Swedes fear new potato shortage

Swedish new potatoes and lettuce, those prized specimens of the summer dinner table, could be both expensive and hard to get hold of this year. The late snow and cold weather is delaying spring planting across country, according to The Federation of Swedish Farmers.

“As a farmer you’re getting ready for the spring sowing around now, but today it doesn´t look like it’ll be starting within the next two weeks,” said Bengt Persson, vice-chairman of the federation in Skåne.

He´s also a farmer who grows potatoes, corn and sugar beet on 160 hectares north of Helsingborg.

“The farmers of Skåne are most often the first to start with the spring sowing, followed by their colleagues in Västra Götaland around a week later and then the farmers in Mälardalen two to three weeks later,” said Persson.

“Furthest up north it doesn’t normally start until two months later. This year the snowy spring could delay the work all over the country.”

Bengt Persson reckons that the spring planting in Skåne will not start until the week following Easter.

Very cold weather and snow during the winter doesn´t matter, he says. On the contrary, the rape crop planted in the autumn is actually protected by the snow cover.

To get a good harvest in the autumn from the crop which will be sown now, the continuing growing season must include exactly the right amount of warmth and moisture.

But the fact that the early crops, such as new potatoes, lettuce and carrots, will be sown later will probably mean a reduced harvest.

The potatoes also have less time to grow until the big harvest at Whitsun – Sweden’s first major new potato consuming weekend of the year.

“We might end up with a big shortage of new potatoes if the beautiful winter weather changes into a cold and rainy spring,” said Bengt Persson.

“We can´t tell today and it has nothing to do with the late spring sowing, he added.

The pressure’s off for Persson himself, though: his spuds do not have to be ready until the autumn.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.