Well into January and, despite an occasional crisp, cold day the warm, wet and windy weather continues. I’ve just read that it’s been the warmest Christmas and New Year in Sweden for 250 years and I think I know who to blame. When we celebrate St Martin’s Day here we eat roast goose. St Martinis the patron saint of soldiers and horses but I can’t find any reference to his ever having been to Skåne despite his penchant for travelling. He was Hungarian by birth and spent time as a Roman soldier and a monk; later he was Bishop of Tours in France and has his shrine on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain so quite why we make a fuss on his name day has escaped me, but there it is. Legend has it he hid in a goose pen while trying to avoid being ordained as Bishop and was discovered because the geese were cackling. The Swedes – always up for a bit of roasting and feasting – took that as a good enough reason for killing a goose on St Martin’s Eve and the celebration persists, although I suspect it may have more to do with the local Skånsk folk taking advantage of the arrival in autumn of tens of thousands of migrating geese. Whatever the reason, in honour of the saint those more traditionally-minded than me roast a goose, say ‘Skål’ and enjoy a bowl of black soup or svartsoppa. This thick, reddish-black broth is made from spiced goose blood, flavoured with fruit and is eaten with entrails of various kinds. I’m thinking it’s probably an acquired taste and not in the top ten vegetarian dishes.
St Martin’s Day is on 11 November and there is a piece of Swedish folklore attached to it. Apparently, if it snows on that day there will be no snow at Christmas but if the day falls on a Friday or Saturday – snowing or not – the winter will be harsh. Well, it didn’t snow on St Martin’s Day this year so snow wasn’t on the cards over the holidays but the day was, however, a Friday. The temperature today doesn’t even hint at a harsh winter and suggests the folklore is out of kilter. Either way, it’s been unusually mild and a little bit too damp for a London boy brought up on notions of roasting chestnuts and James Stewart running through Bedford Falls. I like snow and, despite my memories of Christmas being happy ones, in England the holidays tended to be wet and there was always a point when, with sad acceptance, I had to concede that the dull, drizzly days weren’t going to produce it. We expect some snow in Skåne during the winter – whether or not it snows forSt Martin – and I’ve lived in hope that the second half of the fable will hold true but so far, it doesn’t look like it and the long-range view is that it will stay mild.
Of course, if you’re one of those thousands of migrating geese that’s good news – hunters aside – as there is plenty of food and, more importantly, when it’s not frozen you can get at it. So the mild weather offers one way of bridging the gap between reliving the disappointment of Christmases past and digging out the car; it means I can spend a few hours with some of those geese on the flooded meadows near the blustery south coast at Ingelstorp.
In autumn and winter southern Sweden gets a lot of geese – the delightful and excellent restaurant at Skanors Gastgivaregard even has goose footprints painted on the road outside in celebration. Around 50000 Bean geese fill our fields and meadows and, if it remains mild, something between 11000 and 20000 White-fronted geese join them, too, although they move south quickly if it freezes. Last winter, when it did snow, only twenty-one White-fronts stayed but this year there are thousands feeding with the Bean geese. At Ingelstorp over the holidays there were geese everywhere; grazing the fields, filling the sky and enjoying the weather in noisy abandon. The numbers are immense and swelled by some of our 200000 Greylag geese and 50000 Canada geese. A few days ago the beet fields also had a few Pink-footed geese and some Barnacle geese which meant that there were six different species in one of the flocks. Occasionally a Lesser-white fronted goose joins this party and the Barnacle geese often have a Red-breasted goose with them. They are hard to pick out from the 130000 or so that fly-by on their way to the Nederlands and I know one particular chap who has tried and failed to do that more than once. The Brent geese don’t stay long even if the weather is mild so the 18000 or so migrating birds [of the 100000 that pass through] have now gone. There are one or two Egyptian geese around and they, like the lonely Bar-headed goose that keeps turning up year after year, have probably escaped from someone’s back garden.
Ingelstorp offers another local treat. Olof Victor’s is a bakery and café that uses a wood-fired stone oven to produce some of the best bread, cakes, biscuits and, especially, cinnamon buns in Sweden. Their products are seriously good and can even be found in Harrods food hall. Mild weather in Skåne might be good for the wintering geese but it’s still pretty cold even when there’s no snow so OV’s is the perfect place to get warm again. And for checking the weather forecast.
And as for me, I can feel spring in the air and am getting antsy so before I head for somewhere that has warm water and palm trees I’ll have a few days in the north of Sweden just so that I can get snow on my boots. Tallberg in Darlana, with its frozen forests and wolves beckons.