So, for the next Finland update I thought it would be fun to talk about one of my favourite things…Wild Food!
As a foraging teacher and ethnobotanist, this was perhaps the most exciting part of the week for me. I often supplement my food with wild pickings but to have wild food as the staple for the week was something I’d always wanted to try and I’m really excited to do it for a longer period in the future.
As with all of these ‘skills’; it really takes a village. Foraging for all of your calories alone would just not be possible everyday. You’d burn far more than you’d actually be able to find; whether plant, mammal or fish. Also, fat is so important! This has been such a great learning for me. Since I grew up in a larger body, I’d always learned to demonise fat and to try to avoid it but oh my, my body loves fat and I feel so energised when I incorporate animal fats into my diet. The reindeer we’d been gifted didn’t have a lot of fat on it, only a bit around the organs, since it was harvested after the winter stores had burned up. So, we had to buy some butter from the shop to get the extra calories. We also bought some eggs and extra nuts from the shop and about 10kg of wild harvested lingon and blueberries from local pickers who’d kept some frozen from the autumn harvest. With all of this included, we more than covered what our bodies needed to keep us warm, energised and healthy for the week ahead.
Arriving to a snow-covered North meant that I’d need to be gathering and preparing in advance of our trip. I’ve included the full list of what I had foraged from sea, woodland, meadow, hedgerow and coast at the end of this article. Upon arrival, we were gifted with a reindeer which was killed and expertly skinned and gutted by a local Finnish reindeer herder. It was incredible to watch this man work with his knife. So much skill; it was like an extension of his arm. He knew exactly where to cut and how to cut; the knife sliced through like it was cutting silk.
The reindeer was shot with a stun gun and then his throat cut to collect the nutrient-rich blood. The blood needs to be collected straight away as it flows out of the cut jugular vein. A birch branch was quickly fashioned into a whisk to continually whisk the blood for about half an hour to prevent it from congealing.
What did we cook and how did we cook?
So, here’s our menu from the week, in no particular order. I had a large bag of dehydrated wild herbs which were liberally added to each meal along with the wild stock cubes I’d made (recipe below) and usually a large handful of dehydrated and powdered mushrooms and roots.
- Hare stew with nettles, burdock & dandelion roots and wild hazelnuts
- Reindeer stew with dillisk, roots, berries, cauliflower fungus and birch boletes
- Reindeer meat skewers
- Reindeer tender loin ‘carpaccio’ with wild herbs
- Reindeer blood pancakes with pendulous sedge seed flour, birch bark flour and pine pollen with lingonberries and blueberries
- Acorn dumplings made with Carrageen moss
- Reindeer blood sausage. Seasoned with cat tail root flour, dillisk, dried wild plums, dried wild onion root. The last two were harvested from the states!
- Acorn patties fried in reindeer fat.
A menu spanning four seasons and weeks of picking, digging, cutting, drying, pounding, fermenting, winnowing and soaking….
Eaten in one week by roasting, boiling, cracking, sucking, frying, smoking and licking our fingers.
I was particularly excited about making a kind of Acorn pasta that I’d seen ‘Fergus the Forager’ experimenting with. It didn’t quite work out as planned but it still tasted delicious and eating anything made from acorns you’ve processed yourself is always such a delight after the hours of work that goes into the preparation. They need to be picked, dried, shelled, winnowed, ground, cold leached, dried and then ground again. Another blog entry for sure! I mixed the flour with Carrageen moss, which was gifted to me by native Irish herbalist Margaret Kitty, helping it to stick together and gave it a kind of sticky-pasta-y texture. This, combined with the reindeer blood sausage, was a Stone Age dish from heaven. The Reindeer blood pudding was made by stuffing the large intestine with the blood which had been mixed with cat tail root flour and a range of other wild goodies (listed above) until it tasted just right. We made a good few tester pancakes before committing to one combination. We mixed another with lignon berries to have a savoury and a sweet blood pudding. Who says our Ancestors didn’t eat well?!
The reindeer, skinned and gutted, hung beside the fire side, gently smoking. Its proximity to the fire stopped it from freezing in the night, apart from the one night when it reached -17 degrees. Slowly, though not too slowly, the reindeer grew smaller. Using our flint tools (A bi-face worked particularly well) we would take different parts for different days. Warning: If you’re not into reading about eating meat, you might want to skip this bit!
We began with the organ meat. Lungs, Kidneys, Heart, Liver, Oh, and testicles. I accidentally typed ‘Tasticles’. Apt. They were delicious. Using the flint, the outer skin is removed before cooking. These were just tossed into the pot but I’d love to experiment with them again- breading, deep-frying, battered balls? Yum!
After the organs, we moved on to the neck and legs which were mostly cut and used for stewing or roasting. The ribs were hung over the fire and roasted. The spine was lain around the fire pit to slowly roast and then suck out the delicious spinal cord. The same happened with the bones which were cracked open to reveal the nutritious and delicious bone marrow. Like a French restaurant… only different…
With the reindeer looking severely depleted by this stage, we moved on to the back strap. The long piece of tender meat where our sirloins come from. This piece is covered with the longest stretch of sinew in the animals body (The back legs are also a good source). The sinew is carefully peeled away, scraped and dried to then become extremely strong sewing thread.
A lot of the meat, including the back strap, just went straight onto birch sticks and roasted directly over the fire. The taste of this back strap was incredible; it was so soft it almost didn’t seem like it had come from an animal at all!
The front legs were the last parts to go into stew and on to our skewers.
Finally then, the tender loins, which lie between the rib cages, near the kidneys, do very little work and so, are the tenderest part of any animal. These were sliced as thinly as my flint blade would allow and sprinkled with some ‘Herbes d’Irlande’ to become a kind of Stone Age Carpaccio. I’m still dreaming about this!
We cooked mostly in one big clay pot which was carefully placed on the embers to cook the food held inside. We had one large fire pit and usually had about three fires on the go at the one time. One with a mix of flames and embers to cook the never-ending reindeer meat skewers (to feed the hollow 2 year old- she must have been hollow because I don’t know where else she was putting that meat!), another fire of mostly flames was used to create new embers, and one of only embers on which the clay pot would sit. We would (very) carefully move the clay pot on to new embers, rather than moving the embers to the pot.
The beginning of the Neolithic period is demarcated by the appearance of ceramics in Finland. I can’t imagine not having this clay pot. It held everything. Of course, we could cook our meat just on sticks but the welcome feeling of hot broth when you’ve been out playing in the snow all day just can’t be paralleled.
The full Stone Age wild food store
Here’s a full list of what we had in our store for the week for nine adults and one child (ate more than all the adults!)
Wild Stock Cubes
(Inspired by Pascal Baudar)
All of the following were dehydrated and powdered, then a little water added, just enough to make a kind of dough so that the ‘cubes’ could be moulded and hold together.
-nettle -fermented wild garlic -Alexanders -hen of the woods -dillisk -pepper dulse-
Wild Herb Mix “Herbes d’Irlande”
Alexanders, Nettles, Wild Chives, Sea Radish, Wild Garlic, Fermented & Dried wild garlic & hogweed shoots
Dried birch boletes, Cauliflower fungus, Cep, Horn of Plenty, Russula sp, Hen of the woods, scarlet elf cup & Jelly ear mushrooms
Acorn Flour, Birch bark flour, Pendulous sedge flour & Pine pollen
Dillisk, Carrageen, Pepper Dulse, Kelp
Dandelion Root & Burdock root
“Coffee” (Couldn’t be doing without it!): Roasted Acorns, Chaga, Birch Polypore, Turkey tail, Dandelion root
Reindeer (The whole thing: Organs, blood, bones, meat)
Wild harvested Hazelnuts & Walnuts
Things we bought: One block of butter per day. Enough eggs for 2 per day each. Extra nuts. Wild-harvested berries.
Things we weren’t brave enough to try: The contents of the reindeer stomach.
Things that surprised me: The Omasum stomach (the third stomach with all the folds) didn’t taste that bad – deep fried!
Things I wouldn’t be rushing to eat again: Lungs.
Thanks for reading! Next up, I’ll be looking at my clothes; what they were made from, how they were made & how they performed.
All good things,
As always, huge thanks to Ana Filipa Crow for taking such captivating photographs. Check her out here!