Whereas water dominates the summer months in Sweden, come September it’s time to pivot inland towards the forest and all its hidden delights.
Time for exercise more rigorous than lolling in a boat or on one of the archipelago’s myriad islands with walking opportunities unbounded, but also for some really good, earthy hunter-gathering. This is the moment of the chanterelle.
‘What was it that held the Swedish psyche in thrall to a fragrant, saffron-coloured, umbrella-shaped fungus? Throughout our time in Sweden, we had been struck by nature’s ability to have a profound influence and impact on the way of life.
Its mutations and seasonal shifts were an endless source of fascination and wonder, reflecting as they did the immutable force of the earth’s rhythm and concurrently providing, quite spontaneously, the next source of activity and amusement.
Just as seas of reddening evergreen leaves had given rise to bilberries, so the forest floor now proferred the challenge of sighting these modest but beguiling mushrooms among the carpet of leaves safeguarding the ground against the pending winter cold’.excerpt from So Sweden – Living Differently by Alison Allfrey
These beautiful, golden mushrooms hold a magnetic sway over those seeking them. Swedes pace silently, stealthily through the forest in search of them, their eyes peeled for a glimmer of tell-tale gold.
Particularly rich seams of mushrooms are guarded jealously, so walking in the forest becomes a sort of cat and mouse game, with the Swedish desire for personal space not to be invaded more palpable than ever. This feels like a mission from ancient times, as you push ever further into forests with thick, squidgy carpets of moss, lichen and leaves and shafts of light shining down through the high canopy of pine and birch trees.
It’s not a sport for the faint-hearted, requiring incredible patience and persistence combined with an obsessive urge to push onwards and find the elusive prize. It’s a chance to bond with Sweden’s pristine landscape and to escape entirely the noise of modern life.
Immersed in the forest, things have not changed for centuries and you can almost imagine the little creatures of Elsa Beskow’s delightful children’s books or the odd Norwegian troll passing by. You need strong powers of navigation too, as all this forest can be completely disorientating in the absence of any open land or landmarks to guide the way. It’s a question, as so often in Sweden, of giving yourself over to nature.
The rewards of your patient quest are a basket of beautiful chanterelles, each with its own individual markings and shape. And the chest swells with pride as you venture homewards for the next part of the sequence – a painstaking process of sorting and cleaning every mushroom to remove grit, sticks and lichen. There’s that feeling of pride, as of returning triumphant from climbing a mountain or carrying home the incredibly large fish you have caught.
And then, of course, the most gratifying part – making large amounts of delectable chanterelle soup, with its irresistible slightly smoky and nutty undertones and incredible depth of flavour. Chanterelles are also the perfect addition to creamy sauces with a touch of onion or shallot and some delicious Swedish honey mustard. Nothing is more rounded or warming on a slightly chill evening as autumn begins to take hold.
So it’s off to the forest! Take a basket, plenty of time and a keen eye. You don’t want to come home with any false friends, so read carefully before you set out to make sure you come back with the real prize and not some pretender.
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