Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Finnish forest berry delights

Ha, I got my iPad battery re-charged at my mum's cousin's place which is only a short 10 minute row from our summer house. So I can keep on writing about my obsession with the fruits of the autumnal Finnish forest. Like I wrote earlier, the forest is currently bursting to the brim with berries and mushrooms. It makes you go totally crazy, you just don't want to leave all those lovely (and free!) berries out there. However there are blueberries and lingonberries in pretty much endless amounts, so at some point you just have to admit defeat and leave some of them out there in the forest. I'm sure all of us at he summer house have had more than our daily dose of all possible vitamins.

Yesterday me and sis headed out, braving the ticks, horseflies and mosquitoes (all of which are way too abundant out there in the forest if I might add) to pick blueberries and lingonberries. This summer has been quite humid which has helped produce an extra good berry yield this year. Blueberry season is already towards it's end, but there is still more than plenty of the purple tiny pearls out there. And these are nothing like the huge water-filled (and watery-tasting) berries you can buy in stores. These are tiny little dark purple berries which are loaded with taste and all sorts of things that are good for you, like vitamins and anti-oxidants. Blueberries are basically superfood, they are so good for you. And I'm sure, baking them in a delicious crust with sugar and butter will just enhance the health benefits!

Lingonberry season is not quite at its peak yet, there is plenty of berries out there but most of them are still a bit white on the underside and they have not quite reached their mouth puckering sourness yet. But I'm only here for a few days, so to cook lingonberry pie, I had to live with the fact that the berries were not quite optimal yet. However, as there were so much berries out there, I tried to pick the ripest and reddest ones, as lingonberries is one of those things you just can't get your hands on in the UK so I rationalised that even slightly under-ripe lingonberries are better than no lingonberries at all.

In my last post I touched on the "limitations" of cookin at the summer house. Not only is there no electricity, everything has to be cooked on wood heated stoves or the barbeque, but also there is (at least for all practical purposes) no oven at all. Well, it's not like this would stop me. First I was thinking of cooking something along the lines of a skillet cookie with berries, I have seen several recipes on Pinterest. But one thing we do have is a fish/meat smoking box. So me and my mum thought if it gets hot enough to cook meat, it would probably get hot enough to cook a pie as well. At least it was worth a try, it's not like berry pie would contain anything that would be dangerous to eat if it didn't cook properly through. The worst case would be a gooey berry mess. So we tried to bake a blueberry pie. Which turned out great. So I cooked a lingonberry-quark pie as well. And a mixed berry pie. I even had a stab at a savoury pie, I made one for my sis and her friends to take along on their four day hike in Northern Finland. It was filled with lamb and ham, tomatoes and carrots and topped with loads of cheese. Even that turned out quite delish looking, at least in my humble opinion. I'm waiting to hear a report back qbout the taste.

The fish smoking contraption. Basically, it's a

box you put on the wood burning stove. It heats

up like a mini oven. If you put smoking chips on the

bottom you get smoked meat or fish.

The savoury pie baked in the smoking box. I used

slices of red pepper to mark the edges of different

fillings so that everyone can get their favourite.

When you do summer house cooking, you are not allowed to use any recipes. Or scales or measuring jugs. It should all be done by instinct, touch and feel. That's part of the charm, you never knowif it will work, not to mention you won't ever be able to replicate any successfull efforts. So there is absolutely no guarantee the recipes below will work. However, if you think you actually want to get things right (thereby taking all the excitement out of cooking) you can always just use your favourite pie crust recipe instead of the one below. And use any berries you happen to have. And if you can't get quark, replace it with creme Fraiche, yoghurt or cream cheese. I'm pretty sure they will all work. If you can't get potato starch, use corn starch. And if you happen not to have a wood burning oven with a box for smoking (how could that be?!?!?), use a regular oven. So basically, the point is you want a crust, berries, possibly some dairy for the filling and some contraption to cook it in. This is what I love about cooking, you can just change things around as you wish, and 8 times out of 10 it will work out rather good, and at least 9 if not 10 times out of 10 it will be edible anyways. Particularly if enjoyed outside while watching the sun set over the lake.

Some sort of berry pie-like thing in a smoking box aka summer house cooking:

For the crust

50ish g butter

1 cup-ish AP flour (or whatever flour you happen to have, I used part whole wheat) + possibly some (1/2 cup-ish) extra flour depending on the consistency of the dough

1/2 cup-ish sugar

1/2 pack vanilla quark (100g)

Filling 1

2 cups-ish berries, freshly picked from your own forest (blueberries and/or raspberries)

2 tbsp potato starch

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp vanilla sugar

Filling 2

2 cups-ish fresh berries (I would suggest lingonberries as they go really well with the sweetness of the berry flavoured quark)

1 can (200g) berry flavoured quark

1 tbsp potato starch

1 egg

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp vanilla sugar

Flavoured Finnish quarks. Top left lemon,

top right white chocolate and lime, bottom

left vanilla, bottom right blueberry-raspberry

The how-to:

Go out in the forest to pick the berries, and clean away dirt and leaves. Chop the wood for your wood burning oven, and light it in good time. Wash your fish-smoking box to get rid of as much of the fish smell as you can. When you have a nice fire going, prepare the crust. Let the butter soften a bit, add flour and sugars and using your fingers, mix until a crumbly consistency. Add the quark, mix and add flour until dough reaches a nice consistency where it is crumbly and easy to spread to the bottom and sides of a pie tin or whatever heat resistant bowl you happen to have. For filling 1, mix the sugars and starch with the berries and spread onto the pie. For filling 2, mix everything with a fork except the berries. Place berries on the crust and add quark topping to evenly cover the berries. Bake in smoking box until done (took about 90-120 mintes for me, depending on how much wood you keep on the fire at all times).

Pie in the smoking box at the start of baking.

The verdict:

It's clear that a fish-smoker is a very versatile cooking device. Not only can you smoke fish, you can cook delicious juicy meats (like the garlic butter marinated lamb my mum made the other day), but you can clearly use it to bake pies as well. Of course the problem is that controlling the temperature of the smoking box can only be done at the level of adding more or less wood onto the fire, so you have to accept that sometimes the pies come out with the crust a bit underdone, and other times it gets a bit well done, and sticks to your pie tin. Maybe our guests are just being very polite, but so far they have eaten every pie without too much complaints, so I think they have turned out acceptable. To be honest, I thought the one I would like the best was the lingonberry-quark one, but in fact it was the simple one with nothing but blueberries. However, it might alsobe because that one turned out to have the perfect level of cooking with the crust being firm and crisp without it being burned at all and coming out of the pie tin in beautiful slices. The lingonberry one got a bit too fond of sticking to the tin. The mixed berry one is going with my sis and her friends on the hike, so no verdict on that one yet.

Next time I'm coming here I'll make sure I have thought of some other, even more challenging things to cook as it turns out that after years of thinking cooking possibilities are rather limited, it turns out that with a bit of experimenting you can actually cook all sorts. Maybe next time I'll try souffles! Naah, just kidding. Ok, now I'm off to the forest to get another bucket full of berries, going to make berry quark for pudding. And there might be another berry recipe still coming up some other day, who knows!


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