In Swedish Lapland, a Passionate Forager Celebrates the Region and Its People
Eva Gunnare, 50, lives in Jokkmokk, in Swedish Lapland, just north of the Arctic Circle. She describes it as a small town, with only about 2,500 inhabitants, but also the main town in a large area, so it has more facilities and activities than you'd expect.
"Jokkmokk is also a special meeting point for the [indigenous] Sámi people," she explains. "There is a big Sámi population, and this is the home of many Sámi organizations, schools, museums, and reindeer herding companies. Jokkmokk is my home, and a paradise that I never want to leave!"
Gunnare was born in Stockholm, where, she says, she was brought up on ready-to-eat supermarket food, though she says her mother was a great cook for special holidays and parties — and that she was given free rein to cook for the family as a child.
"My sister laughs at me sometimes," says Gunnare, "because when we talk about our shared memories, I always remember food we have eaten in all kinds of situations — something she never remembers. So food is truly something I always have treasured highly."
When she was 20, Gunnare first came to the mountains near Jokkmokk. "From then on," she says, "I've never wanted to move back to the south." About eight years ago, she started studying and working with food on a professional basis. "I'm a food creator and cultural guide, with wild local herbs and berries as my special knowledge and passion," she says.
"I think I live more aware and adjusted to the seasons than many other people," Gunnare says. "Here in the north, the seasons are so diversified and so very different: short days in the cold, snowy wintertime, and no darkness at all in the bright, warm summer. From spring (May) until autumn (September) I spend a lot of the days foraging wild herbs and berries in the mountains, meadows, forests, and moors around Jokkmokk. And all year around I have guided tours and cooking activities, both in Jokkmokk and around Sweden."
In 2011, a year after she took a yearlong course in Jokkmokk on traditional Sámi food, she started her company, called Essense of Lapland — the apparent misspelling of the first word deliberate, to evoke "sense."
"I was completely filled with knowledge, passion, and energy, and really wanted to use all of this in my own way," Gunnare explains, "so I started a business where everything I really enjoyed in life could come together: food, wild herbs, singing, storytelling, photography, and teaching about the nature and culture of Lapland. I work with different taste activities in the form of 'flavor shows.'"
These shows, conducted in Swedish or English, are, according to her website, "filled with stories, pictures, songs, and taste bites with lots of wild flavours.” Examples of the food she serves include birch-flavored breadsticks with pine-shoot dipping sauce, salt-marinated char with mountain sorrel sauce, and chocolate pralines with brandy-pickled rowan berries.
"These shows are a great way to learn more about Lapland in an informative and entertaining way," Gunnare says.