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Food for the taking

(article, Liz Crain)

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After several years in Scotland, Pille Petersoo was happy to return to her native Estonia, where the foods that she loves — including curd cheese and sweet-and-sour rye bread — are easy-to-find staples. In the summer of 2005, Petersoo started the blog Nami-Nami (Estonian slang for "yummy"), and ever since she's been sharing her food adventures with readers from around the world. 

[%image pille float=left credit="Photo courtesy Pille Petersoo" caption="Pille Petersoo"]
 
p(blue). Blog: Nami-Nami
Average posts per month: 18
Blogger: Pille Petersoo
Age: 33
Blog place of origin: Viimsi, just outside Tallinn, the capital of Estonia
 
In the summer, Petersoo forages in the forest for bilberries, lingonberries, and cloudberries, which are then turned into jellies, jams, and baked goods. Summer through early fall, she hunts edible wild mushrooms such as ugly milkcaps, wood blewits, chanterelles, and morels. Nami-Nami is full of posts that chronicle these foraging trips as well as the preserving, pickling, and cooking that makes use of such seasonal bounty. 
 
When did you start making jams and jellies?
As a kid, but then there was a long break. Now that I’m back in Estonia, I’ve started making them again. They’re great during winter.
 
Which is your favorite type?
Depends. Wild strawberry fridge jam is great, and so are the garden strawberry ones, but I don’t like cooked strawberry jams. Plum, greengage, apricot, and cloudberry are my favorites. But I also like to play around with various combinations, like my recent lingonberry and apple jam.

[%image reference-image float=left credit="Photo courtesy Pille Petersoo" caption="Lingonberry and apple jam on pancakes."]
 
How long have you kept a garden?
My mum has always had a garden, but I used every trick known in the universe to avoid working there when I was younger. Now I’ve got a window garden for my herbs, and I started a small container garden for vegetables like tomatoes and zucchini, as well as alpine strawberries. 
 
Our proper garden won’t be ready until next summer, but I’ve already started reading up on gardening tips. My interest in cooking is very much tied to knowing where my fruits and vegetables come from. 
 
How would you describe Estonian food?
Estonian food is simple, hearty, and rather seasonal. During our cold and dark winters we survive by eating lots of filling pork and potato dishes and thick, heartwarming soups. 
The typical summer diet is totally different, consisting mostly of green salads and barbecued meat. 
 
Estonia has been under the control of various neighbors (Danes, Swedes, Germans, Russians), and this is reflected in the cuisine. An interesting mix, I'd say.

What are some of your favorite Estonian dishes?
Our sweet-and-sour rye bread is the best in the world; ask any expat Estonian, and they will tell you that they miss our bread. I always brought several loaves back with me to Edinburgh, and put it in the freezer, and then toasted a precious slice every morning. Now I bake my own rye bread, and I'm shocked that I didn't think of it earlier — it's so easy and delicious.

[%image promo-image float=right width=350 credit="Photo courtesy Pille Petersoo" caption="Chanterelle-stuffed kohlrabi with blue-cheese sauce."]
 
I can’t imagine summers without kama and wild strawberries and other forest berries. Christmas without black pudding and sauerkraut is unimaginable as well. I spent a year in Denmark as an exchange student when I was 18, and I still remember how sad I was when I had to settle for green cabbage instead of sauerkraut.
 
How often do you go to the market?
At least once a week, sometimes twice. I get a lot of stuff from my mum — apples, zucchinis, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, plums, and herbs — all organic. Most of the other fruits and vegetables I get from the market, where the prices and quality are much better than in the supermarkets. 
 
I also sometimes buy wild mushrooms and forest berries from the market, although nothing beats foraging oneself. Oh, and there's a woman who makes the best adjika (a spicy Georgian pepper condiment) ever. She knows we like it, so she usually keeps a jar for us under the counter.
 
Which herbs and spices do you reach for most often in your kitchen?
I love my Maldon sea salt, and I only have whole black peppercorns in the house, which I grind as needed. Estonians traditionally don't use many spices to season their food, but sweet Hungarian paprika is popular, as are caraway seeds. 

[[block(sidebar).

h1. Liz's favorite posts

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1. Cooking Estonian: KAMA
2. More wild food: nettle soup with eggs & herbs
3. Granny's cookbook: beef rolls and carrot ragout
4. Abundance of apples, and another apple cake

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I also use a lot of cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla (both pods and Madagascar extract) in my cooking. My favorite herbs are dill, chives, and parsley (again, very Estonian), although I use quite a lot of coriander/cilantro recently, too. I find that quite amusing, as just five years ago I'd refuse to eat anything seasoned with cilantro. It's amazing how our tastes evolve. 
 
What do you do for a living? 
My first proper job was as a researcher for the Estonian minister of ethnic affairs — quite a good post for someone straight out of university. I've got a master's degree in nationalism studies and a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Edinburgh, and I currently work as a research fellow at Tallinn University. My research concerns various aspects of national identities and multiculturalism, but I'm wondering if I should get into the sociology of food and eating as well!    
 
What would you be doing more of if you didn't have a blog?
I've been blogging now for over two years, and it's sometimes difficult to imagine my life without it. I've managed a recipe site with the same name since 2000 (there are almost 8,000 recipes at the moment), so I'd be working more on that site. I guess I would be also spending more time reading books and doing some handicraft — I love crocheting, for example. 

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.


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