Foraging for golden chanterelles

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 on twitter. The chanterelles, which only grow in the wild, have a floral, spicy and slightly nutty flavour with hints of apricot, and are known in Sweden as the gold of the forest (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 these mushrooms in the wild. No matter how hard I try, I never find as many as she does. Her main tips are to look on small hills in the forest with a sunny side, 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 of patches of the forest where lingonberry and blueberry bushes grow, 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 are simply a pain, especially 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, who sometimes carry Borrelia, a very serious disease if it goes 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 so they are ready for the pan. For this you need a small brush and a knife to remove the bottom of the stalk with. Cut the very bottom of the stalk just to remove 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. 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, and placed on toast. This is particularly delicious if you bake your own sourdough bread and toast it on high heat in the pan you’ve cooked the chanterelles in (but baking sourdough bread is something I have yet to learn and most likely requires a mini-guide of its own). 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.

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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 minutes. Remove 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.

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Traditional New York style cheesecake with wild raspberries

One of my favourite things about Sweden is going foraging. But since foraging season has barely started, this past month back in Sweden I’ve had to go foraging in the freezer box instead (where last seasons foraging finds are kept) which then led to this mix of traditional New York-style baked cheesecake and wild raspberries. If you’ve ever tried wild raspberries you will know that they are incredibly different from commercially grown ones, and have one of the most floral and sweet yet full-bodied flavours of the forest (indeed so strong that my mum won’t eat them because she finds them over-powering). So they really add something to a voluptuous and creamy New York cheesecake. But you can, of course, melt any berries you like on top of this cake, it will still taste divine. Just be prepared – this cake doesn’t take up much of your time, but it takes a long time to make, and it HAS to be given its time in the fridge or you will be sorely disappointed.

I kind of followed Nigella’s recipe for this cake, and for the base, you’ll need:

  • 250 g digestive biscuits (guess it’s meant to be Graham crackers but they’re impossible to get a hold of in Sweden)
  • 150 butter (melted)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
For the filling:
  • 3 1/2 dl sugar (225 g)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 600 g cream cheese
  • 6 eggs yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 3 heaped teaspoons vanilla sugar, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 150 ml full fat cream
  • 150 ml sour cream (I used Swedish gräddfil, it worked just as well)
  • the zest and peel of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
For the topping
  • Wild raspberries
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/1 tbsp cornflour
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+ Patience. The cake is best the day after you made it. A springform will be helpful, but I made it in a clay one.
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Start by crushing the digestive biscuits and mixing them with the sugar and butter. This is probably done easiest by using a food processor, but you can also crush the biscuits by hand (I did). It just takes some time. Then add it to the bottom of the form you are using (pre-greased with butter), and press it out evenly and hard. Put in the fridge to rest for an hour. When the base has been in the fridge for a while, put the sugar and cornflour together, then mix in the cream cheese. Don’t be fooled by my whisk below, at this early stage you’re better helped by something spatula-like (as I quickly discovered…).

After this is mixed together, add the cream, the sour cream, the egg yolks and the lemon zest & peel. Stir constantly whilst mixing these things together. Put your oven to 170 degrees.
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In a separate bowl, with a separate whisk (this is important or the eggs whites will react to the traces of other ingredients), whisk together the egg whites with that half teaspoon of salt. You need your whites to turn into stiff peaks, which takes a while since there is no sugar in this mix. Whisk, whisk, whisk until it look something like the thing below. You may also, as below, need some assistance in doing this, for it really does tire out you arms (I was up sawing birchwood on the morning of making this cake, and that seemed easier somehow…) .
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Then, very gently, fold in the egg whites into the cream cheese mix.
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Take out your base from the fridge, and fill it with the cream cheese mix. Smooth off the top with a spatula or something else flat.
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Bake in the oven for about one hour or a bit more, depending on your oven and the tin you are using. Mine ended up being a little over-baked in the edges so for beauty-reasons I cut off some of the upper ends before applying the melted berries. Once your cake has turned golden at the top, yet hasn’t settled properly in the middle, turn the oven off and leave your cake in there for another two hours without opening. Then open the oven and leave the cake in there for another hour with the door open. Towards the end of that hour, melt your berries on the stove with the sugar until they are all half-crushed. Then stir in the the cornflour, and when it is time to finally take the cake out of the oven, apply the melted berries evenly at the top, and put into your fridge to set for a few hours. Note that it REALLY needs a few hours in there or it won’t be smooth.
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It takes some time, but in the end you will have something as smooth, dreamy and beautiful as this to look at, and most importantly, to eat! And it’s really, really worth the trouble.
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