Thursday, May 27, 2010
Extreme Finnish Food--Delectable yet Deadly Mushrooms
Retiring to the woods is an important Finnish pastime. Even in Turku the woods are all around and you can hop on a bus to a hiking trail to reestablish contact with trees. ( I hope to post more about the importance of trees in Finnish culture, but you get a taste of it when you pop a tar pastille in your mouth.)
Part of the lure of the forests is the joy of finding food hiding in plain sight. There is an "Easter egg hunt" thrill to heading out with your basket for mushrooms or berries. The This is Finland web site gives these statistics:
Approximately 500 million kg of berries and a staggering two billion kilograms of mushrooms grow in Finland's forests every year and the tradition of picking wild berries and mushrooms is as popular as ever, despite urbanization. One study shows that 56 percent of Finns, irrespective of their socioeconomic status, go to pick forest berries at least seven times each summer. The most enthusiastic berry pickers are elderly women: 87 percent of them in the age group 60-74 pick wild berries.
The concept of Everyman's right means that there are no property boundaries as far as berries and mushrooms are concerned. The forest is your fridge!
Of course you have to know what you are doing when harvesting mushrooms. Children are taught to identify mushrooms in school and mushroom lore is handed down in families as part of the ritual of going to the woods together. There is even a mushroom hunting competition near Joensuu drawing contestants from Russia, Hungary and Italy.
Mari told me that it is now false morel season (Gyromitra esculenta). While the false morel is toxic and the sale of the false morel is prohibited in some countries, you can buy it in Finland. The Finnish Food Safety Authority, Evira, recommends that it only be sold by sales clerks, but I found it on my own in Stockmans. Check out the warning above.
So, who would be crazy enough to eat the toxic mushrooms 5 days before leaving Finland? Me! How could I pass up the opportunity to partake of another Finnish delicacy. Mari and I went to Smör for lunch where we had the false morels in a sauce over new potatoes and asparagus. The food was wonderful and I lived to blog about it.