Summer is the season of bumper crops in Finland, so when I was on board last month, it was the perfect time to head out to the overflowing farmers markets. Our Culinary Discovery Tour started at the Kauppakalli market in central Helsinki.

Here the indoor and outdoor markets were brimming with smoked salmon pickled herring, Lapland cheeses, caviars and berry preserves. The air was filled with the sounds and smells of sizzling sausages, salmon and new potatoes on the outdoor grills.

Given Helsinki’s importance as a Baltic gateway trading port, the peasant traditions of Finland are laced with influences from both the East and West. As a result, the cuisine is straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, but the methods for preparing Finnish cuisine are highly technical. Smoking, preserving, pickling and curing are commonplace. Butchering, sausage making and classic charcuterie are forgotten crafts in many parts of the world, but not in Finland. Bears and reindeer are as common as beef and lamb. Salmon – double the size of what we see in most markets outside of the Baltic – are cured and seasoned with herbs, spices and peppers. Baking is also an important part of Finnish cuisine, and sweet buns, pancakes, pastries, rye bread and berry desserts are all part of the daily fare.

With our market bags full, our small group and enthusiastic chef headed to a second market – more popular with chefs and locals – for fresh baked goods and seasonal forest berries and produce. We gathered black bread, fresh chanterelle mushrooms, Karelian pastries and cloudberries. And dill – lots of dill!

After a panoramic tour of Helsinki highlights, we returned to The Culinary Center for a 90 minute Finnish cooking class and luncheon. Each tour results in different recipes depending on what’s fresh, but a few favorite recipes we learn are pan-seared wild salmon with cucumber salad, Kalakeitto (creamy fish soup) with dill, Perunasalaatti (new potato salad) and champagne & lingonberry sparklers. Plus, after each tour, we always enjoy a smorgasbord of tastings that we pick up along the way – gravlax with classic pink peppercorn, dill and fennel; cranberry pickled herring; dark brown bread with artisanal butter; Lapland cheese with cloudberry jam; cured boar and reindeer; giant chocolate meringues; licorice – and of course, Finnish beer!

As one of our guests, Jackie Holzman from Ottawa, Canada, put it, “It was exactly what I hoped it would be – a real Finnish experience!”

“If I could go everywhere in the world on a Culinary Discovery Tour, I would!” – Ron Burk, Naples, Florida guest.

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