With as much as five feet of snow already this winter, getting about during our recent visit to Sápmi was far from easy. Even on skis, you would still sink in over your knees in the light powdery cover. Fortunately, when we decided to meet friends for a picnic on the far side of the lake near our cabin, we found someone had created a compacted track for the dog sleds. We also knew there was a fire pit close to a shelter alongside the smaller lake beyond. We could cook our gáhkku here without having to dig down to more solid ground below.
Gáhkku (in the North Sámi language, or gáhkko, gáhkkkuo, gaahkoe/gaahka, in Pite and Lule, Ume and South Sámi respectively) is a soft flatbread made by the indigenous people of Scandinavia. Traditionally cooked on a flat stone over a fire, and sometimes called ember bread, it comes in many forms. In fact the principle behind making gáhkku in the past would have been to use whatever was available. During hard times this might have been not much more than flour and water, perhaps with a little salt, tipped from a special bottle made from birch wood or woven birch roots, but ground tree bark, roots and even local flowering plants were often added too. Some recipes used reindeer stock, and these were often sweetened if sugar was available. Traditionally, reindeer fat would have been used instead of butter or oil, and of course reindeer milk would have been readily available too, at least at some times of the year.
Susannah made the dough for our gáhkku before we set out. Combining about 1kg of mixed wheat and rye flour with 500ml of milk (from a cow), 25gm of butter, a teaspoon of honey and half a teaspoon of salt, this was proved with 25gm of dried yeast (brought back to life in the warmed milk and honey). Once kneaded well (that’s my job), this springy dough was dropped into a clip-lid plastic box to be carried in Susannah’s rucksack. By the time we arrived at our outdoor kitchen, even with temperatures close to -10°C, it had risen quite impressively. I carried a stainless steel pot, bought for 10kr (about £1) from the Red Cross shop in Jokkmokk the day before, and a special spiky rolling pin, purpose built for the pre-cook flattening.
After a really stunning ski out over the first lake, with heavy clouds promising to deposit yet another snow top up, we worked our way across what in summer would be narrow section of dry land. We arrived at the open cabin just as a dog sled shot out from the path to head across the second frozen lake.
On the way out to our picnic spot I’d managed to pick up a small dead pine tree. With some dry twigs collected from pines nearby, and using birch bark from my ever-present fire lighting kit for tinder, a fire was soon crackling merrily. A cheery site in the spectacular monochrome landscape.
Our friends arrived with their intrepid children just as the first gáhkku was being lifted brown and steaming from the pot. With cold fingers, a fair bit of gáhkku juggling took place before it was cool enough for a few healthy pieces to be torn off. Accompanied by salted and smoked reindeer meat (another Sámi speciality), and washed down with mugs of very English tea, it was a fine meal. The sun almost came out on our ski back.