This summer we had a family get together ...a clan gathering...? on our wee croft, torp as they are called in Sweden. The children suggested it, we loved the idea, and it was such fun it may become a tradition! We took turns in cooking the evening meal and spent the days cycling, lake swimming, picking berries, woodland walks, discovering wildlife, and al fresco eating of course. It was everything we hoped it would be and I thank everyone for making it so special.
When in rural Småland we are fortunate to have a modest grocery store, fresh fish, a rustic hut
selling summer vegetables alongside their apple juice, and an excellent smokehouse all within 10 miles. No restaurants to speak of and you can forget buying alcohol in Sweden unless in a town with a Systembolaget(Government owned liquor store). But with a freezer-full of Linderöd pork (Slow Food Ark of Taste), foraged berries, mushrooms and our own harvest from last year, we know how to eat well!
In this Scandi rural idyll you may well be wondering what’s my gripe so here it is…
At the height of summer in the heart of cycling country there is barely a café or an ice cream pause to be had at 30 degrees in the shade! Before embarking on a 20 mile circuit we googled
potential stops only to find one didn’t open at weekends, two said they were open and weren’t, the hotel (un-signposted) did little to encourage visitors and would only serve lunch for booked parties – all omitted from their website! By the time we found the lovely, newly opened, Café Sorores in Urshult I thought I might need an ambulance!! It turned out they are a Dutch family who opened the café because they too found there was nothing open! This delightful spot is a winner https://www.facebook.com/Sorores.cafe/
Travelling north to our favourite fäbod (sheiling to Scots) it was the same. My advice is never to tour Sweden without emergency rations as you may drive for hours without finding a good place to eat! We had a great trip you can check out on http://skanskfoodguide.co.uk/fabod-cheese-travels/ however in amongst the pearls are pizzerias and Thai cafés, freezer to microwave meatballs and burgers, and not a decent latte for 500km one day!! This in the land of coffee drinkers and fresh produce. Many roads are clogged with camper vans complete with their own fridge of food resulting in even less need for roadside cafés. As Swedish hotels become quieter they resort to more processed food and the descent in quality begins. Some we passed are now closed and used as residences for migrants as Sweden took in hundreds of thousands. As we travel in Sweden I fondly remember places we shall return to...and I recall cafés I shall never set foot in again! Such a pity in such a stunningly beautiful country. Dalarna is a major tourist destination so how does it compare with Scotland?
There are certain similarities in the standard of places to eat. We talk of Good Food Nation and Food Tourism yet for every wonderful place there will be at least ten I find lacking. This will not change where large units scale up food production and artisan products have no place. Neither are group purchasing policies or laminated menus conducive to seasonality and terroir. Yet in tourist brochures for both countries you find glossy photos brimming with prawns, goats and regional costumes or lobsters, highland cattle and kilts. They will not picture indoor dairy herds and poultry units, food poverty and logistic hubs for supermarkets or rubbery burgers with chips. Yet scratch the surface and the reality is they are there – let’s not kid ourselves, we need to tackle these issues.
In both Scotland and Sweden the predominant brochures on display are often funded by region/EU/taxpayer and as such often need to represent all, with enhanced adverts rather than independent quality assurance. It can be challenging for the visitor as they try to sort the wheat from the chaff and this frustration was my main reason for launching Scottish Food Guide in 2002. I take no public money, decline banner advertising and even give a free mention to those deserving who have yet to team up. I see Scottish Food Guide as a hub for those who wish to be co-collaborators and who have high standards themselves. I shall always endeavour to do my best for them.
I meet many Scandinavians on my travels who absolutely enthuse over Scotland. They love its nature and people…and a nip or two of whisky is oft mentioned. I keep cards with me at all times and I can assure you every one of them knows about Scottish Food Guide and will use it for their next trip!