Continuing on from Part I of a recent Scandinavian foray, a photo essay and recipe dedicated solely to the pleasures of picking wild summer berries in all their countryside abundance…
I’ve recently expressed some thoughts about the trendiness of homegrown local produce, but longtime gatherer Richard Maybe extends it elegantly into the realms of foraging:
“To the cynical the whole business still seems trivial and self-deluding, a fashionable pretence at primitivism. Yet more generously it could be seen as a natural outcome of the ecological concerns and longings of the last decade […] as growing awareness of how food fits into the whole living scheme of things, and a deepening respect for the ingenuity of our ancestors.”
I can understand where the cynicism stems from, but let me tell you—
Treading barefoot on spongey-cool moss after a swim in the crystal clear lake Övre Fryken, plucking a shiny obsidian svartvinbär blackcurrant from its bush did not feel self-delusional; the small but distinct delight of a harsyra wood sorrel’s lemony and clover-shaped tartness crushed between my back teeth as we moved through the woods would be a sin to describe as trivial; fashionability was the last thing on our minds when a flash of pink cued us to park our bikes on the side of the road and pluck an unbearably ripe hallon raspberry.
The wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca, also woodland strawberry, alpine strawberry) is known as smultron in Swedish, whereas the common hybrid species of garden strawberry is referred to as jordgubbe. Don’t let their size fool you, because smultron are anything but lesser versions of jordgubbe; they pack more flavour in one tiny bright red nugget than most of the conventionally grown and underripe imported strawberries sold in supermarkets all year around. They’re certainly more fun to acquire!
Wild strawberries thrive low in shaded areas, often hiding beneath other leaves, growing in little drooping couplets, falling neatly off the stem and into your cupped hand (or open mouth). I took a sundown walk on my last day in the Bjälverud countryside and collected a little container of them along the way. Swedes tend to string them together on a grass straw, keeping them from getting smushed and making them appear even more impossibly adorable than they already are.
Back in London, there are no strawberries to be found growing by the roadside, not even in the quaint faraway lands of East Dulwich. However, the UK berry season is not to be overshadowed; a British-grown strawberry in the summer season can taste as juicy and flavourful as a little ruby gem from the Swedish underbrush.
As an ode to the smultron and accompaniment to fresh knäckebröd crispbread, here’s a very simple strawberry jam. No pectin, no tub of sugar—just a bit of oven time, splash of balsamic, and crank of black peppercorn.
Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam
- 400g strawberries / wild strawberries (smultron!)
- 2-3 T honey
- 2 T balsamic vinegar
- 2 t freshly cracked black pepper
- knäckebröd (crispread), to serve
Wash strawberries. If using larger conventional strawberries, hull and quarter them. Combine ingredients in a shallow baking dish.
Let these sit aside whilst oven preheats to 120ºC / 250ºF.
Roast for 2-3 hours, mixing a few times until berries are shrivelled and reduced to a syrupy consistency. Let cool to room temperature, puree to desired texture (optional if you prefer strawberry chunks!), transfer to an airtight jar, and store in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks. Serve with this crispbread!