Although it’s already felt like autumn for a good while in parts of Sweden, the season has now truly arrived meaning a wealth of Scandinavian foraging fun.
You don’t even need to venture into a misty Swedish forest to partake of the best this season has to offer. If you are willing to dodge spindly spiders, potentially donate a pint of blood to the mosquito population, and get a little mud on your boots, gather up your foraging gear and prepare to reap the benefits of Sweden’s September bounty.
Lingonberries are perhaps the most important berry in Swedish food culture. They grow wild in most of the country and are ripe for the picking just now. Look for the low-lying, scrubby bushes in forests near blueberry bushes.
Once you have the berries it will take a minimum of effort to transform them by cooking 3 parts berries with 2 parts sugar and one part water for 10-15 minutes. Once you have made your own lingonberry preserves, you may never go back to the store bought stuff.
The tasty mushrooms, also known as forest gold (skogens guld), are the most elusive of the fall foraging foods mentioned here. I think they are called forest gold for several reasons aside from their color and cost. You often have to ‘dig’ for them in the brush, and it’s almost as if they are on gold rush claims.
People protect their chanterelle picking spots with great secrecy almost to the point of ‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.’ When you know a good spot, you keep it to yourself. This is a stellar year for mushrooms with the long stretches of wet weather punctuated by an occasional sunny day.
If you cut the stems rather than plucking out the root you can potentially come back to forage your claim again within the same season (typically July through October). Try to find them before the leaves start to change colors because once there are gold leaves on the forest floor too it becomes that much harder to find the true forest gold.
Chanterelles are one of the easiest mushrooms to forage because they are so distinctive but be aware there is a look-alike that although not poisonous could make you pretty uncomfortable. Look for chanterelles where coniferous and deciduous forests meet, in Beech forests, on the edges of trails, and near lime-rich deposits.
They are ‘social’ mushrooms so if you find one, there should be more. Keep digging. And if you find the mother lode, keep an eye out over your shoulder for any claim jumpers. The classic way to serve them is as a starter, simply sautéed in butter and served on toasted French bread rubbed with garlic.
Swedes are well known for loving flädersaft, which is made from the blossoms of the elder bush, but the berries don’t seem to get much attention. Every time I harvest them in my urban neighborhood the characteristically keep-to-themselves-Swedes are curious as to what I am doing.
I have been asked several times what I plan to make with them and people often remark they had no idea you could eat them. Well, yes, you can. They have a deep, distinctive grape-like flavor and are purported to be excellent at warding off the flu or helping to speed your recovery if you’ve already got it. You do have to be a bit careful with elder bushes because the leaves and stems of the plant are toxic and some people have adverse reactions to eating the raw berries. You can make a variety of things with elderberries including pies, jam, or my favorite, elderberry syrup to enjoy on your American style pancakes, drizzled in your filmjölk, or even diluted for drinking. They can even be popped into some vodka to steep into a port-like liqueur.
You want to wait until the berries are a deep, almost black color and are hanging heavy on the bush. The easiest way to harvest them is to snap off the ‘umbrellas’ and take them home. They are quick to pick, but time-consuming to de-stem so sit down with a good movie and use a fork to ‘comb’ the berries from the stems.
Rose hips (nypon)
Rose hips are the fruit of wild rose bushes. Rich in vitamin C, they are ripe for the taking from the end of August through September although their flavor is enhanced if you can wait to pick them after the first frost. There are loads of hairy seeds inside that need to be removed depending on what you are making since the little hairs can irritate your digestive system. I find the seed removal to be way too much work so I prefer to make a rose hip jelly, or seed just a few of them to infuse honey with the earthy flavor of rose hips.
Sea Buckthorn (havtorn)
Foraging for this berry is not for the light-hearted. Using surgical scissors to snip the branch-hugging vibrant berries one-by-one while dodging some substantial thorns is no easy task.
It takes a good chunk of time to harvest enough havtorn to do anything with but they are packed with fifteen times more vitamin C than oranges. Their popularity has grown in recent years as havtorn has become recognized for its healthful antioxidant properties in both food and beauty products.
Although picking them is tedious, cooking them is divine as they give off an exotic aroma somewhat like passionfruit.
Havtorn bushes can be found growing on the rocky Swedish coastlines. It’s ideal to pick them after the first frost but alternately you can pop them into your freezer for an hour to reduce their acidity. Havtorn jam is a scrumptious accompaniment to cheese.
Although I admittedly get a little anxious about what might come crawling out of my foraging bag once I open it up at home, that hasn’t deterred me yet. Gathering your own food and transforming it into delectable dishes is a gratifying tribute to nature.
Impress your family and friends with not only with your cooking but your inevitable foraging stories. Just keep in mind that whatever you decide to forage, whether it’s elderberries in your neighborhood or lingonberries in the forest, forage in moderation.
Wildlife depends on these food sources. We don’t.
Maia Brindley Nilsson is a designer and food enthusiast based in Malmö, Sweden. Her food blog semiswede is “sort of about Sweden, and sort of not.”