Mushroom war marked by cunning and subterfuge

With chanterelle season upon us, it's time again for the annual funghi wars that help keep country life interesting, writes migrant mushroom worshipper Rose Kemp.

Every year a diverse migration staggers in to a quaint summer cottage neighborhood along Lake Mälaren.

It begins with flocks of noisy Canadian Geese who foul the shoreline with their sausage size droppings. The geese are soon followed by Swedes, Germans, Americans and others who are sure to mingle and clash while seeking the ideal summer vacation.

With varied cultural backgrounds, it’s inevitable that each will have different expectations of the perfect “Swedish Summer”. Most Swedes are mainly concerned about the weather, not too hot, not too cold, not too rainy, not too dry; it absolutely has to be lagom. This means just right and since it has never been consistently lagom in the twenty plus years I’ve been visiting, they are never completely satisfied.

One neighbour’s main activity is to gather and forage for all things edible from the forest and cart it back to her homeland. I have dubbed her the human vacuum cleaner because she is very efficient at leaving all berry bushes bare.

I, in turn, am a casual forager and prefer to take long walks, munching all along the way until I have sampled every flavour of the forest. My cravings start as our flight begins its final approach to Arlanda and vast Swedish forests come into view. By the time we are turning in to the single-lane dirt road leading to our cottage, my taste buds are in full bloom for wild strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

Annual first meetings with the human vacuum begin with pleasant nods. But lurking beneath our calm demeanour is a growing unease which escalates into full-blown, elbows-out rivalry once the highly prized and elusive chanterelle begins to show its golden cap.

When gold fever hits, the forest war games begin and we find ourselves eyeing each other suspiciously for evidence of hidden contraband.

A major handicap for me is a biological clock that is ticking six hours behind my arch nemesis. Just the thought of my capable and efficient opponent making her way through the forest motivates me to quickly adjust.

My strategies have included, quite unsuccessfully, teaching my dog to become a trained chanterelle hunter.

The task set for the dog went as follows: place the mushrooms in a plastic container with several air holes. Take a similar container without mushrooms and hide them both outside. When the dog finds the container with the mushrooms, you give it a small reward. My lazy dog was never able to find the correct container unless I put a piece of ham on it. Since ham doesn’t grow with mushrooms, I had to find another way of utilizing him.

When I go mushroom hunting, I use the ruse of taking the dog on a long walk. Being an environmentally responsible dog owner, I always carry little bags to pick up his droppings. These little bags are also useful for concealing any mushrooms that are found. Mushrooms placed inside visually resemble the doggie do and no one would even think to question, let alone ask to see, what’s inside the bag.

One year I bribed our resident bachelor with finger licking American Fried Chicken, and he obligingly revealed his secret place. I enjoyed that spot for a few years until another conniving cook had her way with him.

Other acts of skullduggery and worthy tricks of subterfuge come from my Native American Indian heritage. I always conceal the un-developed mushrooms with wet moss or foliage and mark them with a stick to be picked later. I never leave bits of mushrooms visible and I always return the forest floor to as close as possible to how I found it. Walking carefully to not trample the grasses or small bushes, I never leave any trash or evidence that I was there.

My most recent deception went like this: After taking care not to be followed, I placed chanterelles purchased from our local market in areas leading away from productive areas to barren spots. This worked very effectively, as the planted mushrooms were missing within 24 hours of setting the trap.

But as much fun as the mushroom wars are, in the end it’s always more satisfying to pick the chanterelles in peace. The best way to achieve this nirvana is to do like the local Swedes do and pick the fabulous funghi from secret locations handed down from many past generations.

If you’re not a native, then you will only be able to experience the golden floor with true diplomacy. You will have to be granted an invitation to these well guarded covert areas that are so exclusive to the owner and you will most likely be driven there blindfolded.

I have been honoured twice with invitations to go mushroom picking. Both occasions will be held in my heart as two of the best memories of my life.

I can’t say exactly which one of my many acts of diplomacy resulted in the invites, but I have shared my wireless internet code and I host an annual poker party serving big juicy American style hamburgers, cold beer and Mojitos.

It’s a blast and I make sure that I never win. Well that part really doesn’t require any effort on my part, but I am gracious about losing because just being accepted in Sweden is winning.

Rose Kemp

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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.