunch by singing the remaining feathers from them and stuffing them with apples from her garden while she turned her attention to a dish of mushrooms in cream.
After a long walk up into one of the hills that sit on Pertii’s land to collect lygon berries, we all arrived back at the house at around three o’ clock to find that The Princessa had prepared enough food for twenty people with plenty left over in case another twenty happened to be passing by.
There were three types of mushroom dishes, pickled, made into salad with apples and smetana and cooked in cream. There was a home smoked salmon, pickled herring, a carpaccio style dish made with Elk killed by Pertii the hunting season before, the inevitable black rye bread and boiled potatoes and, off course, the three birds I had helped to prepare which had been pot roasted and were sitting along side a bowl of their natural cooking juices.
After a few words from Pertii to welcome his guests, we tucked in with fish and meat being kept well apart on separate plates.
Well, on this evidence (as well as lots of other evidence in other matters, I am sure) Mr Chirac patently does not know his arse from a hole in the ground. This was one of my best meals of the trip to date. Fresh tastes, some unusual too ( the pickled mushrooms particularly drawing me back to the table three times) with ingredients that could not have been more local as they were nearly all picked, shot or caught in the surrounding forests.
Best of all, the potatoes. Remember how these used to taste? I rarely eat them now as, even the organic ones taste like polystyrene egg cartons. These? Well these tasted like potatoes used to when I was a kid and I found myself eating bowls of the things without aid from butter or any other condiment.
With a couple of glasses of a very decent red to slosh it down, I managed to make an embarrassingly big dent in the amount of food and soon found myself burping contentedly in their front room with a cup of tea and a mere sliver of apple cake to polish it off.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.