I was back in Stockholm over Easter for a friend’s 30th and to catch up with relatives. I left behind a London that had just started to wake up to Spring to land in the middle of an icy Scandinavian winter, where the mercury barely teetered over zero most days. Having said that, the sun stayed out and I didn’t see a cloud the whole time I was there. The snow gradually started to melt, freezing overnight to create sheets of lethal, slippery glass over the pavement and roads.
|You know it’s cold when water freezes straight out of the drainpipes|
The Swedes do Easter with a bit more pizzaz than their southernly neighbours. They love an excuse to get crafty and break out a bit of colour in order to liven up the last days of winter. Feathers, dyed lurid tones of yellow, pink and blue, are the decor of choice, but many paint eggs and hang up wreaths too. There’s usually a family get-together for a big Easter meal, but we eschew lamb in favour of a smörgåsbord of traditional feast food- pickled herring, salmon, eggs, meatballs, potatoes, Janssons temptation. Rich, indulgent dishes, originally created to fuel the manual labour that farming the land required. Not quite as necessary these days, of course, but still absolutely delicious.
Although we, too, like to give Easter eggs (generally decorated cardboard ones brimming with sweets), I’m always more interested in the baked goods category when it comes to festive eating. Whether it be the spiced breads and biscuits at Christmas, the berry-filled tarts at midsummer or the cream filled cardamom buns available during Lent. Snappy crisp breads, although enjoyed all year round, particularly come into their own with the rich foods served during the holidays. Over Easter, my godmother, Margareta, very kindly shared her technique for making home made rye crisp breads. Over an afternoon, we rolled, poked holes and scattered various toppings over the dense dough that gets slowly dried out in the oven. It is quite a physical, painstaking job, but absolutely worth it. Not least because the results could probably survive a nuclear holocaust. Make a big batch, wrap it up in an airtight container and you’ll have delicious bread or canapé bases on tap.
|Melting ice on lake Mälaren|
|Easter decorations for sale on Mariatorget|
I’m lucky to live just the other side of the park from the Deli Downstairs in Victoria Park Village (or Lauriston Village to use its proper name). It’s a wonderful place to pop in for a treat- they do beautiful pies, quiches, sausage rolls and cheeses. I’m a fan of their black pudding scotch egg. You can also bring your own bottle to fill with some red or white from Borough Wines. But the real reason why I love it is because it stocks the odd unusual ingredient that is just a bit harder to source- wild garlic or goats curd for example. Or a bag of pearled spelt grain for the bargainous price of £1.50.
I’d never cooked it before, but this ancient grain turns out to be fantastic stuff. It has a slightly nutty flavour, but much more neutral than something like pearl barley, which I always think tastes like musty, damp socks. You simply boil it until tender and then use it as a side dish, instead of rice or in a salad as you would do with cracked bulgur wheat or couscous. I decided to go down a more risotto-esque route by stirring in some creme fraiche, feta cheese, lime zest and thyme. Along with a colourful salad of tomato, peppers and chorizo, this made for a satisfying supper which I highly recommend. You just might have to pop down to South Hackney to get all the ingredients.