Swedish summer in a jar – 22 tastes worth preserving
The Taste of Swedish Summer is exactly how it sounds – a tasting experience that encapsulates the best of Swedish summers. Lena and Elvira have used raw ingredients, both cultivated and wild, that can be found in Sweden during the sunniest months. A few can be found in abundance on almost every patch of grass, while others thrive exclusively in hard-to-find spots. Many can be eaten fresh from the plant, while others require preparation or refining through preservation. So, scroll through our edible, Swedish summer and discover some of the country’s unique flavours! And if you’re tempted to taste what you see, a trip to Lena’s little farm shop at Högtorp gård might be in order. Of course, you will find plenty of other foodies who also work with preservation in similar ways, with some of these here.
Spruce tip oil
Spruce is a beautiful and fragrant pine tree that grows freely in large parts of the country. The trees can grow up to 60 metres tall, but for someone seeking new flavours, it’s the light green tips and shoots that hold the most interest. The oil is made by mixing the young shoots with Swedish rapeseed oil (feel free to use your local alternative). This fresh, peppery and beautifully bright green oil is fantastic with both savoury and sweet dishes. Why not use it to whisk up a nice mayonnaise, flavour a vinaigrette or refine a sauce? It also suits berry desserts really well, particularly blueberry! Get the recipe (PDF).
The elderflower plant is strongly evocative of Swedish summers. The tree and bush grow wild from the south of Sweden up to the Mälardalen valley – elsewhere, the elderflower plant is cultivated and grows well, high up on the country’s coast. Although many connect elderflower with cordials or cider drinks, there is so much more you can do with this beautiful plant. Here, Lena and Elvira have chosen to do without sugar, which is commonly used with elderflower. Instead, they have combined the elderflower’s wonderfully floral flavour with a tart, salty pickling brine – the mix is pure Swedish summer in a jar! Elderflower vinegar works beautifully in salad dressings or as a berry marinade.
Pickled spruce buds
Wild strawberries are wonderful little berries – they´re just not on the menu right now. Instead, what we’re talking about now are spruce buds, from the spruce tree. Commonly found throughout all of Sweden, apart from the mountains, spruce trees are also cultivated in southern Sweden. Spruce buds are best picked during a few days in early summer, so you need to be at the ready with your picking basket. Lena and Elvira have put the red, berry-like buds into a pickling brine containing capers, vinegar and salt. The salt-acid brine lends the buds a wonderfully fruity and slightly nutty taste, with notes of tree resin. Enjoy the pickled spruce buds as a topping on a creamy salad or as tapas on a piece of mild cheese, pork or chicken. Get the recipe (PDF).
The dandelion is probably Sweden’s most commonly found flower. However, just because it’s easy to find on most lawns, it doesn’t mean it’s ordinary – especially if you cure and refine its flavours for eating. Here, dandelion buds have been preserved in a vinaigrette made of dandelion syrup, water, vinegar, and rapeseed oil flavoured with dandelion flowers. The oil becomes gloriously yellow and the buds acquire a fresh green taste with notes of Darjeeling, butter and tart sweetness. The buds are great as an accompaniment to a platter of charcuterie and also really nice fried, which makes them open up and reveal their yellow petals.
Fermented birch drink
The beautiful birch tree with its slender black and white trunk has varied uses. Birch trees grow all over Sweden and during the spring the sap – containing vitamin C, minerals, antioxidants, trace minerals and various sugar types such as xylitol – rises. Once fermented, the birch sap acquires a refreshing, tart flavour which is slightly mineral on the palate. Mix the sap with sweet birch syrup to bring out the birch tree’s fresh green flavours and you’ll capture the essence of early Swedish summers. Drink as is or spike it with a little Swedish gin. Birch leaf syrup itself is also good in drinks, with ice cream or drizzled over a rich yoghurt. Get the recipe (PDF).
Preserved chanterelle mushrooms with sage
Chanterelles, or ‘forest’s gold’ as they’re also called in Sweden, are usually eaten fried in butter, usually served on an open sandwich or toast. However, there is so much more you can do with them. Here, Lena and Elvira have cured chanterelle mushrooms with a few sage leaves in a brine of water, vinegar and sugar. You can even add a few juniper berries to go for a slightly more ‘woody’ flavour. The chanterelles’ tasty sharpness marries unexpectedly well with sage’s woody tones and combines perfectly with all types of game, cured meat and paté products. If you want to pick your own chanterelle mushrooms for curing, you’ll find them in woods all over Sweden and in birch forests up in the mountains. Get the recipe (PDF).
Rugosa rose sugar
The rugosa rose thrives on sandy beaches and grows abundantly on the beaches of Halland, Skåne, Öland and in the Stockholm archipelago. The flowers are large and beautiful, so it’s no surprise that many gardeners cultivate the rugosa rose as a decorative plant. However, many might not know how much the rugosa rose actually delivers on taste. Here, the petals are picked and blended with sugar, then dried on metal sheets and blended again, until the mixture resembles a fine pink sugar. In order to preserve this beautiful colour, the sugar is best stored in a dark-coloured and tightly closed container. The pink sugar has a delicate floral flavour that is perfect sprinkled on pastries and biscuits – as well as being very pretty too! Get the recipe (PDF).
Cloudberries grow in most parts of Sweden but are more common in the northern regions. The amber-coloured cloudberry is often referred to as the ‘forest’s gold’ – a moniker it shares with the equally golden-hued chanterelle mushroom. However, cloudberries are not as easily foraged, as they grow in wetlands that can be difficult to navigate. Cloudberries are at their most delicious eaten fresh, but are often used in macerations or to make jams and marmalades. Lena and Elvira have chosen to pickle the berries in a brine of vinegar, sugar, water and a little salt – the latter enhances the cloudberries’ complex and somewhat burnt taste. Pickled cloudberries work extraordinarily well with game, for example as an accompaniment to smoked venison or tartare of venison.
Iced lilacs with common sorel
The common sorrel plant grows wild on lawns and in meadows all over Sweden, with a tart flavour – also delicious on its own – that works really well with lilacs. The beautiful lilac bush with its purple blooms is one of Sweden’s most popular garden plants, and can also be found growing wild in various spots around the country, mainly in southern and middle Sweden.
Here, common sorrel is combined with lilac petals and mixed into a sugar marinade. The resulting liquid is sieved and frozen. It’s simple but yields incredible results – the lilac’s floral notes combine with the sorrel’s fresh, green tartness and make a wonderfully delicious cold and healthy dessert that works perfectly with fresh strawberries, or as a base to a refreshing summer drink.
Schnapps of sweet vernal grass
Sweet vernal grass grows in meadowlands and woodland glades in middle and northern Sweden. This little grass has a wonderful scent and if you chance upon it, be sure to take some home. Not only for its delicious fragrance but to make your own schnapps. Just put a few blades in a glass bottle and top it up with vodka. After four weeks, you will have your own beautifully summery Swedish aquavit, with flavours reminiscent of toffee. Perfect for a Swedish midsummer celebration!
Nettles are a common plant that you can find all over Sweden. We learn early on that nettles are something to avoid, as the leaves can cause itchy, stinging blisters. However, if you are careful when you pick them, you will gain access to a real powerhouse, rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. By blanching and then drying the leaves and flowers you can make a wonderfully green nettle powder – its fresh, grassy flavour is a fantastic ingredient in seasoning blends and smoothies. Or, why not just sprinkle some nettle powder over a nice summer salad?
Pickled green strawberries with wild garlic
Wild garlic is rather rare, but if you’re lucky enough to spot some, it tends to be abundant where it thrives. To increase your chances of foraging wild garlic, take yourself to Öland, Gotland, Skåne or Halland. Both the flowers and leaves are edible and taste like a combination of chives and garlic. If wild garlic is a hard find, then strawberries are a far easier bet, as they are cultivated throughout Sweden. The red, juicy berries are a Swedish summer classic, but they can also be picked and eaten before ripening. Green strawberries have a firmer consistency and tart flavour, with tones of green grass and kiwi. Here, Lena and Elvira have preserved some green strawberries with wild garlic in oil, creating an incredibly tasty and summery mix that works perfectly as an accompaniment to light fish and vegetable dishes, such as cured cod or baked fennel with butter sauce.
Pickled Västerås cucumbers with laver seaweed and whey
Laver seaweed grows in the salt sea on Sweden’s west coast but is also found in well-stocked food shops. Here we’ve combined the seaweed with a crispy ‘Västerås’ cucumber – a variety of cucumber that derives its name from the city of Västerås, where it’s been bred since the 1700s. Today, it is cultivated in most parts of the country, even though it mainly thrives in the south. Here, the cucumber and seaweed are marinated in whey, which adds taste, nutrients and healthy bacteria. When the whey-cured cucumber has been allowed to stand for some time, it acquires a fresh taste of the ocean and is a perfect accompaniment to rich autumnal dishes with depth and umami flavours. It’s also delicious as a snack on its own or with freshly shucked oysters.
Sugar of sweet violets
Sweet violets thrive on grassy lawns and meadows, as well as in more stony and moss-covered parts. There are many different species of wild violets, but the one with the most flavour is the sweet violet. This beautiful little flower blossoms early in May and grows in the south and middle of Sweden, right up to the county of Gästrikland. Sweet violets may be eaten fresh – try them sprinkled over a summer salad. They also make a beautiful violet sugar, which you do by blending sugar with the sweet violet blooms in a mixer, drying them and then blending them again. The result is a fragrant, purple sugar that is wonderful as a topping on desserts and cookies, or why not as a sugar rim to a refreshing summer drink? All you need to do is moisten the rim of your glass and dip it in the pretty violet sugar.
Wild garlic salt with chive blossoms
Wild garlic is uncommon but where it thrives, it’s usually abundant. If you want to increase your chances of foraging wild garlic, take yourself to the islands of Öland and Gotland or visit the counties of Skåne or Halland. The flowers and leaves are edible and taste like a combination of chives and garlic. Wild chives are a hardy herb that thrives equally well in the chalkstone terrains of Öland and Gotland as in the rocky, barren crevices along the west and east coast. Lena and Elvira have mixed the purple-coloured flowers with sea salt, drying the mixture at a low oven temperature. The result is a lovely, mild homemade onion salt, wonderfully delicious with freshly boiled potatoes and brown butter. Get the recipe (PDF).
Fermented rhubarb flavoured with angelica
Peer over the fence of a typical Swedish garden and you’re likely to find rhubarb, one of our most beloved vegetables (yes, it is actually a vegetable). Angelica isn’t quite as well known, but somewhat similar to rhubarb in form and texture. However tastewise, they do differ – angelica has a fresh, floral flavour as well as some bitter notes, which makes it suitable as a seasoning condiment. When the rhubarb is fermented in a salt marinade and flavoured with angelica, it takes on a delicious, rounded taste that works really well with fish and seafood for instance, or as an accompaniment to vegetables and cured meats.
Pickled beetroot with raspberry and Spanish chervil
These small primary beets are a sure sign that a Swedish summer is on its way – they are extremely delicious boiled and served with a little salt and butter. However, they are also very tasty if you pickle them in a white vinegar marinade, together with sun-ripened raspberries and wild Spanish chervil, and become a delectable accompaniment to hearty stews. Or you could slice the pickled beets finely, to make a beet tartare.
Beets grow mainly in southern and middle Sweden, but also in Gotland. Raspberries grow wild in most of Sweden’s forests and countryside. Spanish chervil also grows wild and this glorious plant is often found near parks and farmland – easily recognisable, thanks to its characteristic liquorice fragrance and hairy foliage. It’s precisely this combined aroma of liquorice and raspberry that is close to many a Swede’s heart, and commonly found in the sweets aisle. Get the recipe (PDF).
Tar-cured strawberries with yellow sedum
Here you’ll find sweet, sun-ripe strawberries in the company of bitter yellow sedum and tar syrup. The tar syrup is made from the tar resin that remains when you dry, split and burn tree stumps. Aside from its somewhat smoky flavour, the tar syrup complements and enhances the other ingredients’ flavour. Tickle your tastebuds and try the pickled strawberries with a freshly baked chocolate cake, topped with some vanilla ice cream. Or why not savour them as a condiment to aged cheese? The yellow sedum has a wonderful peppery taste, and if you want to pick your own, your best chances are in the stonier landscapes of southern and middle Sweden. Get the recipe (PDF).
Pickled spruce tips with wild blueberries
Wild blueberries and spruce tips – Swedish classics, straight from the forest, here in the company of wild thyme. Sweden is awash in wild blueberries, so feel free to pick the antioxidant-rich, nutritious berries at will. Spruce tips or shoots, on the other hand, may only be picked with permission by the landowner, as picking the tips can damage the tree. Luckily enough, there are plenty of landowners to ask, as the tree grows almost everywhere in Sweden, apart from the most northerly parts. Wild thyme is a lemon-scented herb that grows wild in southern and middle Sweden, as well as on Öland and Gotland, thriving in dry, open and sandy terrains. Thanks to Sweden’s freedom-to-roam custom (which you can learn more about here), it is freely available to pick. Together, the pickled spruce tips and wild blueberries make for a fragrant and tasty condiment with a scent that recalls a summer stroll in the woods. The deep blueberry flavour’s piquant tones complement the spruce tips’ tart sweetness, creating a wonderful condiment for mushroom and game dishes, as well as a lovely accompaniment to a freshly baked sponge cake with vanilla ice cream.
Infusion of dried wildflowers
A summer meadow in your teacup! So delicious and so simple! There are many edible flowers in Sweden – take for example hemlock, dew clover, sorrel, red clover, crowfoot or tall buttercup, as well as hop flowers and ground ivy. These are common meadow flowers that grow everywhere. After drying the flowers in a dark and dry place, all you need to do is pop a tablespoon into a cup of hot water. Wait for it to infuse, sieve, and enjoy! To keep their colour, the dried flowers are best stored in a dark jar with a tightly fitting lid. It’s a wonderful tea to enjoy on a brisk autumn evening when the Swedish summer seems long gone.
Meadowsweet has a taste and fragrance that is reminiscent of American root beer. When it’s fermented in a salt-cure brine, the liquid acquires a strong aromatic taste with tones of bitter almond. The marinade works well as a condiment for all sorts of dishes and as a base for different vinaigrettes. Meadowsweet’s leaves are also edible and are very good in a Swedish version of salsa verde or pesto. You’ll find meadowsweet all over the country and it grows on many different types of moist terrains.
Sea buckthorn preserve with pineapple weed
Together, sea buckthorn and pineapple weed make for a taste sensation that will transport you to the tropics. A little bit unexpected for two so very Swedish ingredients! However, you’ll soon discover that sea buckthorn’s tartness brings forth the taste of passion fruit and that pineapple weed’s flavour leans towards the tropical pineapple, just as its name suggests. The result is an exotic, tart preserve that is excellent with all sorts of chocolate, as well as pumpkin. Sea buckthorn thrives on stony beaches, particularly on the west coast, surviving happily on poor soil. Pineapple weed, which originally comes from North America, was first discovered in Uppsala during the 1800s. Today, it can be found country-wide and is believed to have spread from the Uppsala botanical gardens.
The magic of food preservation
Food preservation is a many wondrous thing – not only for practical and sustainable reasons, but for its ability to enhance and take flavour to new, gastronomic heights. Historically, Swedes have used many different types of curing and preserving techniques, such as pickling, lactic-acid fermentation, drying and salting. They use sugar to make fruit jams and cordials, as well as flavoured alcohol, oil and syrup – all preserves in their own right. Factors to keep in mind for safe food preservation are temperature, pH levels and salt or sugar content. These are some of the curing methods used by Lena Engelmark Embertsén and Elvira Lindqvist in this project:
Fermentation is an ancient preservation method, whereby microorganisms transform one chemical substance into another with the help of enzymes. This means that – under very controlled circumstances – yeasts and moulds are allowed to affect a raw ingredient and change its aroma, texture and flavour.
In Sweden, we use many different types of pickling methods. It’s most common to pickle with white vinegar, but flavoured vinegar is also commonly used today. Pickling may be done with salt or sugar. Be sure to use a strong enough brine or pickling solution, most easily achieved by carefully following a recipe until you have a good understanding of how it works.
- Sugar and salting
Salt and sugar are used to lower microbiological activity in food, in order to preserve it for much longer. Salt-curing fish – where you cover the fish in salt – is a time-honoured tradition in Sweden. Historically, sugar has been very expensive and exclusive here. Today, sugar is often combined with flowers or herbs and then dried.
- Lactic acid fermentation
Fermenting vegetables has recently undergone a renaissance, with many recently published books and exciting recipes on the subject. It’s best to use organic vegetables that already have natural bacteria on their surface when using lactic acid fermentation. Otherwise, a starter culture is required to achieve optimal results.