Thursday, 7 August 2014

Colourful Scandinavia part 1 - in which I seem to talk only about cake.

We have just returned from 10 days in Skåne, the very southern tip of Sweden where I grew up. I left the country before I was old enough to really shop by myself and have design tastes and opinions, so the trip was equal measures childhood nostalgia and seeing it all with completely new eyes. Whichever way I looked at it, there was joy and delight at every turn.
Scandinavia is usually associated with simple, understated design and muted, neutral colours, yet the overwhelming impression I came away with this time was one of COLOUR!

Maybe it was the stunning summer weather, or the heightened senses from being on relaxed on holiday, but everything seemed just full of rich, bright colour, from the many yarn shops to clothing design to food and even cakes.

I had three goals for my holiday: research lots of exciting new yarns for the shop, trawl the charity shops for retro scandi design and have "fika" in old fashioned Konditori's .

To understand a Konditori, you must first familiarise yourself with the Swedish notion of "fika". Fika is a national institution - on the whole, it is nothing more complex than a cup of coffee and something sweet. The sweet thing can be anything from a small biscuit to a great big piece of layer cake, depending on the occasion, or even an open-faced sandwich if the time of day is right. Swedish people fika almost every day - it is a chance to catch up with colleagues mid-morning at work, or with friends in the afternoon, or it can be a break during a weekend shopping trip or a journey. Fika is taken sitting down, and as such becomes more relaxed and sociable than just grabbing a take-away coffee. In my time working for IKEA in the UK, our weekly team meeting was called the Fika and we took turns bringing cake to honour the company's Swedish origin.

picture from

As you may gather from that, the Swedes are big on their cakes. Whilst simpler sponge cakes and biscuits are expected to be baked at home, for more fancy things, one goes to a konditori - a kind of bakery and patisserie shop within a cafe, where you can, of course, also take your fika if you are out and about. Growing up, I took the konditori in town rather for granted - it existed in the same way as the supermarket or the pharmacy, but now that I am older, I appreciate them so much more for their retro look and feel. Many of them have been around for generations, and whilst they may have added fancy espresso-machines and gluten free cakes, the decor has often remained wonderfully mid-century with teak panelling and spindle-back chairs.

Cafe Valand in Stockholm, a beautiful example

We visited the beautiful Konditori Fahlman in Helsingborg (amongst others) which this year celebrates its 100th year in business. There is even a signed and framed document on the wall there declaring that King Gustav VI Adolf enjoyed a fika there. Apparently he enjoyed a lot of fika as he turned up in a couple of the places we went to. The cakes, of course, were exquisite.

It was also my mother's birthday while we were in Sweden, and I had long planned to buy her a Princess cake from Ramklints for the occasion. Ramklints are the longest standing konditori in my home town of Lund - it has just always been there and always had the same brown boxes with the gold ribbon and the 1950s logo.

The Princess cake is the go-to special occasion cake in Sweden. It's funny what being an ex-pat does to you: when we lived there, we both thought the Princess was a fairly boring cake, just sponge layers with jam and buttercream and the best bit about it was the bright green marzipan on top. As a teacher, my mother was also sick of the sight of it as it was wheeled out at all end of year celebrations and staff birthdays. But now, it is a thing filled with nostalgia and taste of home and suddenly marvellous.
The one I bought was so swiftly demolished that I didn't get a chance to take a picture of it, but here's a photo of someone else's :)

picture by ICA

As this seems to have become a post all about cake (and trust me, I could write much more!) , I will return later with some actual yarn content although I must still mention Flickorna Lundgren - a very different kind of cafe from the town konditoris I've been describing. Theirs is set in wonderful gardens in the countryside, the waitresses wear simple, folk-inspired dresses, there is a petting zoo of farm animals for the kids and the bigger kids who can't resist a goat and if you ever have a chance to visit Skåne and have a car at hand, I cannot recommend it enough!

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