The Swedish forests are rich with ingredients that foodies dream about, from delicious wild strawberries to highly sought chanterelles and porcini mushrooms. And it’s all free!
Thanks to the Right of Public Access, people are allowed to freely roam the Swedish countryside in search of their favorite wild delicacies. Photo: Hans Svensson/Image Bank Sweden
Thanks to the Swedish Right of Public Access (Allemansrätten), you just need a bit of dedication and the right timing in the middle of a Swedish forest to find your own luxury meal. The Right of Public Access allows the public to roam the woods as long as it is done without disturbing or destroying.
Mathias Dahlgren, one of Sweden’s foremost chefs specializing in local and seasonal ingredients says, “The Right of Public Access is something unique to Sweden. There’s an enormous amount of resources in the Swedish forests, and it’s all free — everything from mushrooms to berries. There’s so much you can use.”
What to find and when
The most plentiful season for wild foods is fall, but the full season lasts from May through November. Even though avid mushroom hunters are out from early spring up until the brink of winter, most people head out during the fall, the peak season for a large variety, ranging from the porcini (Boletus edulis) and golden chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius), to the lesser known, but still delicious parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) and false saffron milk-cap (Lactarius deterrimus).
Besides mushrooms, lingonberries are also a popular fall treat found on the forest floor. Quite tart in their raw form, these tiny red berries are often used to make lingonberry jam, the traditional accompaniment to Swedish meatballs and a surprisingly large number of other Swedish dishes.
When you come across wild strawberries in the forest, the only question is whether to eat them right away or gather them for a proper dessert. Photo: Simon Sighurdsson
Spring and summer is the season to harvest flowers and berries. Wild strawberries, cherries and blackberries are a few popular examples. Then there is Sweden's most widespread berry, the bilberry or European blueberry. The bush is estimated to cover about 17 percent of Sweden’s surface.
The hardy arctic raspberry is particular to the north of Sweden, where you also find a lot of cloudberries, yellow-colored berries shaped like raspberries, but with larger seeds and a more chewy consistency. Cloudberries also grow in many other parts of the country.
Guide to finding mushrooms
A few days after heavy rainfall in the fall is the best time to make an expedition into the forest to find wild mushrooms. Tracking down chanterelles can be one of the more difficult pastimes because they’re so highly sought. They often grow in the same spot every year, often many in the same spot, and once someone finds a place she or he keeps it a secret. On the other hand, their distinctive golden color and trumpet shape make the chanterelles easy to identify.
According to mushroom expert Klas Jaederfeldt, “The richest place for chanterelles is in the south-west of Sweden. In the north of Sweden, inland, summer chanterelles are particularly unusual.”
Freshly picked chanterelles are best enjoyed sautéed in real butter. Photo: Anne Skoogh/Image Bank Sweden
Porcini mushrooms (called karljohanssvamp in Swedish) tend to be larger and easier to find, but once again, the competition from other pickers is often fierce. Porcini has a symbiotic relationship with the roots of coniferous trees, therefore mossy areas dotted with pines are good porcini hunting grounds.
All mushroom hunting should be done with positive identification using shape, type, smell, color and spore pattern to confirm the identity of each individual mushroom. It is best to go with a guide or an experienced person the first few times, and never eat or pick a mushroom you are uncertain about.
Jaederfeldt stresses the importance of proper identification: “Don’t only be careful of what mushroom you eat, be careful also what you pick.”
Preparing a wild feast
Mushrooms should be prepared as soon as you bring them home. With a brush or a paper towel, gently brush off any dirt, and cut away pieces that look damaged.
A favorite is to sauté the mushrooms in butter, and serve them on a slice of toast. Some wild mushrooms like porcini can be thinly sliced and dried until they are bone-dry and then used to flavor soups or pasta sauces.
Berries are often best eaten plain, served with whipped cream, or included in various desserts. A plate full of wild strawberries drizzled with whipping cream and sprinkled with sugar is a delicious ending to any meal. Berries and elderflowers are often cooked down with sugar to make various kinds of cordial.
Cloudberries taste lovely after dinner. Photo: Björn Lindberg
Enjoying the fruits without the forest
Fortunately, if you are not much for the outdoors, many Swedish restaurants serve both wild game and ingredients from the forest. If you want an exact copy of a Nobel Prize dinner menu you can order it at Stadshuskällaren located in Stockholm's City Hall.
Mathias Dahlgren’s restaurants Matsalen and Matbaren, both located in Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel, are locally focused and serve dishes like lamb accompanied by nettles and chanterelles, or even fried bread with birch sap as a flavoring. Jams made of cloudberries and arctic raspberries and fruit syrups of every variety are sold in Swedish grocery stores and Ikeas worldwide.
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Joy Hui Lin
Joy Hui Lin is a food/travel writer and poet based in Stockholm. She regards finding wild mushrooms in the woods akin to an exciting scavenger/pirate treasure hunt.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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