Thursday, September 14, 2017

'Tis the Season for Mushrooms

Autumn has hit us hard with its rain and cooler weather. The Finns love to head to the forest to pick berries and forage for edible plants, but this time of year is definitely all about the mushrooms. 

The British Women's Association organised a mushroom hunting workshop for its members through Helsinki Wildfoods, a brilliant organisation which sells Finnish natural foods like birch sugar and berries, offers workshops on foraging and cooking wild produce and gives advice about respecting, but making the most of Finnish natural foods. 

We headed into to the National Forest near Luikki, Espoo on a clear and cool morning with our very own biologist, Anna. Good thing too because the car park was jammed with Finns who also wanted to take advantage of the recent hard rains to find the newest crops of mushrooms. 

Anna started by showing us examples of the main groups of mushrooms we'd probably see that day, including milk caps, boletes and chanterelles, explaining their characteristics and whether they were edible. There are over 2000 species of mushrooms in Finland and about 200 are edible, 25 are toxic and 5 are deadly. A lot of the others they're just not sure about.


Russula mushrooms most of which were at the end of their season, too big and bug eaten to really eat. 




A dried chaga mushroom, we wouldn't have been allowed to pick these if we found one without the land owner's permission, but we got to try some medicinal chaga tea later on.

Off we set into the woods which seemed to have been picked bare by the Finns. You'd see mushrooms tossed to the side as they decided they were the wrong type or not in good enough condition to eat but as we moved further into the trees we began to find more and more mushrooms. You really have to adjust your sight to find them, not all of them are exposed and obvious like this. 




Tiny kanterelli (chanterelles) and trumpet chanterelles like to hide down in the moss between rocks, so it took us a while to see them without Anna's help. 


At the beginning I seemed to be adept at finding the toxic and deadly mushrooms. I found 2 of the 5 deadly ones, including this Destroying Angel. It's best not to pick any white mushrooms in Finland just in case you get this monster. 


And I can't stress enough how important it is to go out with someone who knows Finnish mushrooms the first time or two. Many Finnish mushrooms that look like edible ones from other countries can be highly toxic, so best to take a seasoned hunter with you until you learn the edible ones. After 2 hours I could only pick the trumpet chanterelles without fear. So many mushrooms from the same groups look very similar and it can sometimes be only the colour of the gills (the underneath part of the umbrella) that is the difference between an enjoyable dinner and a stomach pump. 

Anna was amazingly helpful and full of facts but we still found some mushrooms she had to double check on, including this one.



Some of my trumpet chanterelles and lingon berries. 


Can you spot my two friends here? I only saw the top one until I went to edit my photos. 


Here's my haul at the end of 2 hours. Gypsy mushroom, sheep polypore, kanterelli, lingon and wild blueberries and a few other mushrooms I can't remember the names of. Anna checked our mushrooms before we left just to make sure they were all edible. I had to duck out before I learned how to prepare and store these, but she did tell much which ones I could eat without boiling or other preparation. She also emailed us a basic guide to help us later one.  


We had tea and snacks next to one of the lakes in Luikki. Our guide told us there's a nice hike that goes around 6 or so lakes in the area which is about 8km, but this one was a handy 500m from the car-park with a little picnic area. Lovely. 

That night there was mushroom risotto for one. No one in my family likes mushrooms, their loss. 



I would definitely recommend Helsinki Wildfoods' workshop and would like to go on one of the other workshops later on. 

Thanks to Anna and Helsinki Wildfoods and the BWA for organising all this. A perfectly Finnish autumn day.

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