“I haven’t seen a single sheep since I’ve been here”. I’m talking to Lara Lindsay, my friend who up until last year, was running a restaurant in Bristol, but now lives on an island in Finland, just 15 minutes from the Russian border. We spend most of the time talking about growing vegetables, her love for eating seasonally, and the main foody differences between the U.K and Finland.
I’m going to be totally honest, I’m a little bit scared of Lara. Maybe intimidation is a better word for it. She can do everything, perfectly. Just as you’re starting to feel proud that you’ve made your own yoghurt (which I have just started to do, and yes, I’m feeling pretty good about it), Lara will have not only made yoghurt, but milked the cow and made her own ethically sourced yoghurt pot to go with it too. That hasn’t actually happened by the way, but she did cater her own wedding. Then spent five months building her own restaurant. So when she tells me that the first she had ever worked in a commercial kitchen was on the opening night of her very own 65 seater restaurant, I’m not surprised.
Dela was a restaurant in Bristol that her and a friend set up in 2017. Based on the principles of locally sourced, seasonal, Scandi influenced food, the place was an instant hit and Lara found herself doing 80-90 hour weeks right from the get-go. Luckily, there’s a good collaborative spirit amongst the food businesses in Bristol; her friends from Poco were instrumental in helping Lara set up Dela and the network of ethical food businesses in the city all make sure they have each other’s backs, “if your fridge broke down, there would always be someone nearby who would store your food for a couple of days until you got it fixed”, she explains.
As well as a supportive group of restauranteurs, the local food scene in Bristol is excellent, possibly even the best in the country. Whole high streets are devoted to local, independent shops and little pop-up grocers or street food stalls nestle into archways or curb-sides all over the city. Markets are a big deal too, with monthly farmers markets in almost every locality as well as the lively St Nick’s Night Market on Friday’s throughout the year. Blessed by this choice of places to buy, Lara’s weekly shop would usually be at the brilliant Better Food Co, and then to the little grocers on edgy Gloucester Road, “even though the veg there wasn’t seasonal or local, it tasted good and I knew that they were run by small independents”. This choice does not exist in Hamina, the town in Finland where she lives. The only place for Lara to buy her groceries in town is the main supermarket and she finds herself really missing the ability to be able to support local, small-scale producers and businesses.
Growing up in Devon and Somerset, Lara always ate with the seasons, but only fully appreciated it all when she started a veg patch in Bristol, “growing your own vegetables just gives you a deeper understanding and respect for the vegetables and the growing process” she explains. Her all time fave vegetable and the dish she enjoyed cooking the most at Dela was cavolo nero, simply cooked in a little water and then mixed with butter and a pinch of salt. Perfection.
Fortunately for Lara’s own shopping and eating habits, eating seasonally is an area that Finland seems to be pretty good at, unlike us demanding Brits who expect avocadoes, clementine’s and tomatoes all year round. It may be partly due to all the foraging that goes down in Finland, but there are certain things, for instance mushrooms, which you just cannot get in Finnish supermarkets outside of mushroom season, “people just accept that they’re not growing, so you can’t buy them”. The beauty of this is that when an ingredient is then in season, it is celebrated and the Finns go into it in a big way. Potatoes are the current flavour of the month, and there are seven different varieties of potatoes currently on offer in Lara’s supermarket, all generously overflowing from large barrels in her supermarket. Her favourites potatoes so far have been a variety from Lapland. – Lapin Puikula Perunaa (perunaa means potato) and other early new potatoes like Ratty, Anya and Nicola. Delicious, waxy and firm potatoes, they are perfect for salads and soups, just like the Finnish soup Lara is sharing on this blog.
The change of pace from Bristol to Finland has been massive. At five months pregnant Lara was still putting in 12 hour shifts in the restaurant, as well as managing the business side of things too. It’s not surprising then that when Lara and Pete (her husband) first moved to Finland, Lara wanted to live way out in the sticks. She’s glad though that they’ve gone to the relative busyness of Hamina instead. Although they haven’t met a lot of people (COVID hasn’t helped the situation either), Lara still finds the human contact comforting “even if I don’t speak to anyone, it’s just nice to see people every now and then”. Plus, their little family are in training. When they do move back to the UK, their dream is to buy a plot of land somewhere in the South West and be as self-sufficient as possible. If anyone will nail that dream, I am supremely confident it will be Lara.
Lara’s recipe is a Finnish variation of a chowder, or Cullen skink. Lara says: “I have swapped out the raw Salmon for Trout as I think it’s a nicer fish and more sustainable. Over here I get local rainbow trout, but in the UK I would get organic farmed trout. Stream Farm in Somerset are brilliant and who we used to use for Dela, there’s also Chalk Stream Farm in Hampshire. They are bigger but just as ethical. The potatoes in the soup are another nice nod to the abundance of little potatoes that are in season right now.
Trout and fennel soup
- Half a fennel finely sliced
- 1 onion diced
- 1 large leek finely sliced
- 500g new potatoes peeled and halfed (waxy varieties like ratty or anya are best)
- Good splash of fish sauce/ or fish stock
- 200ml double cream (optional)
- 500g trout diced into large chunks
- 200g smoked salmon, sliced
- Large handful of dill, roughly chopped
- Small handful of chive, finely chopped
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
Sweat down the onions, fennel and leek in butter and olive oil for 10 mins
Add the potatoes and stir. Add enough water to just cover the ingredients, a healthy pinch of salt and good splash of fish sauce.Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 mins or until the new potatoes are cooked.(Add the cream at this point if you are including it)
Add the Trout and simmer for a further 3 mins, take off the heat. Add the smoked salmon, dill, chives and spring onion and gently fold together.
Serve straight away with some chunky bread and butter.