Is it crazy to go away just before Christmas? Well, in real life (whatever that used to be!) we did go away to write our Christmas cards for several years. But that was in another life and now our travels are flights of fantasy. Christmas was coming, we needed a Christmas market and we’d heard that Tallinn has one of the best.

Homemade rye bread is one of the tastes of Estonia. Mine was a sourdough with plenty of Orkney beremeal in it too. Rough, nutty and delicious.

To be perfectly honest I wasn’t really sure where Estonia is – I’d never have found it on a map! I thought it landlocked and much further south. I was really surprised in our first travel video to find a) that it is a most beautiful medieval city in a very Germanic style and then that b) it is a port on the Baltic and only a 2 hour ferry crossing from Finland. It’s always good to know where you are going!

The Christmas market was much curtailed in 2020 but there’s plenty on YouTube of previous events, runs from mid November to mid January. I’m trying to get this post uploaded before Twelfth Night and Epiphany have passed, but there would be another week or so of tasty treats, hot wine cups and stalls to tempt in normal times. Our young Australian travel vlogging friends Flying The Nest gave us our intro to the city. They are a bit dizzy but fun!

Our first meal ‘in Tallinn’ – not my greatest! The whole trip was planned in a rush and I had to improvise. Potato and celeriac cakes (should have been smaller), with black pudding (should have been baked blood sausage called Verivorst) with a cream sauce (should have been thinner) with bacon and I added leftover carrots and cabbage. That’s home cooking! I was trying to recreate their sausage with Mulgipuder, a dish of potatoes and grain (the coarse beremeal on the potato cakes) which is served with bacon and a cream sauce….

Friends who are Estonian had brought us a bottle of caraway vodka so we had the spirit to go with our richer dishes! Very unfortunately food was not top of their priorities when I contacted them for recipe suggestions as they had both contracted COVID-19 on their way home from Tallinn. Luckily they are both recovering well now.

The Scandi love of pickled fish is well reflected in the Estonian list of Top Things to Eat. I couldn’t get sprats, a really favourite treat, but pickled herrings with hard-boiled egg on rye bread with mustard greens from our polytunnel was a good take on their favourite sprat open sandwich Kiluvõileib.

Climbing up and down the towers of the walled city and exploring the cobbled streets from the comfort of our sofa certainly gave us an appetite for our final meal of the trip. Estonians love game, and in particular wild boar – which I am also very fond of. With none of that to hand here on Orkney I could have gone for pork but, as I had a small haunch of Caithness venison in the freezer that was our game.

Venison (pretending to be wild boar) simply roasted and served with a rich gravy made of pan juices, veg waters and German wild berry jelly made by my sister-out-law. Perfect with local carrots, cauliflower and creamy mash. I wonder if Estonians have cauliflower?

Our trip was poorly planned, a bit rushed and very much about improvisation when it came to the food! But it was fun and we really enjoyed it. We are surprised how many people have told us that they have actually been to Tallinn, often as part of a Baltic cruise. I think it would be a great destination by train. Our next trip is to Eastern Canada – I shall be ordering the whisky once I have posted this!

I was sorry not to make Tatrapuder for our trip, a buckwheat porridge or pilaf. I really enjoyed buckwheat when writing my High Fibre, High Flavour cookbook. Shearer’s in Kirkwall do have it so I must get some, but to use up all our leftovers I made a pilaf with cracked wheat and the remaining venison and veg. Served with the last scrapings of the fruit jelly, it brought back happy memories of another low carbon foodie trip!