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