The windswept island of Fanø, on the west coast of Denmark. A lazy Saturday afternoon in bright and icy winter sunlight. My Danish sisters-in-law and I stumble upon the high tide line, on the wide sandy beach near our rented accommodation. There were other people there, all ages and totally absorbed in gazing down at the sand. All were bent double and stirring the shadow of foam and dry debris from the sea with small sticks. I asked what they were doing, and a windswept lady opened her clenched hand to expose three small pieces of amber.
Rav, she exclaimed, with a crazed glint in her eyes. Then went back to her peculiar bottoms up posture and constant sand stirring.
To me røv conjured up another meaning (backside in Danish), but perhaps that is because I still laugh my head off at names like Middlefart (a town on the island if Fyn) or fartmonster (speedy car) or fuld fart (top speed) after all these years of living here.
We began with a bit of half-hearted stick twisting in the dried seaweed, crab shells and broken fishing net. Within five minutes I had found a tiny grain of amber clinging gingerly to a clod of weed. I gasped and searched on. I’ve never been lucky with lotteries, tombolas, raffles or games of chance. I won’t participate generally, as it is all too obvious that I have had to work hard for all the things that I treasure in my life. That weekend on Fanø turned the tables on me though, and five small nuggets later, I began to feel that I was patron to a charmed existence. Lady luck was in town, and for her I changed so much in the one frantic hour. I was ready to forsake my home and loving family, throw my keys, clothes, commitments and phone into the foaming ocean and try my feverish hand at fossicking for just one more stone. All this and attired in macraméd marram grass and living in a drift wood hut. The gulls cried, the sea roared and my old life faded into the greedy orange glow of the sun setting on the horizon.
Kun en mere (just one more) I pretended to joke to my amber-less sisters-in-law, as I drooled and imagined the fancy house I would build with round walls and an indoor swimming pool.
I went back the next day, initially feeling more than a little ashamed at my faithlessness to nearest and dearest. Within a few minutes I’d gotten gold fever again, and was three darling nuggets up on the previous day’s haul. I dragged myself away to the hungry, anxious faces of my children and we sped away across the vast beach in daddy’s new (old) car. Well, we tried to, but we got stuck in the sand and had to be pushed out by rav seekers with tightly clenched amber-holding fists, and that soulless glint in their eyes. I bid farewell to gaudy lady luck, we caught the ferry from the island just in time and our three year old slept all the way home.
Recipe for Nut Brittle
I found similar sized pieces of amber to those I had found on the beach for sale in tourist shops, literally for peanuts. This recipe uses almonds, but makes a bounty of lovely amber-tinged treasure to share, without all the nasty side-effects.
Place 200g of whole unshelled almonds, 175g sugar, 1tsp of sea salt and 1dl water into a wok on a medium heat. As you heat the ingredients the sugar will become white, dry and crystalline. Turn the heat down low and keep turning the nuts with a wooden spatula, imagining you are on a beach searching for riches. The crystallised sugar should melt and become a glossy brown. Turn the heat off, spread the almonds in a tray lined with baking paper. When cold, crack the nuts from each other and sigh contentedly that the recipe worked. I have personally ruined many kilos of lovely almonds in search of this perfect method, so please follow this hard-won recipe closely.
Chapter 18 from Heather Gartside’s curiously titled novel, “Rice Pudding in a Duvet., second helpings”
Heather is an English writer, mother and photographer living here in Denmark with her Danish husband and three children. She’s travelled and worked all over the world, and Rice Pudding in a Duvet draws deeply on her experiences and insights as an expat, and also on her mixed feelings at settling now on Danish soil. The title of the book comes from a recipe handed to her from her farmor (Danish mother-in-law) and every other chapter takes it’s name and theme from a tried-and-tested recipe and the circumstances in which that dish was first experienced.
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