My blackberry spot
Smultronställe is a Swedish word that refers to a rather hidden, hard to get to place that holds sentimental value to us.
The term is composed of two words: smultron, which means wild strawberry, and ställe, which means place or spot. Thus, smultronställe literally means a place where wild strawberries grow. The village in the picture above is Ejulve, located in Aragón, Spain, and it’s a smultronställe of sorts, but because there are a lot of blackberry bushes in the fields surrounding the town I thought calling it my blackberry spot would be way more charming.
As a kid, I used to spend a few weeks there during the summer with my grandparents. Even though I don’t come from a big city, Ejulve was the only place where I was allowed to play on the streets with other kids without parental supervision. I particularly remember playing with skateboards by going downhill on the steep streets, or simply walking around while having some merienda, such as a bocadillo with fresh, mild goat cheese or jamón serrano, both produced in Ejulve, or a delicious peach from Calanda. We also had the bad habit of sitting in front of someone’s front door to eat pipas, aka sunflower seeds, and then leaving the ground covered in all the shells we had spat out.
Summer is the only season when most houses are occupied, mostly by children and their grandparents, who emigrated in their youth to Catalonia, Valencia, or the capital of Aragón, Zaragoza. I rarely visited Ejulve during winter: it can get really cold and I didn’t like sleeping under a dozen blankets. My grandma’s house is really old and it’s not built to be energy-efficient, the only heating methods are a wood-burning stove and a gas heater. During the last decade or so my parents have been renovating it: now it’s still as energy-efficient as it was before, but at least the house looks super cute and hyggelig.
Ever since I moved to Finland in 2011 I’ve visited my hometown only during the winter holidays, and my boyfriend and I have been visiting Spain together every winter since Christmas 2014. Spending a few days in Ejulve has become one of our favourite traditions, which means we’ve had to rely on wood and pine cones to stay warm. Thank God the military service is mandatory in Finland and Lauri knows how to chop wood. To be honest, I prefer to stay there during winter instead of summer. It’s actually quite funny when people express their astonishment at the fact that we like Ejulve during winter as well, unaware of my unpopular preference for cold weather. And quite frankly, I prefer to stay there when the town is almost empty. As I mentioned above, summer is the only season when most houses are occupied. But during winter only around 200 people live there, which is an excellent recipe for -relative- calmness. In fact, Ejulve is the only place in the world where I’ve been able to listen to the sound of silence.
Cold weather also calls for soup. As I already mentioned in the blog post where I talk about my love for autumn, I’m a sucker for all kinds of soups. One of our all-time favourites is my mum’s cuttlefish and potato stew, shown in the picture below. You can find this recipe in my new website Paleo Spoon, where I compile all the recipes I mention in this blog.
Another recipe that works wonders to stay warm and alive is onion soup. Not only is it a nourishing and comforting meal, but due to the considerable amount of onions, it will make you really gassy, which will ensure the bed stays throughout the coldest of nights.
Chorizo soup is a great way of consuming this sausage: its smoked paprika taste infuses the broth and the combination of chewy meat with mushy potatoes and savoury broth is heaven-like.
Duck pot roast is perfect for when you feel like eating something both sweet and salty: duck meat pairs perfectly with the sweetness from dried plums and apricots, and the addition of cinnamon takes this dish to the next level.
Cream of potato and parsley is excellent to have a meatless meal. The potato gives this soup a thick consistency and parsley adds an interesting layer of taste.
Lamb stew makes for a simple but delicious meat soup when you have access to a butcher. Farmers in Ejulve grow their own sheep and pigs for meat and goats for cheese. The connection between consumers and animals grows closer in such small communities. Farming, butchering and selling are done by just one entity, usually a family. This means that when you go to the store to ask if you can get some lamb meat for the next day, the seller will tell you who will kill the animal and when. Then, they’ll ask you which part of the animal you’d like to get. This also allows you to ask for body parts that are usually not available in big supermarkets, even though in Spain one can get pretty much anything anywhere. There might be some people who have already ordered their share, so you might have to take what’s left. This whole thing makes you more aware of the entire process involved in the consumption of meat.
In Ejulve, lambs are pasture-raised, which means that they are free to run and eat grass from the vast fields that encircle the village. Sometimes, however, meteorologic circumstances prevent the sheep from having access to pasture. In February 2018, for example, there was a big snowfall that kept us isolated for a few days because the road that leads to the town was blocked, which caused a slight shortage of food supplies, such as produce and freshly baked bread. Despite winter being quite cold, snow doesn’t take too long to melt. This time, however, there was so much snow that the pasture fields were covered for days and sheep had to be kept inside. This meant that someone had to manage to go through the snow and get to the barn to feed them, which was per se challenging enough.
Farm animals aren’t the only ones to benefit from the fields that surround Ejulve. Those fields grow the best dried herbs I’ve ever smelled or tasted. I say dried because that area of Spain is particularly dry, and the variety of herbs that grow there are much drier than what you can find in a rainier region, and much more fragrant, if I do say so myself. Such herbs include lavender, with which my mum loves to make bouquets to decorate the house and freshen up the air; thyme and rosemary, which are great to add to soups and infusions; and last but not least, my favourite: pennyroyal, a type of mint plant. Brewing this herb will make your entire house smell lovely. Whenever I make myself a cup of pennyroyal in Finland, its scent instantly takes me back to Ejulve. Its taste is rather bitter, but it goes really well with honey which, you guessed it, is also produced in Ejulve.
One of the best things to experience while staying at my grandma’s childhood home is to climb to the attic at night, which my parents skillfully renovated three years ago, open the skylight and gaze at the flickering stars whilst sipping some pennyroyal tea and listening to the sound of silence.