Thursday, August 17, 2006

Market Square, Helsinki

Just before check-out time, I venture out into the city on foot and pay one more visit to Market Square in Helsinki’s historic centre by the harbor. The open cobble stone square has been transformed into a bustling food bazaar. Red peaked tents are staked in orderly rows, and merchants are selling fresh-picked produce of all varieties.

My eye is attracted by bright patches of color reminiscent of an artist’s palate, but this is nature’s paint box -- crimson raspberries, azure blueberries and glistening ruby strawberries. The exuberant harvest of Finland’s berry season is evident. Jewel-like berries are piled into small peaks in large wooden trays, or placed in orderly rows of cardboard boxes.

A blonde woman beneath a tent is holding a large scoop. She greets me warmly and offers a taste of her produce. A perfect strawberry melts on my tongue into sweet nectar and a fat blueberry bursts between my teeth, offering deep indigo tones of flavor. The purity is like nothing I’ve had at home.

The amount of produce is astonishing. Besides fields of summer berries, there are potatoes, carrots, peppers, bundles of turnips and tomatoes. Boat merchants are selling hauls of fresh fish off the back of their vessels.

I walk along the waterfront toward Old Market Hall and peer inside. There are rows of individual polished wooden stalls, bursting with local goods. I linger over beautifully rustic artisanal breads, earthy red slabs of reindeer fillet and elaborate pastries made with more sumptuous summer berries.

Everywhere I’ve gone in Helsinki, I have sensed a genuine pride in the purity and goodness of what comes from the land and the sea, and I resolve to bring that sensibility home to my own table.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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