From the air Sweden below is a vast stretch of wilderness dotted by countless water bodies. On earth, the natural wealth and blessings of the forests of Sweden is yours to discover. And also the Swedish custom of Allemansrätt.
Allemansrätt allows residents and visitors access to nature but with some obvious exceptions. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency encapsulates this right in the phrase, ‘Don’t disturb – Don’t destroy’. Collecting mushrooms and berries is one of the activities permitted under Allemansrätt.
And berries there are in Sweden.
Labeled a super food, the blueberry stands out because of its abundance and its health benefits. From breakfast to the dinner table, the blueberry is a versatile ingredient that adds a healthy punch to your culinary creations. The blueberries also add a vibrant color to Lassi, the classic Indian yoghurt-based summer drink.
In the silence of the woods, as the birds twitter and the trees sing, the discerning eyes also spots wild strawberries, although not as omnipresent as the blueberries.
At home, the ripened röda vinbär are baying for attention. What avatar should they assume? Jam, jelly or juice? Add it to the sauce and your momo experience and experiment in Sweden goes to the higher realms of haute cuisine.
And then you wonder how many species of berries exist in Sweden. And you ask your Swedish friends and the compass points northwards. To Norrland.
The journey to Arvidsjaur from Stockholm is a 900 plus kilometer adventure. Arvidsjaur is Polar country. Traffic on the roads around Arvidsjaur is slowed down frequently as reindeer herds assert their right of way. The forests in this region host hectares upon hectares of berries. The blueberries are there for the eyes to see.
But tucked away in secret locations are golden colored yellow berries. They are a magnificent sight to behold. The soft and tender berries are a rich source of nutrition. Besides their nutritional values, these berries also occupy a special place in the socio-economic and cultural space of Norrland, thereby earning their rightful sobriquet- Norrlands Guld. Cloudberries are called hjortron in Sweden. Harvesting hjortron with a seasoned Norrlander is a crash course on how to blend your physical forte with your mental acuity.
The bogs clog your mobility, the mosquitos swarm around you endlessly and the weather takes its toll. The job is tedious and strenuous. Backbreaking. And you look at your Swedish hjortron harvesting specialist and quickly adopt their view, preparation and technique of the art of hjortron harvesting.
The Swedes carry mosquito repellents and outfit themselves with the right gear and apparel. As much as they know the areas like the back of their hands, no chances are taken. The phones must have sufficient power to last the day. Food and drinks are packed.
The hjortron collection starts in earnest with a ten-liter bucket as the main storage unit. A one-liter plastic lunch box is your mobile collection storage device. Once the device is full, you transfer it to the bucket. The slow and steady pace has already filled half of the bucket and it is time to head home for fika.
Back at the farmhouse, the berries will either head to the cellar, get frozen or head off in the coming days to Arvidsjaur when a respectable amount has been collected.
As you begin to gain a faint understanding of why the Swedes guard the locations of hjortron patches with such firmness and secrecy, another Swedish challenge emerges from the ground underneath.
The journey from Stockholm to Gamleby in the south of Sweden, near Västervik, is anywhere between three to four hours by train. In the month of July, the vinbär are ripe and so are the iridescent körsbär hanging from the branches, so close but far for you to pluck at will.
As you make use of your Allemansrätt empowered access card, you walk through the postcard picturesque meadows. Your Swedish host is a highly educated scientist who also possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of life in the farm.
As you pause under the shade of a mixed forest, your host points the walking stick to a spot. You spring forward and start in excitement. But this approach does not work. The very view, preparation and technique of the art of hjortron harvesting applies equally and perfectly when it comes to harvesting the delicious chanterelle mushrooms.
The chanterelles season in Sweden coincides with the Bhutanese adding a shade of nostalgia and homesickness. Your Swedish host has already spotted the mushrooms lying under a bed of fallen leaves and pine needles.
The joy of finding a few firm and golden chanterelles is the very ingredient you need to add premium value to the dinner that you will cook for your host.
Mixed in the very much-loved Bhutanese dish of kewa datshi, the mushrooms add flavor, taste and texture that transports you from the meadows of a Swedish farmhouse to the bucolic villages of Bhutan.
The summer ends and a palpable gloom descends as you look at the dwindling and depleting blueberry bushes in the forests near your house. As you mourn the demise of a bountiful blueberry season, you seek solace in the humble success that you had with the hjortron collection in the north.
The trees around the house start to shed leaves signaling the arrival of autumn. It is a beautiful day to explore the nearby park by the small lake. The woods are reminiscent of the forests that lie in the vicinity of the capital city Thimphu. The curious Bhutanese wanders and wonders what nature has in store this time. He finds it in a small patch of red amid the blueberry bushes. The blessings of mother nature are endless in Bhutan. And in Sweden too. The red ones are called lingonberries.