Hot summer days are gone and autumn has officially arrived to Finland (and to many other countries as well). The approaching winter might make you feel disheartened, but there is no reason to get depressed. The winter will come anyway, whether you are happy about it or not. So the better option is to find the positive sides in autumn and enjoy them – for the whole winter!
The mushroom season in Finland is at its’ best right now, so instead of crying after summer, it’s time to go to the forest! I was writing earlier how it’s easy, even for an amateur, to get mad about mushrooms. I’m not a specialist myself. To be honest, earlier I have been picking only chanterelles and trumpet chanterelles as they have been the only mushrooms I can definitely recognize. And most Finnish mushroom hunters are doing exactly the same. But we have over 5000 mushroom species in our forests and about a couple of hundred of them are excellent for cooking and eating. So why to pick only the two mushrooms mentioned above? Stop the madness!
Even if I haven’t seen any trumpet chanterelles yet, we already have litres of dried mushrooms in our kitchen cupboards and we have enjoyed dozens of delicious dinners cooked from fresh forest mushrooms. There are plenty of mushrooms left in the forest, waiting to be collected, so I decided to share my own amateur tips with other beginners who have gone mad about mushrooms:
1. Go to the library and borrow a mushroom guide (or buy your own)
My own enthusiasm for learning to recognize different mushrooms started when I accidentally found a cep. Before I noticed, I was already on my laptop making my own mushroom guide which I saved on my phone. I also downloaded some sort of phone app but I learned very quickly that nothing helps you in a mushroom forest like a traditional book. The one I chose is small, pocket-sized and light, so it’s easy to carry with you. The pictures are big and clear, so you can find the mushroom you want to recognize very quickly by browsing through the pages.
For every mushroom, the book also has a list of species that look alike, so in case you are insecure, you can easily check if it’s possible to confuse the mushroom you found with a one you don’t want to collect. Recognizing mushrooms with an app is mainly frustrating as the pictures are small and to find the mushroom from the app you’d need to know the name (that’s why you need the app, cause you don’t know the name, right!?). In addition, your phone always runs out of battery when you’d need it the most. But in case you do have battery left, take pictures of the mushrooms you find. With the help of the book you can then learn about the mushrooms and next time you can pick the best of them for your basket.
2. Get a proper mushroom knife
A mushroom knife is your best friend. Many delicious mushrooms get wormy quite easily so you can save the rest of your haul by cutting the wormy bits out already in the forest. Also, cleaning the mushrooms before placing them in your basket saves a lot of time at home. When your mushrooms are clean already, you only need to chop, fry and eat!
3. Focus only on two new species at once
In case you try to collect every single edible mushroom you find, your haul might not end up great. It’s better to concentrate on two or three new mushroom species at once. This is the best way to learn to recognize new mushrooms – and remember them for the rest of your life. Our first new species were ceps, milkcaps and brittlegills. On the next mushroom hunt we became familiar with mushrooms called ‘gypsy’ and ‘sheathed woodtuft’, a mushroom that grows on birch tree stumps. The latest hunt provided us with mushrooms called ‘arched woodwax’ and ‘wood hedgehog’. And just to mention, the latest ones were turned into the best mushroom sauce I have ever tasted in my entire life!
4. Get a mushroom dryer
I am not a friend of frozen mushrooms, so I always dry the ones I don’t cook fresh. Even if last year I had second thoughts about purchasing the dryer, this year it has been the saving angel in our household. The dryer has been in use nearly every day during the past couple of weeks. Besides mushrooms, I have also dried fruits like apples and bananas (a healthier snack) and at this very moment I’m drying herbs: basil, parsley and mint. Here’s a separate tip for saving some electricity: you can start drying mushrooms by using the pre and after heat of the oven (in Finland, also sauna). When some of the liquid has already evaporated, you don’t need to keep the dryer running for the whole day.
5. Enjoy nature
Wandering in the woods is the best therapy possible, even if you didn’t have luck with mushrooms (although at least here where I live there’s no risk of that at the moment). When concentrated on spotting mushrooms, no worries or other thoughts pop into your head. Let yourself get distracted with nature’s own vitamin bombs – forests are full of sweet and delicious blueberries and it’s nice to pick them for eating if not for preservation. Look around you and pay attention, you might find some funny details in the woods. Or am I the only one who thinks this looks like a dog?
The other side of the coin
Mushroom hunting is a relaxing, rewarding and especially delicious hobby, but there are some things you should beware of:
1. You can get hooked very easily. Soon you might notice yourself cancelling agreed appointments and being late from important meetings, just because you wanted to collect one more basket full of mushrooms.
2. There will be continuous smell of mushrooms in your kitchen and the smell catches to the weirdest things. How have I noticed? My cats are smelling like dried mushrooms!
3. Very soon you will run out of empty jars. And space. Suddenly you realize you are planning a kitchen expansion renovation just to get more room for your mushrooms.
4. The risk of fresh air poisoning is enormous! When hunting mushrooms you lose all sense of time and when you finally let yourself go home, you realize you have been in the forest for four hours even if you were only planning a quick, half an hour mushroom session.
Happy mushroom hunt everyone!