This slow adventure was about combining wild food with wellbeing in wilderness. Bringing two traditions together; locally fished and foraged foods, and wellbeing from Finnish traditional sauna, Sirpa and Katja provided a perfect balance. This is rejuvenation in wilderness, and became the ideal pause in our journey through Northern Finland.
This post was made possible with help from the Slow Adventure in the Northern Territories (SAINT) project. Read more about our fantastic new sponsor here! Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are our own.
The music of your soul
When travelling from Finland's Oulu airport towards the region of Kuusamo, you begin to realise the expanse of the forest surrounding you.
Kuusamo itself is spread over 5,000 square kilometres, and has over 4,000 lakes. When we asked Tanja - our guide and regional expert, about the sensation of having our horizons so suddenly broadened and the silence it carries, she mentioned a popular Finnish saying, that translates to:
"Silence lets you listen to the music of your soul"
Isokenkäisten Klubi - Club of the Big-Shoe People
This unique place surrounded by deep forest was originally used as a getaway for high ranking officials from Helsinki, i.e., "big shoe people". It is run by two sisters - ladies of the forest: Katja and Sirpa. Their father built the lodge, cabins and traditional buildings, and his and the family's spirit permeates the place.
They've built it up for tourists to immerse themselves in Finnish culture, nature and wellbeing.
Their father built a lot of the buildings in a traditional way, and was always busy. He obviously had a creative eye. Small ornaments of wood - naturally shaped into door handles, or wall decorations, take the form of fish, a bird or an eagle - just by the way an old tree root or branch grew.
It makes the mind wonder, working out what he envisioned, while appreciating the time he took.
Full of stories, positive energy and a passion for what they do, spending time with Katja and Sirpa was a fantastic way for us to get to know the traditions and culture around Finnish nature. Slow food, sauna and mindfulness come together here, harmonised by the wonderfully still surroundings.
From stressful traveling to being like butter
As travellers it's not always easy to "land" - setting your bags down does not necessarily let your shoulders drop. It can take time. It can be hard to sleep, even in the calmest of spaces. This evening and all of the next day would be dedicated to slowing down and focusing on food and traditions that locals have used to make a good life here.
As we arrived the sauna was ready, and by the end of the night we melted into our fresh, clean bedsheets with empty minds and bodies like butter.
What is wild food?
Wild food is indigenous to the place you're in, and not produced using big scale, modern farming. Wild food is foraged or harvested from local nature. Katja and Sirpa are very passionate about wild food. From the hand picked berries in the breakfast jams, to the traditional cooking in the Kota, all ingredients were foraged, harvested or locally bought by the two sisters or their mother. Each ingredient carried a story to be shared.
Our main activity during our stay at "the two sisters" was an open fire cooking session in their traditional hut, called a "Kota", where among other things, glow fired salmon was on the menu.
Home cooking, Finnish style
The Kota is a wonderful, practical space. Enclosed by leaning walls like a teepee, it holds the warmth from a fire at its centre. A large window fills the room with natural light. Cosy blankets and lights make for a warm atmosphere. A simple space for making slow food.
Kitkan viisas - the "Clever fish"
We'd be soaking it all in as we learned how to prepare food in a traditional Lappis hut over the open fire, using local food or what's been picked that day from nature.
Mark's favourite was "Kitkan viisas", a small freshwater whitefish from lake Kitka, that they call "wise" because unlike many other fish, it doesn't swim over the border to Russia (as all the water in this area runs into Russia). They're beautiful when salted and fried. The bones are soft and the small size of fish makes it a great snack. It's locally known that the bones are important for vitamin D, especially during the winter months when daylight is in short supply.
Glow fired salmon - step by step
Once we had our crispy starter, we began work for the main course.
Two large fillets of local wild salmon were briefly salted, then pegged to wooden boards and set upright by the fire.
It took a little over an hour to cook, and in between turning them around, we'd baste the salmon in melted butter using a twig of juniper. This gave a delicate flavour to the butter and kept the salmon from hardening in the heat.
To go with the salmon we had Lappis potatoes, lactose mushrooms fried in a pan with spring onions and some other vegetables, plus an amazing sauce of creme fresh, crushed dried nettle, and other lovely ingredients hand picked by the sisters from the nearby forest.
Sauna - a deep sleep for the body
With full bellies, there's no better way to relax than a traditional sauna. A wood burning stove kept the stones hot, letting us pour on the water to create the right dose of steam that cleans and cleanses.
The floors are angled slightly with a gap for the water to run out, so washing with buckets of hot water is easy and fun.
Birch "whisks" (called "vihta" in Finnish) are gathered & dried in the spring to use the sauna. They're really popular - we even spotted them frozen in the supermarket! Dipping a birch bundle in water, then tapping it on the skin releases an oil that promotes skin repair. Shaking the wet birch on the stones releases an aromatic oil that helps breathing by opening the airways. Skin is left smooth with a residue rich in vitamins C and A.
As the stove "ticks" with the warmth, and the fizz of water turning into steam, there's a magical feeling of muscles and bones falling into a deep sleep.
Our feast of wild food was the outcome of many slow adventures. Foraging for berries and herbs, fishing, harvesting potatoes and keeping up traditions, are the ways Kitja and Sirpa interact with nature, sustaining themselves and their guests.
Everything we made there had a story connected to it - where these mushrooms were hiding, the "Kitkan viisas - clever fish" not running off to Russia, stories from their father and of the older ways of Finnish and Sami people, all come together around food and slow adventure, making for a very whole experience.
As we tune back into the normal life, it's easy to miss the stillness of Finland's forests, and the rich culture sustained by people like Kitja and Sirpa.
To visit the Katja and Sirpa in Kuusamo, visit http://www.ikk.fi/en/
Nearby National Park: http://www.nationalparks.fi/en/oulankanp
Nice article about Oulanka National Park in National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/parks/oulanka-finland/
Other activity companies in the area: www.rukapalvelu.fi
And check out #landofnationalparks on Instagram