Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Author: Varun (Page 1 of 4)

Imam Bayildi 3

Aubergines, a fainting imam, and imam bayıldı

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than simple food done really well. I would use an example from life, but the one which keeps popping into my head is actually from Pixar’s Ratatouille: Remy the rat cooks up the titular ‘peasant dish’ for ruthless critic Anton Ego, making it so delicious that Ego is momentarily flung back into his childhood, remembering how his mother served him the same thing.

The story of imam bayıldı follows a similar theme – minus, of course, the talking rat chef!

imam bayıldıImage from Flickr user Dobrin Isabela. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user Joan Nova.

İmam bayıldı is a Turkish dish consisting of an aubergine stuffed with a spiced mix of onions, tomatoes, and garlic, prepared with plenty of olive oil. The name is pronounced ‘im-aam bah-yuhl-duh’ rather than ‘im-am buy-ill-dee’ – Turkish has a dotted and undotted version of the letter ‘i’, and the dotless ‘ı’ is actually pronounced as ‘uh’. As you can see, the dotted ‘i’ is also dotted when capitalized to avoid confusion.

(The dotted ‘i’ has caused some confusion with my website, because the font I use doesn’t have the capitalized version, so I’ve had to put most of this article’s title in lowercase. Just in case you were wondering…)

Translated, ‘imam bayıldı’ literally means ‘the imam fainted’. No, the stuffed aubergine is not supposed to represent an unconscious imam! There are instead a variety of stories to explain how the dish got its name.

Olive OilOlive oil is not only key to making imam bayıldı, but is also key to how it got its name – at least in one version of the story. Image from Pixabay.

The most common story, in the Ratatouille vein, is that an imam was served this dish and found it so delicious that he fainted. Another tells that the imam fainted when he found out that his wife had used up all the olive oil in the house to make the dish. In one account, the imam didn’t even get to taste the dish – having just finished a lengthy fast, the mouth-watering smell was enough to make him faint. A fourth explanation is that the imam was overcome with shock at how expensive the dish was and passed out. Given the simplicity of the ingredients, this seems a little hard to believe! Maybe olive oil was more costly back then…

If you ever find yourself looking for a vegan or gluten-free dish, imam bayıldı ticks both boxes and is definitely one to consider (though you might like to serve it alongside something that has a good source of protein). Make it as tasty as the legendary original and you can also cause your guests/yourself to faint with delight!

RatatouilleRemy’s ratatouille from the film Ratatouille. Image from Fictional Food.

To finish, a fun fact: the fancy ratatouille which Remy prepares in the film is based on a real-life version of the dish known as ‘confit byaldi’ – the name being a nod to imam bayıldı. The dish appears to have been created by French chef Michel Guérard back in the 1970s; American chef Thomas Keller developed it further to create the version featured onscreen.

Confit ByaldiConfit byaldi, as prepared by Crystal Watanabe at Fictional Food.


Guinness Advertising and John Gilroy

Visiting Dublin last week, I made the compulsory pilgrimage to the Guinness Storehouse, which last year was won ‘Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction’ at the World Travel Awards, beating the likes of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and Buckingham Palace! Stylishly set out and easy to get around, it does full justice to an iconic Irish brand and is well worth a visit.

As much as I loved everything from its Willy-Wonka-esque tasting room to its panoramic ‘Gravity Bar’, my favourite section had to be the floor dedicated to the world-renowned Guinness advertising campaigns, most prominently, those created by artist John Gilroy from the 1930s to the 1960s.

John GilroyJohn Gilroy’s self-portrait. From the Heaton History Group website.

Hailing from Whitley Bay in the northeast of England, Gilroy graduated from London’s Royal College of Art after serving with an artillery unit in World War One. In 1925, he joined the Benson’s advertising agency, initially working on campaigns for brands like Bovril and Colman’s Mustard. Three years later, he started working on campaigns for Guinness with copywriters like Robert Bevan and Ronald Barton, creating funny and endearing artwork that gave the brand an iconic status.

The very first newspaper advert for Guinness, published on 06 February 1929, does not actually feature Gilroy’s work – he made his first poster in 1930. While this first advert doesn’t exactly catch the eye, it does include the now immortal slogan, ‘Guinness is Good for You’. The people at Benson’s apparently came up with this after consumers responded to market research by saying that drinking Guinness made them feel good.

first-ever-adThe very first newspaper advert for Guinness. Taken from the official Guinness website.

The first campaign Gilroy is most famously associated with is ‘Guinness for Strength’, showing people gaining super-strength from drinking a pint or two. Compare this to the much later energy-drink slogan, ‘Red Bull gives you wings’!

Guinness for StrengthA copy of the ‘Guinness for Strength’ poster, as displayed at the Guinness Storehouse.

‘My Goodness, My Guinness’ is the second campaign, which features a colourful host of zoo animals stealing the drink from their stressed-out zookeeper, who is a caricature of Gilroy. He supposedly thought up this concept after seeing a sea lion performing at a circus, which led him to imagine that it might do a good job balancing a Guinness glass on its nose.

My Goodness, My GuinnessOne of the many different ‘My Goodness, My Guinness’ posters displayed at the Guinness Storehouse.

Most loved of all of Gilroy’s animals was the Guinness Toucan. It was the novelist Dorothy L. Sayers who, working as a copywriter at Benson’s, came up with the following well-known rhyme:

toucan_advertFrom the History House website.

During the Second World War, Gilroy added to his advertising work by helping to put together posters for the British Government, promoting things like the reduction of food waste. Although Gilroy left Benson’s in the 1940s to pursue a freelance career, he still made artwork for Guinness. In 1953, he brought his animals together to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

QE2 CoronationTaken from the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Gilroy’s animals also made their way into early Guinness television commercials, though that is, of course, no longer the case. From the 1970s onwards, the Guinness campaigns were taken up by a succession of different agencies, resulting in a range of equally distinguished adverts. Gilroy passed away in 1985, having had successful careers in advertising and portrait painting. He had worked on Guinness publicity for 35 years, producing over 100 newspaper adverts and some 50 poster designs, creating an internationally recognised circus of animals who all loved a good pint.

The Owl and the Pussycat 2

The Runcible Spoon

First printed in 1870, Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ is a much-loved children’s poem and one of the best-known examples of nonsense verse. It most famously features Lear’s ‘runcible spoon’, an invented piece of cutlery which makes its appearance in the final verse:

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

So what exactly is a runcible spoon? The poem, after all, gives only the name and no clue as to the shape. Modern definitions suggest that it is ‘a fork curved like a spoon, with three broad prongs, one of which has a sharpened outer edge for cutting’. This might at first imply that Edward Lear came up with the concept for the spork!

SporkA spork? Or a runcible spoon? Image from Flickr user Brennen Bearnes. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user sammydavisdog.

However, Lear gives no written definition for ‘runcible spoon’, and it is a bit of a mystery where the spork-style meaning has come from. That said, the poet may have provided a definition of a more visual kind. The utensil crops up again in his 1872 collection, More nonsense, pictures, rhymes, botany, where he writes of ‘The Dolomphious Duck, who caught Spotted Frogs for her dinner with a Runcible Spoon’. This is accompanied with an illustration of said duck and spoon by the man himself.

Lear_Runcible_spoonEdward Lear’s illustration of the ‘runcible spoon’. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Going by this, a runcible spoon is some sort of ladle. The Oxford English Dictionary recognises the spork-type definition as a later usage and states that in Lear’s work, a runcible spoon is simply ‘a type of spoon’ (what an anti-climax!). It adds that the adjective ‘runcible’ might have been formed from ‘rouncival’, a type of garden pea.

Other sources have suggested that ‘runcible’ was coined to make fun of Robert Runcie, who worked as a butler for Lear’s patron, the Earl of Derby – one of his jobs being to polish the earl’s set of silver spoons! Or it was created as a reference to the poet’s friend, George Runcy, who designed a special spoon for children in the belief that they should learn to feed themselves as soon as possible. There is no solid evidence to support either theory.

It is dangerous to start reading too deeply into such a simple word – this is nonsense, after all! Lear appears to have used the adjective on multiple other occasions in his poetry. In More nonsense, he refers to ‘the Rural Runcible Raven, who wore a White Wig and flew away with the Carpet Broom’. Later writings mention ‘Aunt Jobiska’s Runcible Cat’ (it has ‘crimson whiskers’, apparently), a ‘runcible hat’, and a ‘runcible wall’.

Runcible RavenEdward Lear’s illustration of the ‘Rural Runcible Raven’. Image from Two Hundred Years of Nonsense: The Works of Edward Lear – an excellent site for getting acquainted with Lear’s weird and wonderful work.

The simplest conclusion is this: Edward Lear happened to come up with the word ‘runcible’, and liked its sound. While not the most satisfying conclusion, it is sensibly nonsensical!

It would be best for everyone’s sanity to leave things there, I think. If, by chance, the Owl and the Pussycat’s meal of mince and ‘slices of quince’ has suddenly reminded you of mince pies and you are now wondering why something as sweet as a mince pie has such a savoury name, there’s a much clearer answer for that question in this piece on ‘Mince Pies Through Time’…

1st Birthday

Happy First Birthday, Feast and Phrase!

Cliché time: I can’t believe one year has shot by! How strange to be celebrating the first birthday of Feast and Phrase!

I’ve gone from words for orange fruit and World War Two slogans to fur-trapper food and names for pasta shapes. Thank you to everyone who has read and shared posts! Family and friends have been very supportive, as has the online community – many thanks to bloggers like Shannon Selin and H. D. Miller for their encouraging words!

A special thank you to a former colleague of mine who, on seeing that I brought lots of weird and wonderful lunches into work, suggested, ‘You should write about food. Start a blog – no, seriously!’ And here we are!

Time to complete the First Birthday Countdown of the ten most-read posts from Year One:

10. Benjamin Franklin on Food

Franklin Duplessis

9. Remembering Food Slogans on VE Day

INF3-101_Food_Production_Lend_a_hand_with_the_potato_harvest_(workers_in_basket) 511px

8. Waterloo 200: Wellingtons and Napoleons

Wellington and Napoleon 2

7. A Tonka Bean Mystery

Tonka Beans

6. Wine in the Rubáiyát


5. Broccoli Phobia and Inside Out

Mindy Kaling Disgust Inside Out

4. Nixtamalization: Aztecs and Ash


3. Waterloo 200: Battlefield Victuals


2. My Darling Clementine. Mandarin. Orange. HELP.

Featured Image

And the most-read post from Year One is…

1. A Bite of Bunny Chow

Bunnymans Bunnychow

Roll on Year Two!




Ten More Pasta Shapes

Following up from last week’s look at ten pasta shapes and the meanings behind their names, here are ten more pasta shapes to complete the list!


PappardelleImage from Flickr user Alpha.

These broad ribbons of pasta are often served with heavy sauces, and the name is said to fittingly derive from the Italian pappare: ‘to gobble’, or ‘to stuff oneself’. Or as we say here on the Internet (and in general life), ‘Nom, nom, nom’.


PenneImage from Pixabay. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user Christian Cable.

Easily one of the most popular pasta shapes, ‘penne’ is the plural form of the Italian penna, meaning ‘quill’, ‘feather’, and (not surprisingly) ‘pen’. Would it be possible to dip penne pasta pieces in ink and write with them?


RavioliImage from Pixabay.

This one is slightly tricky. John Ayto suggests in his Diner’s Dictionary that the term is the diminutive or ‘small’ form of the Italian rava (‘turnip). ‘Ravioli’ would therefore translate as ‘little turnips’ and may have originally referred to some sort of small meat and turnip pie. It might also come from rabiole, which in the dialect of the Italian city Genoa means ‘leftovers’ or ‘bits and bobs’.


RigatoniImage from Flickr user jeffreyw.

These lined pasta tubes take their name from the Italian verb rigare, meaning ‘to score’ or ‘to groove’ (no, not musically).


RotelleImage from Wikimedia Commons.

‘Small wheels’ is the translation of this Italian name, though this Pasta Shapes Dictionary (there’s a dictionary for everything, isn’t there?) gives it as ‘Wagon Wheels’, which reminds me of a certain lunchbox snack…


SpaghettiImage from Pixabay.

We’ve had little tongues, little ears, little turnips, and little wheels. Now we have ‘little strings’ or ‘thin strings’, from the Italian spago, meaning ‘string’. The word ‘spaghetti’ may bring up many fond and delicious memories for most of you, but all I remember is Kevin Malone’s suggestion from the US hit show, The Office.


StrozzapretiImage from Flickr user fugzu.

Fancy eating some ‘choke-priest’ pasta? In different parts of Italy, it is also known as strangoloprevete and also strangugliaprieviti, both of which make the dark meaning slightly clearer (or at least the strangling part). Quite how this variety of pasta got its name is a mystery. One suggestion is that priests had a reputation for being fast-eating gluttons, but had difficulty getting this pasta down and choked. A less sinister explanation is that it refers to the shape of the priests’ collars (which were presumably a little tight).


TagliatelleImage from Flickr user Markus Reinhardt.

More ribbons – this time deriving their name from the Italian verb tagliare: ‘to cut’.


TortelloniThis is mushroom and truffle tortelloni. Image from the Flickr account of Restaurant Alexander Den Haag

Five-minute tortelloni was a household staple during exam time at university, and I tried just about every type available at the supermarket. What’s the difference to tortellini? Both have the same basic shape, but tortelloni is larger and generally has vegetarian fillings, while tortellini is smaller and usually has meat fillings.

I should probably have mentioned this near the start, but the ‘-ini’ ending refers to a smaller variety of pasta, while ‘-oni’ refers to a bigger variety!

As for the name, it comes from tortello, meaning ‘small cake or fritter’ (torta is ‘cake’). So technically speaking, tortellini is a ‘small small cake’, and tortelloni is a ‘large small cake’. My brain hurts now.


VermicelliI don’t think this was the image you were expecting. Nom, nom, nom? No, no, no. Image from Flickr user Allan Henderson

Finishing the list and continuing the trend of little things, vermicelli is ‘little worms’. You know who ate worms thinking they were pasta? Mr Twit, that’s who. Except he thought he was just eating spaghetti.

There you have it: ten more pasta shapes and the meanings behind their names. And if you’ve been traumatised by that ‘vermicelli’ image, maybe some spaghetti?

Spaghetti 2Image from Pixabay.

Much better.


Ten Pasta Shapes

For many, pasta shapes and sauce pairings are something to be religiously observed, while others throw all rules out of the window because they ‘haven’t tried the ones that look like bowties and really want to’. Some people are proud penne-lovers, while others will swear by spaghetti.

Whatever your preference, there are said to be some 350 different varieties of pasta from which to choose should you wish to mix things up a bit (to be honest, I imagined there would be more). Here are ten different pasta shapes and the meanings behind their names.


CannelloniImage from Flickr user Francis Bijl.

If I asked to you say the first phrase that popped into your head when I said ‘cannelloni’, there’s a good chance it would be ‘spinach and ricotta’. ‘Tube’ is a much less likely answer, though this is actually what the name means. These ‘large tubes’ of pasta ultimately take their name from the Latin canna, meaning ‘tube’ or ‘reed’, which is also the source for the English words ‘canyon’ and the military ‘cannon’.


ConchiglieImage from Flickr user The Marmot.

This ‘shell’- or ‘conch shell’-shaped pasta works very well in soups, or when stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables. It’s also a lot less crunchy than real shells. Assuming you cook it properly. I don’t eat shells. No, really.


FarfalleImage from Pixabay.

While shaped like bowties, ‘farfalle’ is actually the plural form of the Italian farfalla, meaning ‘butterfly’. This word can be used to refer to actual bowties in the same language, though Italians also call the bowtie a papillon, which is the French word for a butterfly.


fusilli-747030_1920Image from Pixabay.

In Italian, a fuso is a ‘spindle’. ‘Fusilli’ are ‘little spindles’. Probably my personal favourite on the list (to eat!).


Gemelli (2)Image from Flickr user Mercury Jane.

Shaped like two identical strands twined together, ‘gemelli’ pasta appropriately takes its name from the Italian for ‘twins’.


LasagneImage from Flickr user Lachlan Donald.

In Italian, lasagna refers to the type of pasta, while the plural form lasagne refers to the dish made with multiple lasagne sheets. The name derives from the Roman ‘cooking pot’ known as a lasanum; this coming from the Greek lasanon – a ‘pot with feet’. It has also been suggested that lasanon meant ‘chamber pot’. I’m not sure Garfield would approve.


LinguineImage from Flickr user digipam.

Lingua means tongue – ‘linguine’ are ‘little tongues’. Not the most appetising image!


macaroni-911164_1920Image from Pixabay.

Back to Greek for the ultimate origin of this word: makaria means ‘food made from barley’. In the 18th century, ‘macaroni’ was used as a term for fashion-conscious young men who copied European styles and trends, which included eating the dish of the same name – then seen as appealingly foreign. ‘Yankee Doodle’ started out as a British song mocking colonial Americans for being badly dressed simpletons (or ‘doodles’). Sticking a feather in a hat and calling it ‘macaroni’ can be interpreted as a poor attempt at imitating the style of Britain’s macaronis.


OrecchietteImage from Flickr user Caspar Diederik.

Continuing the theme of body parts, ‘orecchiette’ means ‘little ears’. Mix them with your linguine and you’re one step closer to an edible face. Don’t eat real people’s faces. That’s cannibalism.


OrzoImage from Flickr user culinarycara.

Orzo is the pasta-doppelganger of rice. But the name is from the Italian for ‘barley’. Whaaat?! (I guess it is also shaped like barley grains.)

That confusion may have been too much to handle, so we’ll take a break for now.
Ten more pasta shapes coming your way next week!


Raclette at Borough Market

London’s Borough Market is a heaven for food lovers, but deciding what to eat is hellishly difficult. During my first visit last weekend, I seemed to loop endlessly around the stalls in a bid to make up my mind.

‘If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose,’ advises Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. At first this seemed like the worst advice, because my nose wanted to go everywhere at once. Retreating to the free samples of Croatian fig jam and proper virgin olive oil, I realised that one smell had stood out above the rest: the irresistible flame-melted smell of raclette.

Raclette 2Half-wheels of raclette melt away under gas flames.

‘Raclette’ refers to both a cheese and the dish in which it features, hailing from the French and Swiss sides of the Alps – most famously, Switzerland’s Valais region. To make the dish, a wheel of raclette is cut in half, and the flat surface is melted with a fire or grill before being smoothly scraped onto a serving of potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions. A good sprinkling of black pepper is all that is needed on top before you tuck into a plateful of salty, smoky, gooey goodness.

Raclette 3The melted cheese easily slips onto the plate.

Watching raclette being prepared is utterly mesmerizing. I could have stood for a good while breathing in the atmosphere of melting cheese that surrounded the stall, eyes fixed on the half-wheels as they sizzled away under gas flames. Most satisfying of all is the ease with which the hot cheese slips with the knife onto the plate. ‘Raclette’ comes from the French racler, meaning ‘to scrape’, but this suggests a bit of work is involved. Raclette, on the other hand, is effortless.

Cardamom Roll

Sweden – A Food Journey

This time last week, I was flying back home after an incredible visit to Sweden: two nights in Stockholm followed by a four-night package with The Aurora Zone at Brändön Lodge, Luleå. Exploring city comforts and the silent wilderness, I also got my first taste of Swedish food culture! Here are some of the highlights…

StockholmStockholm in the winter sunshine. All images are mine unless otherwise stated. Feel free to use any, but please credit ‘Feast and Phrase’ with a link to this article.

Stockholm – Day One

The buzzing street of Drottninggatan has all kinds of shops and eateries. I came across the stylish and almost subterranean Il Caffè. Trendy orange or white tables and smart wall graffiti dotted a series of reconverted basement rooms – these seemed to extend endlessly, as if following the ceiling pipes deep into the building.

Il Caffe 2The entrance of Il Caffè.

I wasted no time in getting introduced to the Swedish practice of fika. For the uninitiated outsider, it is a simple ‘coffee break’. For the Swedish people, it is a social gathering with coffee and sweet treats that is as much a national institution as ‘afternoon tea’ once was for the British. However, fika is not limited to the afternoon. Any time can be fika time.

Il CaffeOrange table and robot graffiti. 

Actually, as a non-coffee drinker, I only got partly introduced to fika and probably committed some form of sacrilege by going straight for the assortment of buns and pastries on offer by the till. I chose a kardemummabulle (‘cardamom roll’), enjoying every aromatic mouthful. The classic kanelbulle (‘cinnamon bun’) was also on offer – a delicacy which is so revered that it even has its own national day – visit Sweden on the fourth of October and you can celebrate kanelbullens dag, or ‘Cinnamon Bun Day’.

Cardamom RollA kardemummabulle (‘cardamom roll’), with a kanelbulle (‘cinnamon bun’) in the bottom right.

I instead picked up one of the nöttoppar (‘hazelnut macaroons’) for later. This was so good that I actually returned to buy more on the morning of my flight to Luleå!

Hazelnut macaroonOne of the nöttoppar (‘hazelnut macaroons’).

Stockolm – Day Two

Today brought history and food together, starting off at the Vasa Museum. The almost completely intact Vasa is one of a kind – the only seventeenth-century warship in the world to be preserved in such a state. Built too narrow and tall, it was blown over and sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, only to be found 333 years later.

VasaThe mighty Vasa warship.

The ship had enough space for six weeks of provisions, which included bread, meat, peas, fish, and of course, beer. Söfring Hansson, captain of the Vasa, also worked as a merchant and was apparently responsible for providing the navy yard with hops. In terms of overall provisions per man, the monthly ration for members of Sweden’s fleet was as follows:

Ship’s ale: 1/2 barrel = 63 litres
Bread: 1/2 barrel
Meat and dried fish: 1 ‘lispund’ = 8.5 kg
Dried peas: 1/2 ‘fjärding’ = 16.2 litres

From the provisioning plans for soldiers of the fleet, 1628. Part of the museum exhibition.

At a time when water was not safe to drink, beer was essential. Hot ale was a remedy for ague or fever, while scurvy – the bane of all sailors during this age – was cured with lemons. (Scurvy is most famously associated with pirates, but has affected everyone from Ancient Egyptians to Portuguese explorers. For an overview of the disease and historical accounts, check out this scurvy history.)

I left the Vasa for Historiska, the ‘Swedish History Museum’. This bright and modern museum has plenty of interesting things to see, including extensive exhibitions on the Vikings and the development of Swedish culture. The on-site café was excellent value for money – so I felt, given that Sweden is definitely on the costly side. There were filling lunch options from 75 – 90 SEK, including a salad bar and tea and coffee, which are often extra in other places. On top of that, the museum was free!

HistoriskaThe excellent Historiska Museum café. 

I finished the day with the Nobel Museum, which has a small section on the Nobel Banquet. The shop had recipe books drawing on the lavish menus that have been enjoyed by prize-winners over the years. You can see the menus for each year on the official website.

Nobel BanquetSome of the Nobel Banquet books on sale.

Brändön Lodge

Imagine a grand pine cabin nestled in the snow with 15 smaller cabins by its side, all looking out over a stretch of frozen sea – the ice around a metre thick, making it perfect for snowmobiles and other vehicles to drive over. This is Brändön Lodge, standing next to the Bay of Bothnia: all part of the Luleå Archipelago, which contains some 1,300 islands.

Brändön Lodge Brändön Lodge on the left, with a ‘lavvu’ or traditional tent on the right.

The unbelievable silence of the location and its Narniaesque beauty, combined with wonderful hosting by owner Göran Widén and his helpful staff, made for an outstanding experience. Added to that was a set of mouth-watering buffet meals where I became further acquainted with Swedish gastronomy.

Frozen SeaLooking out over the frozen sea.

I’m not much of a jam person, but the presence of two very unconventional varieties at breakfast (and the possibility of combining them with pancakes or waffles) meant some exceptions were made! The first was a golden jam made out of cloudberries, which look a bit like orangey-yellow raspberries; eaten throughout Sweden, they often grow in areas of boggy land.

CloudberriesUnfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the jams, so photos of the berries from online will have to do. Image from Flickr user Staffan Wingren.

A member of staff told me that each person has their own hidden cloudberry-picking spot, adding with a Bond-like smile that ‘if I told you, I would have to kill you’. A matter of national security! The second jam, which was pleasantly tangy in taste, was made out of sea buckthorn berries, which are bright orange in colour.

Sea BuckthornThe sea buckthorn plant. Image from Flickr user S. Rae.

A third berry which would have been impossible not to encounter during my trip was the lingonberry – a rich red berry which can be found in a host of Swedish dishes, accompanying everything from reindeer meat to desserts. I was also served lingonberry juice on several occasions. A cupful of hot lingonberry juice after adventuring over the snow is like a warming shot of sugary energy.

LingonberriesThe lingonberry plant. Image from Flickr user andreashallgren.

Featured in my itinerary was a hovercraft ride over the sea ice. My guide Andreas pointed out sea eagles feeding on the surface and drove us to the edge of the ice road which keeps islands connected in the winter. Returning to Brändön, we sat by the fire in a traditional tent or lavvu next to the lodge and indulged in coffee and a kanelbulle (or in my case, just the kanelbulle!).

HovercraftThe ‘Flying Condor’ hovercraft.

Another activity was a session of winter skills, where a group of us snowshoed into a nearby forest, following animal tracks and looking for wild dens. Stopping off, we were taught how to start a small fire with knives and flint. We then boiled up fresh pine-leaf tea using snow and a few cuttings from the surrounding trees. It seems that the younger plants have the best flavour, but my concoction tasted largely like boiled water, so I probably didn’t add enough. I suppose that’s what happens when you get a ‘tea-totaller’ to make tea…

FirePine-leaf tea boiling away!

Our guide Thomas pulled out a wooden cup which looked like a little hemisphere with a handle. This, he informed us, was a kåsa: a traditional drinking vessel made by Sweden’s indigenous Sami people, shaped out of a burl, or unusual tree growth. It was then I realised that we had been drinking out of black plastic versions of the same thing.

After our training in the forest, we made our way to the lavvu, where a large metal pan known as a muurikka had been moved over the central fire. Sitting back, we watched as Thomas rustled up vegetables in a creamy sauce. The majority of the group had these with suovas, (‘salty, smoked reindeer meat’), while I ate them with what I believe were cheese-filled rårakor – typical Swedish potato cakes. Embracing my newly developed taste-buds, I made sure to put a good dollop of lingonberry jam on the side!

Thomas CookingThomas gets to work cooking on the muurikka.

One particular delicacy which I didn’t have the chance to try on this holiday was kaffeost, or ‘coffee-cheese’. Baked from unpasteurized milk, the cheese has a consistency a bit like mozzarella and is added to coffee in little cubes. It has a famously squeaky texture between the teeth, and can also be eaten in slices with cloudberry jam. A shame to miss out, but a welcome addition to the long list of reasons for heading back in the future. Who knows? I might even be drinking coffee by then…


‘Day-O’: ‘The Banana Boat Song’

There’s nothing like identifying a song that has been repeating in your head – a song which seems to have jumbled lyrics and no clear name. In my present case, that turned out to be ‘Day-O’, also known as ‘The Banana Boat Song’. Thank you, Google!

For a while, I had the phrases ‘Hey Mr Banana-Man’ and ‘Hey Mr Taliban’ going round and round my mind. The correct version is, of course: ‘Come Mister Tally-man, tally me banana / Daylight come and me wan’ go home.’ (Bananaman is a British superhero, and ‘Hey Mr Taliban’ is an unfortunate parody of the song.)

Harry BelafonteHarry Belafonte made ‘The Banana Boat Song’ immensely popular with his 1956 rendition, ‘Day-O’. Image from the Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress.

Have a listen to the famous song by American singer Harry Belafonte, which you will almost certainly have heard before. The lyrics are:

Day-O! Day-O!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Work all night on a drink o’ rum!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Stack banana till de mornin’ come!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Lift six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Day! Me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day…
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

A beautiful bunch o’ ripe banana!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Hide de deadly black tarantula!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Lift six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Day! Me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day…
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Day-O! Day-O!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

A modified version of lyrics written by YouTuber Kristin Crumpler.

Jamaican Postage StampA three-pence Jamaican stamp, possibly from the 1930s, featuring an image of a banana-labourer and a profile of King George VI. Image from Flickr user Mark Morgan.

‘Day-O’ is said to be based on a Jamaican folk song known to the locals as ‘The Banana Boat Song’ – supposedly sung by labourers offloading bananas from ships at the docks. Prior to Belafonte’s 1956 hit, an earlier version was released by Trinidadian singers Edric Connor and the Caribbeans in 1952.

While most place the origin of ‘The Banana Boat Song’ in Jamaica, some suggest it may have come from Trinidad. Either way, it’s a catchy work song which has made a place for itself in popular culture with everything from numerous covers to its use in the 1988 Tim Burton classic, Beetlejuice. Happy listening!


Five Things Fur Trappers Ate

If you’ve watched Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, you’ll have noticed that Leonardo DiCaprio’s fur-trapper character Hugh Glass eats just about anything as he tries to survive in the wilderness. He scarfs scraps of plants, chomps on raw salmon, sucks out bone marrow from a rotting skeleton, and, most famously, samples raw bison liver. Regarding that last option – as has now been widely publicized – DiCaprio willingly abandoned the jelly-based prop he had been given and bit into the real thing for a more authentic look on camera.

The real-life Hugh Glass and other mountain adventurers have earned their place as some of the toughest folk in American (and indeed, world) history. What sort of food was on their menu?

Here are five things that fur trappers ate:

1. Bison (Buffalo)

bison 2

‘Buffalo meat tastes much better than beef. The meat of the cows is usually tenderer and fatter than that of the bulls, and particularly deserves the preference in summer, when the bulls are lean and unpalatable.’

So writes Dr F. A. Wislizenus in A Journey to the Rocky Mountains in 1839. Wislizenus was a physician from Germany who moved to America and ended up joining a company of fur traders on the Oregon Trail. His account gives a vivid idea of their lifestyle. Fur trappers worked up quite an appetite thanks to vigorous day-to-day activities and debilitating outdoor conditions. Meat was essential for getting through, and they certainly ate a lot of it. As Wislizenus recounts:

‘Considering the absence of bread, and the traveler’s life in the open air and daily exercise, it is not remarkable that the appetite makes unusual demands, and that people, who formerly were accustomed to eat scarcely a pound of meat daily, can consume eight and ten times as much of fresh buffalo meat, without being gluttons on that account.’

F. A. Wislizenus, A Journey to the Rocky Mountains in 1839.


Bison seem to have been the favourite meat source, offering plenty to hungry hunters:

‘From the slain buffalo only the best pieces are taken, namely, the tongue, the ribs, the hump ribs, the meat on either side of the backbone, and the marrow bones, with at times also the liver and kidney. Buffalo tongues are celebrated; in dried condition they are sent by thousands to the States; but the ribs, especially the hump ribs of a fat cow, are much finer. They are usually roasted on the spit, while other parts are better suited for boiling.’

Wislizenus, A Journey to the Rocky Mountains in 1839.

Wislizenus adds that fire-roasted bison thigh-bones give ‘the finest marrow that ever tickled a gourmand’s palate’. Why waste?

2. Elk


This large member of the deer family was one alternative to the bison. Wislizenus states that elk meat ‘has in taste most resemblance to beef; but is inferior to buffalo meat’. For trader Charles Larpenteur, it appears to have been a lifesaver:

‘Toward spring [1863] we were in a starving condition, game of all kinds extremely scarce, and men afraid to go out for a hunt. For about six weeks I lived on nothing but jerked elk meat, having some salt but being entirely out of other groceries. There is little substance in elk meat.’

Charles Larpenteur, Forty years a fur trader on the upper Missouri: the personal narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872.

There was clearly enough substance to keep Larpenteur alive – though six weeks of the stuff evidently bored his taste buds to death.

3. Beavers

BeaversA pair of beavers. Image from Flickr user finchlake2000. All other images in this article have been taken from Pixabay.

Beaver pelts were big business, so it is unsurprising that trappers tucked into beavers. According to Wislizenus, ‘their meat is very palatable’, and ‘the tails, which are fat all through, are especially regarded as delicacies’.

4. Berries


Berries made for portable, high-energy snacks in the wilderness. They could also be a desperate last resort in times of scarcity, as Larpenteur makes known: ‘We remained in camp two days. From this point until we got to the other side of the mountains, game became so scarce that we had to live for two days on such berries and roots as we could find.’

5. Bears


One of the fur trappers’ most dangerous ‘enemies’ also turned out to be a rather nourishing addition to the table. In his Journal of a Trapper, Osborne Russell recalls ‘an elegant supper of Grizzly Bear meat and Mutton nicely stewed and seasoned with pepper and salt which as the mountain phrase goes “is not bad to take” upon an empty Stomach after a hard days riding and climbing over mountains & rocks’.

He also remembers another occasion where bear was prepared, revealing that ‘it took a longer time to cook than any meal I ever saw prepared’, but even so, ‘all pronounced it the best meal they had ever eaten as a matter of course where men had been starving’.

It would probably have been a dark twist on a certain fairy-tale if, while eating, one of the men had complained, ‘This bear is too hot!’ or ‘This bear is too cold!’. By the looks of it, that bear was ‘just right’.

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