Archive for July, 2011

July 29, 2011


by Ciaran Burke


I have been in Finland for the last couple of weeks with my wife Hanna, a native of this beautiful tree filled land. Finland is the most forested country in the EU. Approximately 74% of the country is covered in forest. One gets the impression that even the biggest towns and cities are living areas carved from the forests, trees are never far away. The green gold of Finland provides an important source of income, but the forests are more than resources to be harvested and sold.

Driving through the country, large pines and birches tower either side of the road. The roads are like veins and arteries carrying civilization, through a forested body; it is in this arboreal body in which the Finnish soul resides.

In European folklores, the woods are scary places; big bad wolves attack innocent girls on their way to visit their grand mothers. In Finland however the forests are considered a place of beauty, where most people spend their summer holidays, surrounded by the beauty. In summer as you drive along one of the arterial routes of civilization, you are sure to see people walking to the forests with empty buckets in search for berries or coming from the woods with baskets of mushrooms. Gathering food from the forest floor is a national pass time, or in some cases an obsession.

The two most numerous berry types are lingon berry and wild blueberry, bilberry, or froachan as we call it in Ireland. Both are species of Vaccinium, the former, V. vitis-idea and the latter V. myrtillus. Finns may love their forests, but they are intensely proud of their berries too. Ask them and most will tell you that the Finnish blueberries are the best. Families often have their own preferred places for picking; this information is not shared with others.

Last week we were in Hanko, the southern most tip of Finland. Here the forest is chiefly composed of tall pines. We got a report that the blue berries were plentiful, we went for a walk to see. As often happens in this wooded land, a short stroll became a berry picking expedition. The hot and high afternoon sun filtered through the open pines to dapple light patterns on the sandy forest floor. Mosses and lichens made a soft bed for heathers and blueberries to grow in the shade. We picked a litre of berries and returned home.


Early the next morning we visited the market in Hanko. Here in a car park in the town, adjacent to a filling station, wild blue berries were piled high on a table. The berry sellers were Asian women, Burmese refugees. They pick them in the woods and sell the in the market, their produce marked clearly that they are Suomi, Finnish. Farmers sold vegetables, there were stalls for locally caught fish too. The vegetables stalls sold potatoes measured in kappa’s. A kappa is a wooden box, a 5 litre box is a full kappa, a 2 litre is half. These are traditional measurements used for selling potatoes, converted to metric measurements, the boxes complete with official stamps. Most fruits and vegetables are sold by volume and not by weight at the Finnish markets. French beans, green and yellow are measured in litre and half litre measuring cups.



We purchased an additional litre of blue berries and potatoes and vegetables for dinner; then we cycled home to make some jam.


In a saucepan I cooked the berries with a small amount of water until the fruit had become soft, a wonderful fruity fragrance filled the kitchen. After about ten minutes of slowly cooking the fruit I gradually added 500g of sugar, made from Finnish grown sugar beet, unlike Ireland they saved their sugar beet industry from EU eradication. When all the sugar was added and dissolved, I turned up the heat and the jam boiled hard. I continued cooking the jam, stirring occasionally until the jam was not running off the wooden spoon.


The messiest part of jam making is always when I fill the jars. The jars were heated in the oven so as to sterilize them; they were first washed, then dried and placed in a cold oven. I heat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius and the jars remain in the oven until I am ready to fill them.


Later when the filled jars had cooled and the jam was set, we ate Finnish oven pancake over which we spooned this delicious wild blue berry jam. We ate it with home made buns, on bread, and spooned straight from the jar. There is nothing quite like home made jam, wild blue berry jam made with berries from the woodland, delicious!

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July 10, 2011

Kanaviilokki – Finnish Chicken Curry With Blackcurrant Jam

by Ciaran Burke


Next week I will be visiting Finland. Each year my wife and I visit her homeland and her family and friends. I like Finland, in the summer the nights are long, the weather better than Ireland and in the winter the deep snow and cold crisp weather is refreshing. The Finns are nice people, polite and pleasant, direct and honest.

When you visit foreign places, you look for similarities, you also notice differences. The people you meet treat you as an exotic, they too look for similarities between our cultures and also observe the differences. Sometimes both can create amusing situations. A simple act on my part, a common place action in my home land can create amusement and people might make remarks. A straight forward act such as putting jam on your bread in the morning, a good example. Finns eat bread for their breakfast, they also eat jam, but the two do not meet. No, black currant jam does not get spread on their leipä, instead they eat their black currant hillo with meat. A popular home made dish is Kanaviilokki, a chicken curry and it is always served with jam, black currant jam. Imagine sitting down at the local Indian curry house, the waiter has served you your tandori chicken and asks you if there is anything else he can get you, to which you reply, “may I have a side order of black currant jam to go with this please?”. I am tempted to try it. Well until I get that opportunity I decided to give it ago at home. Hanna supplied the recipe, just like Finnish mums have been making it for decades, but with a few slight variations.

You can’t get whole chikens in the shop in Finland, you can only get portions or what they call broiler meat. We used a large breast and two thighs which we had cut up into portions when we bought our organic chiken from Irish Organic meats at Boyle farmers market, Hanna ground up the curry spices fresh, and the chicken stock came from our freezer, made from the carcass of an organic chicken after portioning it up. We use brown basmati rice.




  • 500g of chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped coarsely
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 3 teaspoons of curry powder (depending on which mix you use, add less at first and add more as it cooks if you think it needs it)
  • Butter for frying
  • cornflower for thikening
  • Black Currant Jam for serving
  • Brown Basmati Rice


  1. Melt a large knob of butter in a large sauce pan. I add a little rape seed oil to help stop the butter burning. Use a medium to low heat.
  2. Add the onion and saute until it starts to soften.
  3. Add curry powder and continue to cook until the onion softens and turns golden. Be careful not to let the onion burn and don’t let it stick to the pan, keep it moving around.
  4. Chicken can now be added, turn up the heat a little and stir around until the meat is sealed.
  5. Pour in the chicken stock, turn up the heat until the liquid boils and then lower the heat and cover the pot.
  6. Let the mixture simmer for 40 minutes, stirring every now and again to prevent it sticking
  7. Put a couple of tea spoons of corn flower in a cup and add a little water, stir to make a paste.
  8. Add a little of the cornflower at a time and stir until the curry starts to thicken, cook for another few minutes, stirring frequently.
  9. Serve the curry with boiled rice and a side dish of black currant jam.



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July 9, 2011


by Ciaran Burke


It is not unusual for a public garden to have a good coffee shop or restaurant, less usual is for a restaurant to have a good public garden. An Fear Gorta (The Hungry Man) Tea and Garden Rooms in the Atlantic coast town of Ballyvaughan in Co. Clare is one such exception. Located right on the harbour, the picturesque building not only offers a great selection of cakes but it has a delightful cottage style garden in which to enjoy your food when the weather is good, or just to admire from the warm room or conservatory on a wet day.


Katherine O’Donoghue started the business in 1981,  the property had had a complete refurbishment. It was once a Coast Guard’s building and dates back to the 1790’s. Today it is a cosy and welcoming tea rooms which are run by her daughter Jane. Katherine has retired and last year she started a course in garden design, I was her tutor on the RHS course which I held for The Garden School. On the last day of the course she reminded me that I must drop in to see her garden and visit the Tea Rooms if ever I was in the area. The area, Ballyvaughan, is in County Clare and is situated in the Burren, an area of scientific interest and well known to geologists, botanists, gardeners and lovers of nature. The Burren features large areas of limestone pavements and is home to plant species otherwise found in Arctic and Eruropean Alpine habitats. Side by side Dryas octopetela and Geranium sanguineum grow and flower in early summer, accompanied by orchids and other interesting flora.


My trip to the Burren with my wife Hanna, was not to admire the wild flowers but to visit a private garden, Caher Bridge Garden in Fanore. Ballyvaughan is about two hours drive from our home in Co. Mayo, the perfect distance for a coffee or tea break. We left our garden in lovely sunshine only to see the cloud increasing as we travelled south. As we passed galway the rain started to bucket down and when we arrived at the tea rooms it was lashing rain. We ran quickly inside and we were welcomed by the smiling staff and Katherine’s daughter Jane. There was also a roaring fire in the stove, such are Irish summers, fires are often needed. We ordered our drinks and our eyes hungrily tasted each of the cakes as a young lady explained about each one, we both went for the damson and almond cake.



We sat on the comfortable sofa and admired the tastefully decorated premises, full of character and charm. We finished our cake and looked out at the garden from the conservatory, the rain had eased a little. Katherine was not there but she had left instructions with jane to show us where to go and we went for a walk in the rain and admired her gardening work. A large vegetable patch with bright orange calendula flowers that beamed with warmth even beneath the grey wet skies was evidence that Katherine has been far from idle in her retirement.  White daisies of feverfew mingled with the vegetables growing in raised beds made from local stone. Clematis flowers dripped in the rain as we admired the garden, charmed by the atmosphere.


The rain started heavy again, we returned to the dry refuge of the conservatory, from here we could admire the view of the garden and dream of a dry day in which we could sip a drink, nibble a cake and soak in the prettiness of the cottage garden instead of the rain.Above our heads a pink passion flower bloomed, pots of plants along by the windows were further evidence of katherine’s gardening obsession. In these days of mulit-store franchises it is refreshing to find an establishment with personality, individuality, warmth and charm. Not to mention a pretty garden, delicious cakes and friendly people. We will return, rain or shine.



The rain started heavy again, we returned to the dry refuge of the conservatory, from here we could admire the view of the garden and dream of a dry day in which we could sip a drink, nibble a cake and soak in the prettiness of the cottage garden instead of the rain.Above our heads a pink passion flower bloomed, pots of plants along by the windows were further evidence of katherine’s gardening obsession. In these days of mulit-store franchises it is refreshing to find an establishment with personality, individuality, warmth and charm. Not to mention a pretty garden, delicious cakes and friendly people. We will return, rain or shine.

An Fear Gorta (Tea & Garden Rooms)
Ballyvaughan Co Clare
Tel:+353 (0)65 707 7157

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