The reason I have come to this conclusion is pretty simple: What can be more wonderful than the earth awakening and filling with life once again? After a long, dark and cold winter our side of the planet finally turns towards the sun again, and the warmth from the sun thaws the earth, and the light lures us all out of our caves – be it humans or animals, or the seeds safely tucked away in the ground. Slowly, and then quite suddenly, the world turns greener and brighter, and there is a feeling of lightness, of new beginnings and second chances flouting about. It’s almost as if you can reach out and grab them as they flutter by you. Yes, this is definitely the most wonderful time of the year.
It is also a most wonderful day in Eidsvoll. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the birds are singing. The Food Studio team strolls through a pastoral landscape, towards our first stop on this Get Away. Foragers Nina Berge and Britt Kornum look for edible wild weeds, to see what is available in the area. Spring hasn’t gotten very far here, but there are already a lot of wild things growing in nature, bursting with flavour and nutrients. Together with the guests, we will harvest some of these plants and use them to give our dinner a real taste of the wild. But first, we have to get to know each other. While Food Studio’s Eva De Moor goes to meet the guests, the crew start to prepare the first meal of the day. Pancake batter made of fresh milk, fresh eggs and local spelt is poured into the frying pan. When they are ready, they will be served with equally fresh, home made ricotta cheese, and a delicious ramson, or wild garlic, pesto. Bottles of birch sap, the sweet water you can collect from birch trees in spring with freshly picked mint, and dandelion coffee is also ready. A true taste of nature.
Of course dandelion coffee is not real coffee, but it is close enough, even for coffee-loving norwegians. ”It tastes like coffee”, some say. ”With a taste reminding me of liquorice”, I add. It’s a roasted, bitter flavour, and it tastes good out here in the sun, overlooking a green ravine where we will soon start looking for caraway, common yarrow, nettle leaves and other edible treats. We are just a few steps away from Eidsvoll prestegård, Eidsvoll’s parsonage. It is the childhood home of one of Norway’s national poets, the patriotic and romantic Henrik Wergeland grew up, together with his equally famous sister Camilla Collett. Perhaps they spent their childhood playing in these fields, picking flowers and snacking on buds from the rowan oak, feeling the taste turn from ”weed” to ”marzipan” (because it does, I promise) after a short while, just like we are about to?
People have always searched the land for food. They’ve tasted and tried their way through the good stuff, and the bad stuff, and passed their knowledge on to the next generation. And then it seems the knowledge disappeared – at least for most of us. As food became something we could by ready-made in the store, and our wallets became thicker, there wasn’t really any need to forage anymore. It wasn’t as easy as shopping. Not as convenient as the nearby store that has ”everything”. So when the prominent, edgy chefs started to include wild, foraged food into their cuisine again, perhaps under the term ”New Nordic Cuisine”, these old plants and tastes suddenly had a novelty over them: Something new, and exotic, growing around us but still unreachable – because most of us don’t really know how to harvest them anymore.
But today, the 22 of us, Food Studio crew and guests combined, will get a short and practical introduction to foraging wild weeds from Nina Berge. When we’ve all been properly introduced, and had the time to eat and enjoy the beautiful weather, we gather around her for today’s lesson. Nina’s fascination for wild plants was sparked when she was very young. Her mother pointed at a plant and told her three year old daughter it was edible. This stayed with Nina, and at the age of 18 she started doing research for a book on wild plants and weeds. She wanted to write, but all her research material never made it past the early stages. Over the years she realised that she didn’t really need to write a book anyway – if what she wanted was to pass on knowledge, she could do that in person. ”It is one thing seeing a picture of a plant in a book”, says Nina, ”and another thing recognising it in nature.” She lays out a few samples of some of the plants we’ll be harvesting today, and passes them around so people can taste them. ”If you’ve tasted caraway, it’s hard to mistake it for other plants”, she says, and gives a few more clues to go on if we happen to not trust our sense of taste. And then it’s time to start foraging.
”Is this a caraway, or a common yarrow?”, people ask each other, comparing their findings. Some seem to only find common yarrow, others only caraway. As we search through the field, I am not the only one feeling nostalgic. There is something familiar about this – crunching down on your knees, picking weeds, being close to the ground, eating flowers and looking for the best specimens. It’s the kind of thing we did as kids. We start reminiscing about acid grass and red cloves, reconnecting with a child-like curiosity and wonder over nature and all the things that exist. Or maybe that’s just me, but I swear that is the vibe and feeling I get as I both watch the others and do my share of the harvesting.
After an hour or so, it’s time to start moving towards Verdens Ende – The End of the World – a nice spot by the river with a lot more idyllic and less dramatic landscape than its name suggests. On our way there, we still take some time to pick some things we need for dinner – and dessert. For instance the wild growing cousin of the rhubarb – at least in physical resemblance – that can grow incredibly tall over the summer, but when picked at young age can be used like the rhubarb. Or sourgrass for the salad, or some pretty flowers, or more dandelion buds.
We make a short stop at our host Britt’s house, to gather the rest of our food and take a look at the new-born goats they have in the back yard. Some of us stay behind to help with the nettle and rooster broth soup, the rest of us take the food and equipment we need for dinner and start walking towards Verdens Ende. The table is already made, and the fire is burning. Everything is ready, so all that’s left to do now is clean the potatoes and the beets in the river and start cooking. We cook the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes together with birch leaves, and the red beets in a pot of their own. While some get to tend the fire and keep an eye on the vegetables, others get to make butter – which turns out to a pretty easy thing to make – all you have to do is pour cream into a jar with a marble, close the lid and shake lose. After a while the butter separates from the buttermilk, a swooshing sound is heard, and triumphant smiles seen on the faces of the people shaking. It’s easy, but still a tough job, for your arms at least. The weeds we picked turns out to make an excellent salad, and together with the boiled vegetables and the homemade sour cream it all tastes remarkably fresh, mild and real. It’s simple, but the simplicity is what makes it taste so good. When you know where your food comes from, and you’ve even been part of gathering it, it also feels more rewarding. The salad tastes like the forest, the sour cream tastes like it came from a cow, the food tastes like it was made from the earth, not from man.
The nettle soup is served with panfried flatbread and butter. This way of making bread is one that has been with us for many generations, probably since we started making bread, and is still common throughout the world. For a trip into the forest, they are perfect. Just bring some flour, mix it with water and maybe salt, and you have the easiest form of “klappekake”, as they are called in Norwegian.
While the vegetables are being passed around, then the soup, then the bread and butter; we talk, chatter, laugh. We pour wine into our glasses, share what we have brought with us, breathe in the fresh air. We may not have travelled far from civilisation, but that just proves that it doesn’t have to be difficult to spend some time in nature, forage, and use your creativity to turn your findings into food, into an experience. Most of us spend our lives surrounded by these plants and weeds, they are growing in countryside, in parks and even in our gardens. You just have to know what you are looking for, and when and where to find it. Then let your creativity take care of the rest.
To top of our three course dinner by the river, in a picturesque spot in Eidsvoll just half an hour north of our continuingly expanding capital, we finish our meal with honey crackers, fresh cream and sautéed rhubarb for dessert and kokekaffe. Most of us go in for a second filling, the honey crackers are sweet and sticky and delicious, made of fresh local honey.
A nice break from reality, someone says. But Nina shakes her head.
“This is the real world, she says”, stretching out her arms and pointing in every direction, towards the trees, the sky, the river and the earth. “Every thing else is made up. “
Still; our rendezvous with nature and the good, honest food it can provide us with is coming to an end. The air is crisp, chillier now than a few hours ago. We take our plates and cutlery, take the cookware, the tables – everything – and carry it through the forest path. The only thing we leave behind is leftover wood – for someone else’s fire. And isn’t that the key to a more sustainable way of life? To understand where we live, and what that place and our local community can offer, take only what we need, and let the things we don’t need be left in peace? It is a good place to start, at least.
Words by Hanne Gideonsen
Photographs by Svein G. Kjøde