After the serious arguments of the past few days, I think the weekend is time for a pleasant diversion. Let me tell you about the delightful evening we had on Thursday. Background: Every year for the past 37 years, Memphis has held a month-long celebration of itself during the month of May. "Memphis in May" (or Memphis in Mud if the weather does not cooperate) includes lots of live music on outdoor stages, a world-class barbecue contest that turns downtown streets into smoke-filled temptations, a symphony orchestra playing on the banks of the Mississippi River, and a cultural nod to another country chosen as the country of the year.
Once the country has been selected, a local artist gets the assignment of going to that country, absorbing its "feel," and creating an original painting that can be used on a poster advertising the event. The poster and its artist are unveiled about three months in advance, and the unveiling is accompanied by a wine and heavy hors d'oeuvres reception. Because our financial adviser is a member of the investment firm that sponsors the event, we get invited to the reception. It's a lovely affair, not too long, just long enough to sample the cuisine of the chosen country, hear a few speeches, and meet the artist, who is invited to unveil the original painting and explain what inspired the artwork.
The company has a great caterer, and she goes out of her way to bring the food of the country to a cocktail-type spread. Last year, for example, the country was the Philippines, and we tasted spring rolls, chicken/pineapple skewers, shrimp, and other delights that had made their way from one Asian menu to another. But this year we were a little concerned. Sweden? What do you eat in Sweden? Only two items came immediately to mind -- meatballs and pickled herring. Now, I happen to adore Swedish meatballs, but I was not eager to try pickled herring with my wine. So off we went, harboring the reservation that we could always go out for dinner afterward if thing got too fishy and briny. Fortunately I discovered I didn't know much about Swedish food, after all. We feasted on rare roast beef sliders, tiny boiled potatoes cut in half and smothered in sour cream and dill, smoked salmon and cream cheese on rye toast triangles, and yes, lots and lots of meatballs.
The highlight of the evening was a dish we could not identify. It came baked in pie crust and cut into tiny squares that proved to contain something substantial and chewy (some kind of poultry, I wondered?) bat also featuring a sauce that contained raisins and tasted rather like baked apples. I finally asked one of the hosts, who identified it as a Swedish cheese like Jack, topped with fruit preserves (strawberry, she thought) and baked in the crust. No, it didn't taste like strawberries, but I let it go as the mystery of the evening. And on we went to the unveiling.
The artist was Professor Beth Edwards from the Art Department at the University of Memphis, and she quickly pointed out the features we could all identify -- the swirls of the Northern Lights and the hillsides covered with perfect ancient pine trees. But every eye was drawn to that image at the bottom. What was it? She identified it as a cloud berry, the traditional fruit of Sweden and a symbol of resilience because it thrives in the subarctic climate and can continue to produce fruit even at 40 degrees below zero.
When we got home, I indulged my curiosity by looking up cloud berries, to see if she had just been using her creative imagination. And I learned that cloud berries are indeed real. They are part of the same family of plants as the raspberry, although much bigger. According to my source they tend to be acidic when eaten raw but develop their sweetness when cooked. Natives of Sweden often call them "baked apple berries." They tend to be fragile and reach the markets of the rest of the world primarily in the form of preserves.
Aha! Mystery solved. Let me tell you again. Swedish cheese covered in cloud berry preserves and baked in pie crust makes a delightful dessert.