In the first article about our little adventure in the Swedish woods we already told you a lot about Urnatur and Good Travel. The second article is particularly dedicated to cooking.

We focused on cooking on open fire for quite some time now. At Urnatur we could have a fling on the many fire places. Be it directly at the lake, in the midst of the woods, or in the open common kitchen. There is also a gas oven, but also all the other guest tried fire lightning. It just belongs to this experience. Ulrika and Håkan provide a wide range of pots, pans, kettles and Muurikkas, big Finnish grill pans. All made of cast iron and with legs so you can easily put it into the fire. Every day, Ulrika harvests fresh vegetables from the garden, you can help yourself from a herb patch, and everything else you need you find in the kitchen. Oils, vinegars, spices, lentils, beans, etc. Sometimes, we stood around the box with Swedish crisp bread with growling stomachs nevertheless because above all the shooting we forgot to eat. However, there were days when we worked around the fire from morning till evening. From fresh potatoes, young beets and plenty of herbs we created a simple, yet aromatic dinner. The beets were cooked with their skin in a pot above the fire, smoked and peeled. We diced the potatoes and roasted them just with salt and pepper in a bit of oil. The vegetables own taste combined with the flavors of the fire. Together with garlic flowers, dill, yarrow and the tender leaves of the beets it was excellent! As dessert, we had aromatic wood berries (raspberries, wild strawberries, and blueberries) on oatmeal pancakes. A bit yoghurt and Ulrika’s dandelion syrup were the perfect toppings. It might sound tacky, but wandering through the woods after such a meal in the dark with your lantern, watching the starry sky though the tree tops, you can’t help it but sleep sound. This simplicity, the reduction to what counts, is just so relaxing.

The next day, Håkan took us to another piece of their land to collect a certain reed which he uses for weaving. On the way to a small lake we met a flock of their sheep. The sheep do not only produce a good fertilizer for the ground but also help that the land is not overgrown with ranks and that the original cultivated landscape is preserved. Without these animals, the biodiversity could not be maintained. The ancient race “pälsfår” is incredibly beautiful and since Håkan’s and Ulrika’s sheep are unusually trusting they basically demanded their strokes.

After our little trip we sat with Ulrika, Håkan and some Berlin based friends of them and somehow came to the topic of “cooking in a ground oven”. We wanted to try this cooking method for a long time and were flabbergasted when Håkan proposed to try that. Of course, he is a specialist and explained the basics. After he took his leave so we could start our work, which he took in critically later.

First, of course, you need a fire. It needs to be spread flatly so the stones you want to heat can be placed in it. Over the stones we spread another layer of burning wood. The once dark stones are heated up when they glow white. Until then, a hole in the ground has to be dug and plenty of grass needs to be collected which protects the food from burning. This way, the contents are cooked gently and moist. Cooking in a ground oven is one of the oldest cooking techniques and is used in some regions until today. In New Zealand, for example, or the Andes. In contrast to direct cooking over the fire, meaning grilling and roasting, this way of preparation enables dry and wet ingredients as well as herbs and spices to cook together. For our meal, we roughly diced diverse vegetables, for example potatoes, carrots, beets and cauliflower and only seasoned it with salt. We wanted the pure flavors which develop during the cooking in the ground oven. Afterwards, we wrapped the vegetables in large cabbage leaves and bound them with the previously collected reed. The vegetables stay together, are protected and are cooked gently in their own juice.

When the stones are hot enough you have to be fast. That’s why it is so important that everything is perfectly ready and at hand. First, the stones are arranged side by side in the ground oven and covered with a thick layer of grass. The vegetable packets are placed on top and covered with another layer of grass. To prevent the grass from bursting into flames, the ground oven has to be sealed air tight fast. For that, it is covered with a tarp or piece of cloth, and earth. No smoke should be able to escape, only then the ground oven is sealed. Now we had to wait. Depending on the ingredients, the cooking time varies. Our diced vegetables should be ready within an hour. A whole pumpkin, maybe even filled, could be put into the ground oven around noon and be ready by the evening.

To pass the time, we did not only heat stones for the ground oven but also to heat a sweat lodge. While the vegetables were cooking, we broke sweat in our natural sauna. To cool down, we dove into the lake before taking the next round in the sauna.

Relaxed and purified we could take the vegetables from the ground oven after an hour and eat them together. The scent was very aromatic. Regarding the taste, the vegetables were excellent and had a nice consistency due to the cooking method: tender, yet not over cooked. Out of carrot greens, roasted sunflower seeds, some garlic and olive oil we made a pesto to go with the vegetables.

After the delicious meal we treated ourselves with canoeing on the lake and let yet another perfect day end sitting around the bonfire. We are sure this was not our last visit at Urnatur. We will be back definitely!

Who follows our blog will soon notice our weakness for beautiful places where we can unwind and enjoy life. At least once a year we have to satisfy our wanderlust. Leave the stressful everyday life at home and soak up new energy and especially inspiration.

That’s why we were incredibly happy to be invited by Franziska and Judith from Good Travel to visit one of their locations. On the first sustainable booking platform in Europe they gathered carefully chosen authentic and inspiring accommodations. On the Good Travel website you find unique hotels, BnBs and holiday lodges which were chosen according to 5 criteria of sustainability. For the founders, regional and seasonal organic cuisine is as crucial as a near-natural construction and a sensible use of resources. Also, the social cooperation is important. The accommodations have to fulfill at least one criterion to be listed. The selection ranges from old farms over designer hotels to Mediterranean mansions, tree houses and camping grounds.

They are all introduced by detailed texts and pictures which give instantly itchy feet. At our first visit on the homepage we found a dozen places we would pack our bags for. Be it the Re:hof Rutenberg near Berlin, the Arche Hof in Bavaria, the outstanding Terragora Lodges in France, the Eremito Hotelito del Alma in Umbria, the Tainaron Blue Retreat in Greece, or the ION Iceland Adventure Hotel in Iceland. As huge fans of Scandinavia, we were pulled to Sweden. We stumbled across the amazing Treehotel before. But when we saw Urnatur we were sure to have found our dream location.

Ulrika and Håkan are the perfect example that for Good Travel not only classy and sustainable accommodations are important, but that the people behind are crucial as well. You have to experience for yourself what they have created with Urnatur. Suck in all the inspiration provided there. Feel the beauty of nature, the poetry of the woods.

Ulrika is a biologist and designer, Håkan a forest manager. Their farm is surrounded by plenty of native cultivated land with free ranging animals, a lake, fields and a lot of wood. Together, they cultivate the land since over 20 years with traditional methods. In their wood, they built original cottages and tree houses with their very own hands. The cottages are not only made of purely natural materials, but were built mainly from trees which fell victim to two severe storms at the beginning of the millennium. Thus, only few healthy trees had to be felled. With a mobile sawmill the trees were prepared, the rest was a lot of handiwork. Everything has to fit accurately, has to be smoothed perfectly, sealed with moss. Some accommodations are built like the cottages of the Sami, the native people of Northern Sweden, and are an architectural highlight. Our cottage’s roof, for example, was impregnated with a special sort of tar. The shingles just got a new layer a few days ago. You could smell the wonderful, resinous scent from meters away. It gave us a warm and cozy feeling immediately. On other roofs we could marvel at what also grows on the floor. Between moss and fern we found delicious strawberries.

Inside the cottage, everything was furnished very natural and modest. The rooms were painted in self-made natural colors, based on flaxseed oil, the furniture were partly designed by Swedish artists. What all houses have in common is the absent electricity. You heat with ovens and woods, illumination comes from candles or oil lamps, and you cook on open fire. Even if it is very cozy inside the cottages, we basically only snuggled up with a book inside in the evenings. There were just too many things to discover and we were way too curious. Thus, we tried to grill Ulrika and Håkan as often as we could about the plants in the garden and the woods, special preparation, personal stories. We just wanted to learn as much as we could from these inspirational people.

During our days at Urnatur we got to know a lot about the wood, and tried and tasted a lot. Apart from all the great things you get for breakfast, anyway, just as Ulrika’s self-baked sourdough bread or the Chaga Tea (a tea made of birch bolete), we were thrilled by the dandelion syrup, birch wine and the self-made wood liquor.

When Ulrika told us about barkbröd, a flatbread made of birch bark, we were extra excited. We absolutely wanted to prepare those flatbreads with her and were super happy to see that she had some bark in her pantry. Today, it is uncommon to bake this bread since it is a reminder of bad times. In times of crisis and during the Second World War it was emergency ration. Bread was thinned with the bark flour because every food was rationed. However, these breads were also found in thousands of years old Eastern Gotland graves. Back then, the bread was baked with peas and spruce bark. It is not completely odd to use spruce bark. It is rich in iron, zinc, manganese, calcium as well as in vitamin C, B1 and B2, and also strengthens the immune system with bioflavonoid.

The thin layer (bass) beneath the upper bark is best collected at the beginning of June. Of course, you only take as much as it does not harm the tree and it can live on. Ulrika usually uses bark of trees which have to be felled, anyway. The bark is dried in the oven to be ground afterwards. The bark flour swells a lot and does not contain gluten, so the amount in the breads and other backed goods should not be too high. A quarter of the needed flour can be substituted easily. We thought the taste was special. You would think it is resinous, tart, maybe even bitter. However, the nutritional bark does not only carry vitamins, but also the trees sugar, which is why the flour has a lightly sweet, savory note. To bake the barkbröd in the middle of the woods was an extraordinary experience. Just sitting together around the fire, spreading some butter in the breads and enjoying the lights through the tree crowns was superb!

Did you know there is a word in Japanese for the light falling through the trees? Komorebi. We got to know this term from Gabriele Kubo, a florist living in Japan. With their project “Art in Nature”, Ulrika and Håkan give artists the opportunity to live in their woods and to create something which mirrors the philosophy and the feeling concerning Urnatur. Gabriele was chosen to be this year’s artist and she decided to create a place in the woods where you can meet, enjoy the surroundings and just be. Her object is a planted table in Japanese height, at which you can sit at eyelevel with the plants of the woods. She incorporated uncountable mosses and plants she found in the woods into the table. The inner of the table is made of earth so the plants can keep growing and the table will change over time. It shall become a living object. The artist chose a spot in the woods where in summer from 12:30 on, the table is engulfed in a light spectacle. Then, the sun breaks through the tree tops and dances on the mosses and ferns on the wood table. It is beautiful. The moss cushions are so comfortable you spend the whole day there and discover a thousand things. We are happy that we were at the initiation.

We could tell you so much more about out visit at Urnatur, we decided to split the article to report more from our adventured and experienced in Sweden a second post.

Unfortunately, it took us longer than we thought to spend some days visiting Grete’s Farm again. The change was more blatant, of course. At our last visit in spring the green houses were filled with seedlings and the fields mostly empty, even if the seeds sprouted underground.

In July, everything had been grown to full splendor. The tomato plants we pricked at the beginning of the year, were full of bright red and bulging. Eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, beetroot, palm kale and red cabbage, currants, new potatoes, herbs with colorful blossoms, chard, tender carrots, onions and all kinds of other delicious vegetables were put into crates for the market or for the solidary group. You can check in our seasonality table which regional fruits and vegetables are in season.

Besides harvesting and secret nibbling…well…let’s call it thorough testing of the goods…beside all that, weeding was on top of our to do list. Usually we are no sticklers for order, but to see the green houses free of weeds after hours spent crawling on knees is really very satisfactory.

In summer starts the preparatory work for the next season as well. Grete does not only grow vegetables, but also has a seed production for plenty unusual breeds which are also sold. Those have to be harvested and dried, of course.

There are some vegetable breeds which are only grown for seed production, others are left on the fields longer so they can grow seeds. We almost did not recognize the green salad or the radishes! We spent a lot of time just marveling at the incredible colors and shapes of the fruits. It might look funny to stand this excited on a field, but have you ever seen such huge cabbages? Nature is great!

The harvest has a lot to do with logistics. The staff obviously knows what to do, how many crated have to be packed and how the bundles have to be stringed. Not only for the market or the solidary group, top chefs in Berlin wait for their ordered goods as well, which has to be weighed and sorted. Some specials goods are ordered too, like young linden leaves. This time, we stepped aside to not interrupt the process. Instead, we cooked for the whole pack. One of the dished we want to show in a few days! Grete had some marvelous broccoli on her fields. However, not as you know it, but with slim stems and delicate florets. This is how we love it, because you can use the stems as well as the leaves and it just looks beautiful. We combined it with gnocchi made from Grete’s new potatoes. Georgeous!

Scroll to top