There's something of a misconception about people living in Scandinavia that we are always just popping out into the forests to pick mushrooms at this time of year. As much as many people do enjoy that it's not something that is as widely done as people outside Scandinavia like to think.
Scandinavians certainly grow up understanding what can and can't be eaten in the wild, but mushrooms especially are more of a specialist foragers domain. The more easily recognisable fungi such as chanterelles are snapped up if someone happens to be walking past them, but the unusual and less obvious are left to a group of more hardcore foragers and those who love a "sopptur" (mushroom foray).
Sopptur are often organised by groups of experts in various regions starting at the end of the summer (depending on how dry it's been). Usually taking place on a Sunday, people gather at an agreed spot and hike into the forest to learn about mushrooms and what can and can't be eaten. The mushrooms they collect are taken back to the meeting spot, laid out and identified. This gives everyone involved the confidence to venture out alone next time.
I like to take my sopptur alone. I love the quiet peace of the forests and like so many mushroom foragers I like to keep my favourite spots a closely guarded secret. If you are starting out on your own foraging journey, there are a few things I would recommend before you begin.
Firstly, please familiarise yourself with what you are picking. It's worth taking a course (there are some great ones online and as well as in person). Get some really good field guides. These are my favourites (and as you can see they've had plenty of use!). If you are not completely certain about the mushroom you have found, leave it behind.
A good quality basket is always useful as it will keep your precious cargo from being bashed around. I like to lay an old teatowel in the bottom of mine to protect the wicker from sticky mushroom caps. A basket also doubles as something to carry your hot chocolate in and they al so give you that mush needed feeling of "hygge".
A good short foraging knife is also helpful. I like to clean my mushrooms as I pick them. It takes a little longer, but you bring less of the forest floor home with you and the bits and pieces don't stick to the other mushrooms in the basket. After a long time cleaning pieces of bark and pine needles off the tops of sticky boletus, I can tell you it's worth the extra 5 minutes!
You don't have to eat the mushrooms you collect, you can "collect" photos. Many species of mushrooms are incredibly beautiful and very photogenic. Remember they are the flowering body of the plant (although mushrooms are something between a plant and an animal) and so the mushroom itself is always going to be the most eye catching part.
And finally, specialise! I've taken the time to learn as much as I can about just a few species. I know exactly which species of boletus to pick, but I wouldn't venture near white mushrooms as I've not taken the time to learn as much about them. Find out what grows near you and learn all about that species, what features are easy to spot and the inedible mushrooms you could confuse it with.
When I first came to Norway, I was delighted to see how many mushrooms were growing even close to my own home. I've been an avid mushroom forager since I was 7 years old and would go with my dad. Since then I have learnt more and more and I am consumed by it in the autumn months and into the early winter. I love to fill the freezer with boletus and chanterelles and dry big jars full of mushrooms for casseroles and soups into the winter and spring.
All this is wonderful, but there is no substitute for enjoying the bounty of your efforts fresh from the forest. This recipe is one I have adapted from a classic Norwegian autumn and winter dish, Viltgryte (Game Stew). Normally it is made with either venison or moose with the addition of some wild mushrooms, but I think the mushrooms are the stars of the show and deserve to claim the dish entirely for themselves. I have added bacon because let's face it, everything is better with bacon, but if you want a vegetarian dish simply omit it. If you can't get hold of juniper berries then the dish is great without, but juniper and mushrooms are such Nordic ingredients and two things that are ripe and ready to harvest at the same time. They give the dish a true autumnal taste without overpowering it. If you are wondering what juniper tastes like it is the key flavouring in gin, although in it's berry form it's considerably less strong.
Skogsoppgryte (Wild Mushroom Casserole). Serves 4
80g / 3 oz smoked bacon, diced
50g / 2 oz butter
25g / 1 oz plain, all purpose flour
500g / wild mushrooms or other firm mushrooms with a good flavour
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
200ml / 7 fl oz dry white wine
200ml /7 fl oz brown stock
100ml /3.5 fl oz double or heavy cream
1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed
Small handful of lingonberries or redcurrants
Creamy mashed potato or crusty bread
In a heavy bottomed pan, melt 25g / 1 oz of the butter and fry the bacon until it's golden brown. Using a slotted spoon remove it from the pan and put it to one side. In the same pan fry the mushrooms until they start to turn golden. Remove from the pan and add to the bacon. In the same pan again, melt the remaining butter and fry the onion and garlic on a low heat until it is soft and translucent. Continue frying until it starts to turn a light golden brown. Stir in the flour and gradually add the wine, stock and cream, stirring well and boiling between each addition. Add the juniper berries and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Return the bacon and mushrooms to the pan, stir in the lingonberries or red currants and serve piping hot with some creamy mash or crusty bread on the side.