All posts tagged “foraging

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Wild elderflower vodka (flädersnaps)

ElderflowerElderflower has a near mythical status in Sweden. Blooming in June, it dots the midsummer nights with a dusky light. Way back, women would make sacrifices to the bushes in an attempt to woo “hyllekvinnan” an elderflower godess of fertility. Most everything about the Swedish summer is centered around fertility. Here’s a great snaps to get it going.

You’ll need:
10 large bunches elderflower
10 cm slice of lemon peel
2 tbsp brown sugar
35 cl vodka (Brännvin special, with a softer taste and slightly lower alcohol content is ideal, but near impossible to get a hold of abroad. Absolut or Smirnoff are acceptable.)

Some kind of sealed glass jar
A siv

Do not rinse the flowers, but pick the large bunches apart with your fingers to remove insects and leaves, making sure you put only flowers in your jar. Add the lemon peel and sugar, followed by the vodka. Stir, seal, and let it rest somewhere dark in room temperature for three days. Then filter the mixture through a siv or cheese cloth, gently crushing the contents to extract the flavour. Pour it into a glass bottle, but don’t fill it entirely, as the best place to store it is the freezer. Serve freezing.

Foraging notes
Elderflower is great for many things, and often overlooked (at least in Belgium where tons of it grows in abandoned places). You can make the world’s best cordial from it, sorbet, or pick the berries to make fake capers (although my experience with making fake capers is to just let this one be). You get the most aromatic and floral notes from the first flowers of the early season. Look for it at the sunny fringes of the forest, in the bushel along train tracks, or in hedgerows between fields.


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Foraging nettles (and how to make nässelsoppa)

Young nettles

Did you know that the best way of taking revenge on being burned by at nettle is to eat its relatives? In Sweden it’s common practice. They are picked by high and low in early spring, and used mostly for nässelsoppa (nettle soup) but also as a healthier substitute to spinach (and even added into smoothies). Nettles contain lots of iron and are a great vitamin boost, and taste like a mild, grassier form of spinach. It’s one of my favourite things to forage, because it grows in abundance just about everywhere and it difficult to confuse with anything else. And as long as you wear gloves, the stinging isn’t a problem.

Caroline foraging

Caroline hunting down nettles in Fôret de Soignes.

They key thing is to be out early  – they should be tall enough to be easily pickable, but not so big that they’ve grown large leaves. If picked too late, their consistency is too wooden and stringy. However, should you miss the first leaves, you can also settle for picking only the youngest leaves at the top – however never after the nettles have bloomed. Avoid picking them from ditches and busy parks, as they tend to grow where chemicals and other fluids abound.

PIcked nettles

Freshly picked nettles – pick the top of the nettle in the forest, then remove the leaves from the stalks at home.

The consistency may not be to everyones liking, but as long as you have a powerful food blender that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a good way of picking your own tender spring greens for free. In Sweden, nettles are mostly used to make nettle soup (nässelsoppa). It’s easy, tasty and nutritious, and always served with a poached or softly boiled egg. For 4 servings, you need:

– 5 litres newly picked nettles
– 1 small yellow onion
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 litre vegetable stock
– 1 tbsp flour
– 1 dl creme fraiche
– 2 eggs

Nettle soup

Chop the onion finely, then fry it in the butter until soft. Add the nettles and make them wilt, adding some water. Once the mix has  softened, blitz it with a blender or food processor until it’s a fine paste. Add the flour and let it fry with the nettle mix for a little while.  Add the vegetable stock and get it simmering for a few minutes until it has combined somewhat (although it will naturally separate after stirring, due to the high amount of nettles).  Whilst the soup is simmering, soft-boil or poach your eggs. Add creme fraiche, salt and pepper to the soup, and then serve up on four plats. Carefully add half a soft-boiled egg or an entire poached egg on top. Sprinkle with some newly crushed black pepper and chives. Serve.

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Chanterelle foraging

Because of the terribly rainy summer, Sweden is invaded with golden chanterelles at the moment. My stepmum complains over being bombarded with everyone’s beautifully instagrammed pictures of them. The chanterelles, which only grow in the wild, have a floral,  slightly nutty flavour with hints of apricot, and are known in Sweden as forest gold (and the price tag for fresh ones in London suggests there’s something to that name). All the more reason to write about these tasty beauties, so here is my mini-guide to finding, picking and eating them.

Finding. My sister-in-law who is from the dark forests of Värmland has what we in Sweden call kantarellnäsa – chanterelle nose. This has nothing to do with the appearance of her cute, shapely nose, but rather to her mysterious talent of finding chanterelles in the wild. No matter how hard I try, I never find as many. Her main tips are to look on small, sunny hills in the forest, in areas where birches grow sparsely together with large fir trees. If you lift the lowest branches of fir trees growing in these conditions, you can often find some chanterelles. Also, stay clear lingon and blueberry bushes, because if you find one of these you’re rather unlikely to find chanterelles nearby. Chanterelles like rainy summers but also heat, so like grape vine they enjoy hillsides where they can soak up as much warmth from the sun as possible (however they tend to live in the undergrowth, so you rarely find them in direct sunlight).

Foraging. Whilst picked berries can be placed and stored in plastic containers, mushrooms should ideally be placed in an airy basket lined with newspaper, and be wrapped in newspaper in the fridge when stored at home. If you actually make your way to Scandinavia to forage, mosquito repellent and long-sleeved thin clothing is essential. Mosquitos proliferate in the forest if it’s been rainy and hot, which means they co-exist with the chanterelles. Also, large parts of Scandinavia have ticks in high grass, which sometimes carry Borrelia, a very serious disease if  untreated. So make sure to check your elbows, knees and other skin creases after coming back from the forest or meadows with high grass. If you’ve caught a tick, gently remove it with a tweezer. Normally that’s all there is to it, but if you get a red circular rash developing around the bite after a few weeks, see a doctor.

A final hazard of foraging in the wild is the risk of picking the wrong kinds of mushrooms. Unless you’re an expert, stick to picking only golden chanterelles which are unmistakably golden and hard to confuse with anything else. Do not pick any white mushrooms at all, as you might accidentally pick Vit Flugsvamp, aptly named Destroying Angel in English, which looks like this. Even a small quantity can lead to a slow and painful death, so it’s important to wash your hands if you accidentally touch one.

On the upside, most of the berries you find in the forest and meadows are perfectly edible, so after all those heavy warnings, here are some cute photos of blueberries and wild strawberries.

Cleaning. Once you’ve gathered a basketfull of chanterelles for yourself, it’s time to clean them. For this you need a small brush and a knife. Cut the very bottom of the stalk (just the dirty root), and then carefully remove any other dirt on the mushroom with a little brush. You can use an egg brush for this. This is rather time-consuming, but do not under any circumstances wash the chanterelles, as this removes a crucial part of their flavour and makes them soggy. If you’re too impatient or scared of bacteria for this process, you may simply have to stick with green-house grown mushrooms.

Cooking. With their distinct flavour, chanterelles take-over or accompany a great array of dishes and they blend beautifully in salads with apple, in reindeer stews with lingonberry, or with scrambled eggs. However, I prefer to just enjoy them on their own, pan fried in butter, served on toast. This is particularly delicious if toast the bread on high heat in the pan you’ve cooked the chanterelles in. Pan-fried chanterelles require a hearty spicing of butter (and if you even consider replacing it with something lighter you might as well not bother), however you must not put it in at first, but instead turn the water out of the mushrooms by dry frying them. This is a heartbreaking process in many ways, as you’ll see your large batch of chanterelles shrink considerably.

Once their water has evaporated from the pan, add a large knob of butter and let the chanterelles soak in this whilst frying for a few more minutes. Remove them from the pan, increase the heat and pan-toast your bread in the leftover butter. Place the mushrooms on top of the toast and sprinkle with salt and white pepper before serving. Absolutely delicious.