Thursday, 22 July 2010

Pirita market - sweet thorns

Don’t I like contradictions…for those who’ve read my latest melancholic musings about the disappearance of the farmers’ markets in Estonia, here is a cheery note – the market ‘scene’ in Tallinn is far from dying.

Those little cutsey creatures (for I often think of these local bazaars, full of characters and beautifully obscure products, as living beings, say playful cats that both comfort you with their foodie murrrs and make you work by demanding time and effort) pop up here and there like early autumn mushrooms, quite spontaneously, randomly organised, but all the more charming for their teasing behaviour. I encountered one such market - a small cluster of wooden stalls that I had not come across before - in the seaside area of Tallinn, Pirita.

Convent of St Birgitta, Tallinn. photo thanks to Dennis@stromness

Pirita is a solemn stretch of sand, colour of melted ice-cream, framed by pine trees and prickly undergrowth (not many things I miss in my self-imposed migration, but these foresty beaches with cool waters, so shallow and calm that they look like antic mirrors). I paint a serene picture, but Pirita is also an intensely popular area of the capital for youngests to ‘hand out’, for families to bring their off-spring, for tourists to wonder off (Pirita was the place where the Olympic games of the 1980s took place, the water game part, so it is still full of yachts, sport 'complexes' and tanned young men running fast).

Estonian forrests by the sea

The tiny market was right by the side of the road, backed up by the imposing ruins of the medieval Birgitta monastery on one side, stylish houses on another, and a forest on the third.

I saw a little stall selling tiny local strawberries in self-made paper baskets, good bread, seasonal veg – not all from nearby talus, smallholdings, but perfection is boring. My heart jumped when I saw a whole stall dedicated to sea buckthorn - a little orange berry, that used to be prevalent throughout Northern Europe, but is now in real short supply in the UK, although still in abundance in Estonia.

All things sea buckthorny at a local market

A young man was selling jams, juices, nectars, what looked like pollen for sprinkling on cereal and lots of other creations – all made from this curiously sweet and tart berry, the flavour reminiscent of an apricot, but somehow…muddier, the texture more sticky. The flavour that makes you work, a reference to Marmite is difficult to avoid (those who watched the latest serious of the Great British Menu will recall the look of disgust on the judges faces, including – impossible, I know – Matthew Fort’s. The chef who dared to used it for his dessert was Nathan Outlaw in his sea buckthorn curd meringue).

I have tried sea buckthorn jam with cold cuts of pork, or on a toasted slice of rye bread with my morning brew, mixed with cottage cheese and almonds. With venison it would be delectable.

I am yet to try the juice though. I have a bottle of this clone-ish orange nectar in my cupboard, ready for the next party. I’m planning to mix it with something sparkling and lots of crushed ice, mint should go well.

Have any ideas for my sea buckthorn juice? Let me know, and I’ll report once tried.


Ken Albala said...

Hmm, This post really makes me want to go. I'll be in Helsinki in August, is it a very far trip?

Katrina said...

go Ken! - Tallinn is only 80 ksm from Helsinki, a beautiful ferry trip which takes an hour or two I think. get back, I'll give more recommendations..:)

p.s. Carole has come back to me - thank you!

Pille said...

I love sea-buckthorn juice neat - it's wonderful. I've also made a jelly with it, and "mannavaht" (whipped semolina porridge).

Katrina said...

Sea buckthorn jelly sounds fantastic actually (maybe with goat cheese ice-cream..:)

am still thinking about alcohol combinations..