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Love affair with the woods

It is almost time to fly home to Finland for our traditional one-month summer vacation at the summer cottage in Lemi (Eastern Finland in the lake area). It is one of my favorite times of the year, although I do love all the seasons and our little home in Italy. But I cannot help crave for the peace and serenity I feel while wandering in the Finnish forests.

Since I was little, I would go berry and mushroom picking with my family, my grandmother, aunts, cousins and my parents and sisters. Often we would go for a few hours and come back with 2-3 bags full of mushrooms (mainly chanterelles but also other types that I do not manage to translate now) and a few litres of blueberries and/or raspberries. But I do remember going in the forest with my grandmother, bringing a packed lunch - sandwiches and coffee - and staying in the woods for the whole day. My granny was a super-duper-picker and would not go home before an entire laundry basket was full. She would pick standing up, sitting down, even laying on the ground and I often asked myself if she'd ever get tired of picking.

Naturally a part of the harvest is eaten the same day or the day after, but in the olden days Finnish people lived off the summer/autumn harvest the entire year long, so the grand part of the berries and mushrooms were saved for the long winter period. In the days without electricity and fridges they were dried and then eaten like that, but since I can remember, my mother would freeze berries and mushrooms and then de-freeze them during the winter in order to bake cakes, pies and make sauces with them. In fact, most Finnish homes still have a huge freezer where to keep the summer harvest that the woods so gracefully give to us. In the past, the sprites of the forest had to be kept benevolent and people gave them gifts, said prayers and gave thanks in many ways. I don't believe this happens any more, as we tend to take for granted all the wonders that nature gives.

However, there are good harvest years and bad ones, a lot depends from the amount of rain and sun and the temperatures as well. Last year we picked so many chanterelles that after making pasta, risotto, pies and sauces, we were short of ideas on how to use them. Blueberries were also big and juicy. I hope this year will be the same and cannot wait to dive into the woods as soon as I land in Finland.

Since the amount of mosquitos gets bigger and bigger, nowadays we have to equip ourselves with full clothing and nets to cover our faces. In fact, when it is really warm and I am hunched over a blueberry bush with mosquitos flying and buzzing all over and sweat dripping down my spine, I do think any foreigner that does not belong to the collector-tribe I do, must think we are crazy. After all, I could just walk to the nearby market and by a liter of blueberries for 5-7 euros, without having to sweat and work. But it is just not the same thing. The satisfaction I feel while picking, cleaning and eating the mushrooms and berries of our own forests is indescribable. And it makes all the hard work worth it!

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