18 October 2006


We have just enjoyed a season that the Finns call ruska, which sounds like it might be related to the word for brown, ruskea. And that might make sense, except that at the height of ruska the foliage is all bright orange and red. By rights, this season should be called oranssinvärinen

But by the time you got it all out—oh-rahns-seen-va-ree-nehn—it’d be over. Ruska lasted about a week, about as long as it takes the Japanese cherry blossoms to do their thing down by the Jefferson Memorial. Last Saturday was gorgeous; we saw the sun for the first time in a month. And so I did some laundry and hung it out to dry, which cued the rain, naturally, and that brought down all the leaves. As I look out the window of my flat today, I see that the birch trees, which were full of orange leaves 48 hours ago, are now completely bare. Meanwhile, the leaves, one by one, are making their way into my asunto.

There is an article about ruska in the current issue of the student newspaper, Oulun Ylioppilaslehti. The writer, Samantha Eidenbach, reports that Finns enjoy going out into the forest during this season to pick berries and mushrooms, and they tend to head north, as far as Lapland, because the autumnal colors are more vibrant the farther north one goes. Ms. Eidenbach interviewed scientists about why that is so, and the answer is that “there is a greater quantity of colour chemicals in the plants of the Far North,” which sounds like a tautology to me, which is why I’m not a scientist. However, the same scientist is quoted to the effect that there is a new theory that red pigments “might be a signal to animals,” which is to say that “the colour might be so strong in the north to attract birds to berries before the long winter arrives.” I’ll confess that I’m skeptical about all this, having seen a few Blue Ridge autumns in my time. But I am a guest here, so I will suspend disbelief.

One thing is clear, when the Finns go in search of berries, they bring them back in quantity. The kauppatori, or main market area in the center of town, has little else on offer these days (see photo, above). I couldn’t resist buying some little cranberries; they are very tart. Cranberry in Finnish is karpalo, but since I haven’t learned how to form the plural yet, we’ll just leave it at that, even though I have many more than one. I have no idea what to do with them, aside from throwing them on my Cheerios.

Then there are the mushrooms, chanterelles. These are lovely, delicate things. I bought some at Stockmann’s and have used them to enhance omelettes and a spaghetti sauce that I have learned how to construct on a base of Ragu. Once again, Stockmann’s, the Center of the Ouluniverse, has saved the day. It has provided me with a way of celebrating the season that doesn’t involve tromping through the forest. (Written on Monday, 16 October.)


Anonymous A. Nonyymi said...

/me likes waking up and finding a new piece to read in here as a part of one's morning rituals.

anyway, teh stuff you got on most of that photo (on the far right there's some karpaloita) is partridgeberries, or puolukoita (basic form for a single berry being puolukka). one could make wine or nasty juice out of it. or freeze it and serve it along the year with various dishes, mostly involved food made of blood *insert evil maniac laughter here*. you could also get yourself a pet bear and feed 'em to him. anyway, check out the wikipedia on its uses. or if its the actual karpalo you got (they sell it less and i don't know what to do with it, but i'd guess it's close to puolukka), wikipedia could still get you started.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simple cranberry sauce: Stir together a cup of cranberries with about 1/3 cup water and 1/4 (or a little more) cup sugar with a little orange zest (optional). Cook until cranberries burst. Let cool. Add a teaspoon of brandy (optional).

3:58 PM  
Blogger fulbrighterinfinland said...

Many thanks to both of you! Karpaloita is very good to know. Next time I try ask for puolukoita at the kauppatori.

The recipe sounds great, but I think I'll go with a wee dram of the brandy, rather than just a teaspoon. (Insert evil maniac laugh here.) Kippis!

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you come across what in North America are called either "Cloudberries" or "Bake Apples? They are yellow, are picked in marshy areas and are delicious. I have had them in Finland on prior trips. Hope to have them again.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be very careful about judging a language and culture based on a few months or even a year in a country. It seemed to be very ethnocentric to say that ruska should be in all rights oranssinvärinen. Ruska is in fact untranslateable where one could understand its whole and true meaning. Also, it was quite unfair of you to make such a condescending comment about Ms. Eidenbach's description of ruska without proper experience or knowledge of the autumn foliage in Northern areas. We must all remember that when we visit and experience new cultures, we should try to understand that the new culture we are experiencing does not revolve around our own culture.

4:00 PM  
Blogger fulbrighterinfinland said...

I'm very sorry to have offended you. Please accept my apologies.

10:24 PM  

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