Taste the eight seasons of Lapland

4 minute read
A picture of a La Carte dish of smoke reindeer with red onion, egg yolk and parmesan.

Credits: Marko Vasara

Experience the Arctic wilderness …on a plate

Many regions can boast to have four beautiful seasons, but it’s difficult to beat Lapland, where locals, closely attuned to nuance of changing seasons, say there are eight instead. This diversity is felt in the local produce and Finnish recipies, as each season provides a new bounty with its own unique terroir.

Sirly Ylläsjärvi and Heidi Seikkula are the co-founders of the boutique hotel Aurora Estate in Kolari. In their restaurant, Ylläsjärvi and Seikkula use responsible, seasonal ingredients. When not hosting or cooking, they can be found waist-deep in icey rivers catching fish.

Here, Ylläsjärvi walks us through the eight seasons of Lapland and we pair them with the perfect dish from their book, Recipes and Unforgettable Experiences: Lapland’s Eight Seasons.

Credits: Marko Vasara

Winter: Christmas

“The year begins with a cold and dark winter. In the northernmost parts, the sun does not appear above the horizon for over a month. By now, the whole of Lapland is usually fully covered in snow, which reflects natural light so beautifully! The dark Christmas time, also known as polar night, is simply magical.”

Taste: No Christmas table is complete without a Christmas bread, a treacley rye bread made with buttermilk and spices – a traditional Finnish food. Ylläsjärvi adds orange juice and beer malts to hers for an extra punch of flavour.

Late Winter: Frosty winter

“You can experience the blue moment in the afternoon just as daylight makes way for the evening. With freezing-cold temperatures and less snow fall, this is the perfect time for gazing at the northern lights. During the darkest time of the year, bathing in the sauna, ice-swimming, hearty soups, fragrant homemade berry juices, rich red wines and mulled wine are popular in Lapland.”

Taste: Although they originated in Russia, the Finns have come to make blinis their own. Forget the tiny canapé, in Finland a blini is sizable and served with vendace roe or smoked reindeer, piled high with pickles, onion and beetroot.

Credits : Tommi Hynynen

Spring: Crusty snow

“In springtime, the sun shines brightly and temperatures can soar way above zero, but nights are still cold. Temperatures can fluctuate a great deal, and strong winds and blizzards are a regular occurrence. In the spring, people spend increasing time outdoors doing cross-country skiing, sledding, downhill skiing and ski touring, which are all sure ways to raise the appetite.”

Taste: Pickling and curing has traditionally been in Finnish cuisine as a way to preserve the autumn harvest right through the winter months and into spring. Ylläsjärvi suggests pickling red onions and serving them with tartare or smoked reindeer meat; the perfect amount of acidity to umami flavour.

Credits: Juha Laine

Late Spring: Departure of ice

“At the turn of spring and summer, the ice breaks. People in southern Finland are getting their gardens ready for summer, while some may still go ice-fishing – though you need to know where to go. Snow piles can be half a metre high but trails no longer carry skiers or snowmobiles. You could climb up a fell and ski down wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of shorts! This is also a lovely time to venture out with sliding or traditional snowshoes!”

Taste: The days are getting longer and lighter, so it’s time to celebrate. Almond cake is a delicate sponge, perfect for these brighter days.

Credits : Tommi Hynynen
Credits: Juha Laine

Summer: Midnight sun

“In the summer, nightless nights are in store week after week. The sun is up around the clock without dipping below the horizon for weeks. The nightless night (aka polar day) is the antithesis to polar night, known as “kaamos”.  It is wonderful to go fishing even at night or ride and hike along the fells. In the summer, you can pick plenty of herbs in the wild. Bilberries are the first wild berries to ripen.”

Taste: Toast Skagen could be described as prawn toast, but it’s so much more. Key to its flavour are fresh ingredients – sweet and salty prawns, tangy sour cream – and perhaps a glass of champagne to celebrate the midnight sun.

Credits: Markus Kiili

Late Summer: Harvest season

“Before the autumn russets and first night-time frosts, it’s time to gather the summer crop. In August, you can fill your baskets and buckets with mushrooms, cloudberries, lingonberries and crowberries. What could be more delicious than homemade soup from mushrooms you picked yourself? In late summer, most mosquitoes have disappeared and twilight time sneaks in. There’s nothing lovelier than to heat up a smoke sauna, take a dip in the lake and revel in a dusky late-summer evening.”

Taste: Flamed salmon is a popular dish in Lapland. It’s a campsite favourite, as you prepare it over a fire. Try this juicy fish waterside after a long day swimming in the lakes.

Credits: Tommi Hynynen

Autumn: Colourful autumn

Credits: Harri Tarvainen

"Autumn is also when the hunting season begins. It’s a popular pastime in Lapland, many filling their freezers with game for the winter. Plenty of reindeer meat is on offer at this time of year, which makes the world’s best tartar.”

Taste: Now is the time to find an infamous crayfish party. The bright red shellfish are eaten with hands and enjoyed with songs and aquavit. Roll up your sleeves and don’t be scared to suck the head – that’s where the best flavour is.

Late Autumn: First snow

Credits: Tommi Hynynen

“In late autumn, when the first snow arrives, the whole of Lapland quietens down and locals may head off on holiday elsewhere. The season is long and dark, but also offers a chance for a sighting of the northern lights dancing across the sky. When the snow has come to stay, hunting and fishing usually cease. It’s time to breathe and gather energy for the toil of the coming winter.”

Taste: Reindeer tartare is one of the best ways to enjoy Finland’s most abundant meat. The simple dish lets the wild peppery flavour shine.

Credits: Markus Kiili

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