Travel on Trial: Find it, cook it, eat it. Is this the world's poshest picnic?
Perhaps it’s just me, but in recent years the picnic blanket seems to have become a culinary arena. I blame Jamie Oliver. One can no longer tuck into a crisp sandwich without inciting the prods of spork-wielding gladiators who pick apart the provenance of each component before landing the ultimate jab: “But is it organic?” Mercy be upon the plastic-bag-carriers among us.
For too long I’ve been that uncultured brute – hesitantly throwing a carrot baton into the ring, perhaps a falafel – but not this summer. As part of an ongoing resolution to “eat better”, I decided to seek an education in the fine art of picnicking.
And where better to learn than Sweden? Britain may be a little drizzly, but the Swedes have really pulled the meteorological short straw. With summers shorter and milder than our own, they seize chances to dine al fresco with relish – redcurrant relish, that is.
As part of their “edible country” initiative, they’re inviting novices like me to forage, cook and eat amid their splendiferous landscapes, from the chillier climes of Lapland down to the industrious fishing havens of the south-western archipelago.
• Travel on Trial: Kayaking across frozen lakes? It’s the coolest way to explore Canada’s mountain wilderness
As the plane turbines roared into action at Heathrow, I meditated on the life of future Robbie. Would this trip signal my initiation into the picnic elite, or would I return home hungry – poisoned, perhaps? – with nothing more than a crispy carapace of sunburn to show for myself? Apprehensive, I stepped off the plane in Gothenburg two hours later and headed up Sweden’s west coast.
Aside from being a great excuse to indulge in some delicious food, I left with a newfound appreciation for the natural resources right at our fingertips
My education started at Skarets Krog, Thomas Sjogren’s devilishly delicious restaurant on the island of Smogen. Sjogren is one of many celebrated young chefs tasked with devising meals that both incorporate Sweden’s bountiful natural resources, and can be whipped up by kitchen nightmares such as myself, in situ.
“It’s a simple, traditional recipe,” he said of the picnic my friend and I would eventually prepare, “a hearty, fisherman’s meal of pickled herring and chive butter-basted potatoes served with a dressing of bubbly seaweed and kale.”
• Travel on Trial: A roller coaster of a ride – in a sidecar in the Atlas Mountains
The fish and potatoes were provided, I should say, but the rest of it was ours to forage. Sjogren proffered some tips on where to find the best veg, and then, before we were expelled on to the rocky outcrop of nearby Ramsvik, he dispensed some ill-received reassurance: “Don’t worry, none of the seaweed is poisonous.”
His words hung thick in the air the following day. Within 10 minutes of our arrival at Ramsvik, we stumbled upon a chubby, lifeless seal, beached on the rocks. “Don’t get too close,” barked Lisa, our guide. “There’s a virus that causes the carcass to ferment, and, eventually, explode.”
As nature reserves go, this is a harsh environment, a boisterous landscape of swollen, glacial rock formations that looks like it’s being perpetually warped by a wind so strong my vision almost blurred. But the carcass didn’t explode – instead, we stumbled across the picnicking equivalent of glamping.
Along with a vast banquet table, we were given a hamper stuffed with jars and paper bags sagging promisingly with raw ingredients, and a Fjallraven Kanken backpack – the Swedish design classic turned hipster must-have – that clinked with shiny cooking equipment. There wasn’t a rustle of polyethylene to be heard.
With a guide to the local flora in one hand, I started grabbing with the other. I clutched at fistfuls of slithering kelp, which danced like a swarm of eels on the water’s edge, and crunchy salt-stiffened kale that sprouted resolutely from crevices while the potatoes spluttered away in a pan of fresh seawater.
The recipe was easy – we served that up with a dollop of yogurt in half an hour flat – but the threat of sabotage from greedy gulls circling overhead intermittently turned an otherwise quaint tableau into a calamitous scene of Hitchcockian high drama.
Such larks were omitted from my Instagram feed, which instead burst with unfiltered blue skies, vast deserts of openness and snaps of our table dressed with wild flowers. The meal was cold by the time we tucked in, but it was still the poshest picnic I’d ever made: posher than rose harissa dip and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette; posher than Jamie Oliver.
I returned to Hackney (where nettles and dandelions are waiting to be harvested) inspired, but admittedly have yet to pluck so much as a single leaf. Such extreme picnicking is a physical and mental workout, and while earth-to-table dining is a charming antidote to our chlorine-washed, cellophane-wrapped diets of instant convenience, my heart still beats for a good old crisp sandwich.
The experience costs £13 pp; includes equipment and basic ingredients. For more information on The Edible Country or to book, see visitsweden.com/ediblecountry. See westsweden.com for more ideas on what to do in West Sweden.