Tag Archives: Foraging

Flower Sour

elderflowers

Sweet Little Flowers

Well the elders are in bloom again, and hedgerows all over froth and foam with the delicate white unbrels, almost like the spring tides coming in. This year is a bit later than ususal, due to the length of the Northern hemisphere winter, but now the sunshine has returned, and naure is more than making up for her long sleep.

I love this time of the year, and stock up on elderflowers for cordialsugar, and champagne. All of it delicious, and making the most of the best of the season’s forage.

Elder is really abundant where I live, so there is always plenty to go around during the flowering and fruiting seasons; for us foragers and for the birds.

Elderflowers are not just for the sweet things in life, they are also great in salads, and I have heard of sauces to go with meat. An elderflower sauce is on my list of Things I Want To Experiment With. Like most food bloggers, I guess, I have several such lists – electronically, on paper and in my head. A colleague of mine recently found them in some notes I had taken as part of a work trip, and seemed surprised that I would also be making lists of flavours in between meetings.

As well as the flavours that exist on my lists, or go around in my head, I have a number of different or unusual flavours in my kitchen. For example, I am never without vinegars of all kinds of flavours – raspberry, blackberry, tarragon, rosemary; I even have coconut vinegar since a Filipina friend introduced me to it when she kindly gave me her adobo recipe.

For me, then, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to think that elderflower vinegar would be a great way to keep hold of the elderflower season for just a little bit longer, but without all the sugar.

Try to pick elderflowers on a dry day, in the morning. There will be more pollen and nectar in them, which makes the flavour more intense.

This vinegar is good with salads. I am currently embarking on the 5:2 regimen, because my need to develop great food for this blog was beginning to have a toll on my waistline. I have found that the addition of a few herbs to some of this vinegar is a good way to dress a slad without the need for oil.

You can make marinades with it, and even a couple of drops in some water gives a nice flavour, that is not too sweet.

Elderflower Vinegar

Not So Sweet Little Flowers

Recipe: Elderflower Vinegar

Ingredients

40 g elderflowers

500 ml white wine vinegar

Method

Try to pick the flowers in the morning after a dry spell, in order to maximise the pollen and the flavour.

Remove the elderflowers from the stalks by pulling a fork through the stalks in the diretion of the flowers. You don’t have to be too fussy, as long as you have removed the largest stalks.

Steep the elderflowers in the vinegar, in a non-metallic container or bowl. Cover with a tea towel, and set aside for a few days.

Whenever you remember, give the flowers a stir.

After three days to a week, your vinegar should have reached the strength of flavour that you want.

Bottle up into sterilised bottles. This vinegar will keep well in a cupboard. I cannot resist this fragrant flavour, so the trouble is making it last!

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A Fruity Little Snifter

Japanese quince brandy

There’s Brandy in the Jar – Oh!

As you will probably have gathered if you have read more than this post, I do like to get the maximum use from my produce, especially if I have grown or gathered it myself. In this, the last of my Japanese quince posts, I am getting even more out of my harvest. I’m also starting right in on my resolutions, by blogging about booze. And I assure you, this one couldn’t be easier.

I have read a lot about quince liqueurs with vodka and honey. I have also read a fair bit about quince brandy, which sounded a lot better to me. Especially after I was given a copy of Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry for Christmas, and she gives some really tempting takes on Kir Royale using quince brandy and either French cider or English sparkling white wine. I am also thinking of taking the best of both ideas and making something with the brandy and this very special cider from Sussex, Gospel Green Champagne Method Cider (look out for them, they are from West Sussex, but don’t have a website. This is truly remarkable “bubbly” style cider) if I can get hold of some.

Fruit brandies of this kind, and those distilled from scratch used to be pretty popular. You may know them as eau de vie, rakia, or brandywine, and they are still popular across Europe, but especially in the Eastern countries – Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, and as far down as Turkey.

Of course, these are meant for quince or Cydonia oblonga, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t translate into Japanese quinces too. I selected some of the nicest fruit, and set them aside.

Then the next dilemma was whether or not to go with sugar.  For advice on this, I turned to Twitter. Luckily for me, preserving queen, Vivien Lloyd and beekeeper extroadinaire, Zoë Lynch were listening, and they both said sugar was wise, so sugar it was. Thank you both, if you are reading, although I didn’t go with that much, because I figured that I can always add sugar, but I can’t take it away if the brandy is too sweet.

The brandy needs to steep  for anything up to a year, so I haven’t tried this yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Recipe: Japanese Quince Brandy

Ingredients

5-6 Japanese Quince

50 g muscuvado sugar

2 star anise

Brandy

Sterilised jar wide enough to get the fruit into

Method

Slice the quince, but leave the seeds in. Layer the quince into the jar, and sprinkle the sugar and the star anise between the layers.

Top the jar up with brandy. The fruit will be fine in here, as long as the jar is full, and the fruit doesn’t get exposed to air. I used a 700 ml jar, so needed a fair bit of brandy.

Leave it in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months, taking it out to shake it when you remember.

Strain off the brandy, and pour into a sterilised bottle, where it will keep until you have tracked down some of that excellent cider. Top up with more brandy, if necessary.

Oh, and I’m also thinking that there will be a good use for the fruit, possibly added to apples. I’m sure I’ll think of something tasty to do with them.

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Sugar and Spice

 

Spiced Japanese Quince Jam

…Makes This Jam Nice!

Following on from yesterday’s jelly making escapades, I had a load of fruit pulp from the Japanese quince to use up. I always try to use up the fruit pulp leftover from making jelly, and frequently make fruit butters, or even add them into a pie.

Japanese quince is perfect for this kind of repurposing, and you can make all manner of things, like pies, crumbles, stewed fruit, and many other things. Had I found these earlier on in the year, I may have been tempted to use the pulped fruit in a mincemeat of some kind, but I will probably experiment with that later. I could also have made a sweetmeat, like the membrillo I made last year.

However, this quince needed to be transportable, so I decided upon jam, since it had to get lugged all the way back to the Netherlands and needed not to leak into our luggage.

In keeping with the Persian theme, I wanted to spice the quince with flavours from the Middle East. I decided upon cardamom and cloves, to give it heat. A lapse of concentration also meant that a teaspoon or so of cinnamon also found its way in there, but it’s none the worse for it.

This jam is sweet, although not as sweet as it could be. I used a bit less sugar than the standard 1:1 ratio of the traditional set jam. I had the pectin from the fruit, and the bag of seeds in any case, and I wanted it to be more spicy than sweet. I think the spice mix would also have worked well had I decided to make a membrillo with it.

The only unfortunate thing is that Japanese quince do not turn the beautiful red that ordinary quince become after a long cooking time, so this is a rather brown jam, but it is no less tasty for it. Like the jelly, this will also be good in stews and gravies, but this will work better with lamb, and chickpeas.

Recipe: Spiced Japanese Quince Jam

Ingredients

Jam jars with lids

Boiled Japanese quince pulp, once drained of liquid

Seeds from the quince, tied up in muslin

Sugar (in the ratio 3:4 with the pulp)

Water (equal weight to the fruit pulp)

5 cardamom pods

6-8 cloves

1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon or one cinnamon stick

Waxed discs

Method

While the fruit is still warm, after boiling, pass it through a sieve, so that any skin and remaining pips are retained by the sieve, and you only have fruit pulp left. You will probably need to push it through with a wooden spoon.

Sterilise the jam jars and lids, in a dishwasher, in a low oven or in a pressure cooker.

Weigh your pulp. I got 400 g of fruit pulp from mine. Then you need 3 parts granulated sugar to four parts fruit, so I measured out 300 g of sugar.

Put the seeds in muslin that you used to produce the jelly into the pan with the fruit pulp, sugar, and equal weight of water. Tie the spices up in more muslin, or in the same piece of muslin as the seeds if it is big enough. If you are using ground cinnamon, add this straight into the pulp and mix in well.

Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved completely and then bring it up to a rolling boil. Again, the jam will set when it reaches 104.5°C, or passes the fridge test.

As soon as the jam reaches setting point, sterilise any ladles, jugs or jam funnels you are going to use with boiling water.

Pour the jam into the jars, and fill it to within 2mm of the top. This jam is quite thick, so give it a bang if you can to dispel any air bubbles. Put wax discs on the top, with the wax side down, and seal with the lids while the jam is still hot.

 

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Jam and Japonica

Japanese Quince and Tarragon Jelly

A Persian Twist

Most Fridays, I go foraging with a small group of great people. You may remember that I met one of them back when I did the seed workshop. One of them, Jennie is a herbalist, and we are learning a lot about the medicinal and culinary uses of wild plants from each other, and we all share good spots to find useful ‘weeds’.

On the last forage of last year, we hit gold, despite the cold. We found a huge stash of Japanese quince, or Chaelenomeles Japonica fruit. The Japonica is usually grown for its beautiful flowers, as many people have no idea that the fruits are so delicious, or so beautifully scented.  At this time of the year, the fruit are pretty obvious, although I used to assume that they were ordinary bushes that some kindly person had studded with apples for the benefit of the birds in winter.

Japanese Quince on the bush

Hedge Decoration

Of course, this is a valuable winter fruit for the birds too, so if you do come across some yourself, then make sure you don’t take them all, as the birds will appreciate them, especially after they have bletted well. In fact, you will also think that they are better for a good bletting. Like their rosaceous namesakes, they are not at all good when you eat them raw, but they are delicious when cooked in pies, baked or as preserves, and they are really high in pectin, so great for this purpose.

Japanese quince , halved

Seedy!

The Japanese quince is thin skinned, and has a lot of small seeds. I removed all of the seeds, and put half in a muslin bag for two types of jam, for the pectin. The other half I kept, and some of these may well find itself wending its way around in the next round of Seedy Penpals, which will be coming up shortly.

The fruits are also beautifully scented, and they have been brought into homes to simply sit in a room and lend it a lovely, delicate fragrance. As I cycled around, my foraged fruit was filling my nostrils, and my living room smelled lovely for a few days before I was off to spend Christmas at my parents, when they were unceremoniously stuffed into a bag, so we could make things with them.

Both quinces and Japanese quinces are used extensively in Persian and Moroccan cookery, and although I knew I was going to make jelly and jam, I wanted this to influence what I paired with them. Inspired by this recipe, I decided that I was going to make a quince jelly with tarragon, and then I could use the fruit pulp to make a different jam. I always try to use up the pulp from making jelly, and quinces make it really easy, due to the pectin.

I’m pretty pleased with this jelly; it is tasty and unusual on toast or yoghurt in the morning, as well as being good with meat. This year, Christmas dinner was a gammon, which was prepared in the same way as this baked ham. I added a tablespoonful of this jelly to the gravy, which made it rich and unusual, bringing a slight taste of the Middle East to a Western meal.

Recipe: Quince and Tarragon Jelly

Ingredients

3 jam jars

750 g Japanese quince

Water to cover

3 large stalks of tarragon, plus another 3 sprigs for chopping

Caster Sugar (400 g per 600 ml juice)

Wax discs

Method

Sterilise your jam jars and lids, by running them through a cycle in the dishwasher, cleaning them in hot soapy water and placing them in a low oven, or by steaming them in a pressure cooker.

Quarter the quince, and remove the seeds. Take about half of the seeds and wrap them in muslin for cooking with. Place the fruit and seeds in a large pan, and cover with water. Bring the fruit to a boil, then simmer them until the fruit is tender, and the perfume fills your kitchen. This will be between 40 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how well bletted they were when you started.

Drain off the water through a piece of muslin, but keep the cooking liquid, as this will form your jelly. Set aside the fruit pulp, because this will be the basis of your jam. Measure out the liquid, as this will determine how much sugar you will need. For making jelly, you take 400 g sugar for every 600 ml juice. My fruits yielded 1.3 l, so I used 860 g sugar.

In a large, clean pan, add the liquid, sugar, tarragon stalks and the rinsed off muslin with the seeds in it. Heat gently, stirring while the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved completely, bring the jelly up to a rolling boil. Don’t stir it after this. It needs to reach 104.5°C to set. You can measure this with a jam thermometer, or you can do the fridge test. I often do both.

Meanwhile, chop the rest of the tarragon finely, and set aside for later. Once the jam has reached setting point, take it off the heat; remove the muslin with the seeds, and the tarragon stalks. Don’t throw the seeds away, they are useful for more jam making later. Add the chopped tarragon, and leave the jam to cool for 10-15 minutes, so that the tarragon will be more evenly distributed through the jam in the jar.

Meanwhile sterilise any jugs, ladles and jam funnels that you will need to transfer the jelly into the jam jars, by covering them with boiling water. You’ll need to dry them off before use.

Pour the jelly into the sterilised jars, making sure that the jam is within a couple of mm from the top of the jar. Put the wax discs on the top, wax side down. Put the lids on and tighten them well while the jam is still hot.

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A Shaggy Mushroom Story

Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom

Shaggy Ink Cap

I have just got back from the UK, where I was attending my sister’s wedding.  She and her groom did a lovely job, with the help from friends and family. A great time was had by all, and the weather mostly held off. Congratulations to my sister and her new husband!

I also managed to fit in a little bit of a forage, between the wedding day and the train home. I found some blackberries, at last. This year has been terrible here, probably because of the lack of pollinators. I got enough for a couple of good crumbles, or maybe even a pie. I also got a sizeable amount of rowan berries, which I am experimenting with. I will bring you the recipe shortly.

I found these little beauties. I wasn’t looking for them, in fact I was busy with other things, but once you start to forage, spotting things in fields and hedgerows becomes like second nature. You can’t help but investigate, which often leads to thinking up ways to use your finds.

As Shaggy Ink Caps do not keep well at all, I quickly made them into a tasty little soup. It was really delicious, as they have a nice nutty, mushroomy taste. I did not get pictures, because (as the name suggests) it was a grey/black colour, not unlike food containing squid ink. I think that adding wilted and chopped spinach would help to make the dish look more appetising, if you are averse to odd-coloured food. Don’t let the colour put you off, the soup is definitely worth it.

I have given the recipe below, in case you come across any for yourself.

WARNING: It is very easy to confuse the Shaggy Ink Cap with the Common Ink Cap. Both are edible, but the Common Ink Cap will poison you if you eat it with alcohol.There have been no reported fatalities from this kind of poisoning, but the symptoms can be uncomfortable.  In fact, alcohol is best avoided for at least the next day too, to be on the safe side.  Please also stick to Basic Fungus Foraging Rules when picking mushrooms.

Common Ink Cap Mushrooms – not to be taken with alcohol

This soup was enough for 2 people, and will freeze well before the cream is added.

Recipe: Shaggy Ink Cap Soup

Ingredients

6 young Shaggy Ink Cap mushrooms (before they flatten out and look black and kind of slimy)

1 tbsp olive oil

Small knob of butter (optional)

1 medium onion

1 fat garlic clove

400 ml chicken or vegetable stock

100 ml cream (or milk would probably do)

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Leftover pasta to thicken (optional)

Method

Chop the onion, and roughly chop the garlic, and sweat them off in some olive oil, until translucent.

Roughly chop the caps of the mushrooms, and chop the stalks reasonably finely. Add to the onion and garlic, and add the butter. Season well with salt and pepper, and fry off. This stage may take a while, as you want to try to drive off the black moisture that will seep from the mushrooms.

At this point I added the pasta, to give a bit of bulk. You could also add leftover rice, or cooked potato. You could probably also add raw potato when you sweat the onion. Or leave out the starch altogether. I mainly added it because it was in the fridge.

Add warm stock, and the chopped stalks of the parsley. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Blitz in a food processor, or with a stick blender until it is as smooth as you like your soup. I don’t like it completely smooth, so I don’t do this as long as I could if I liked a more homogenous texture.

Return to a pan, and add the cream and the chopped parsley leaves. Warm, but do not boil. Taste for seasoning, and serve.

You can also add a swirl of cream in the bowl if you want it to look a bit more fancy, but really, how fancy can a kind of grey/black soup get?

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Seedy Cuttings and Other Updates

Seedy Penpals Blog Badge

The last Friday in the month is here and now is the opportunity to update you all on progress in the Seedy Packet Patch, but I have also been doing a lot of other stuff with seeds this month that I thought that I would share.

This month has been busy for me. I’ve planted some of the amaranths and some radishes that I got as part of my first Seedy Packet. Unfortunately, I only managed to get these in this week, and there has been very little sign of sprouting so far. I will spare you a picture of bare earth, but there will be green and lovely photos next time, I promise.

We’d love to hear about any updates that you have too, so please share any posts in the linky below, in the comments, or contact me or Carl for a guest post, like Gillian did to share her Seedy Packet

News of Seedy Penpals has been spreading. I think I have probably mentioned this a lot, but I am really enjoying seeing the wider effects swapping seeds online can have. I have seen new friendships form, and other links being made. Loads of people have said very kind things about the scheme. Thanks for being wonderful penpals, for the duration of the first swap, and beyond. I hope that the community will continue to grow and support each other.

Thanks to Michelle at Veg plotting, I reached out to a gardener, who also runs a postal seed exchange; Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots. He was very generous with some tips on the practicalities of seed exchange in an international setting, and he wrote up a lovely post about Seedy Penpals. On top of that, he is practically a neighbour, so I hope to meet him very soon, and discuss all things seedy (not a euphemism, honestly)!

Last week, I found out about Cityplot. I got in touch with them (there seems to be a general theme of Seedy Penpal stuff making me braver. I’ve been reaching out in more directions than a party of octopuses on a fairground ride), and funnily enough, Ann got back to me straight away to say that she had heard of me and Seedy Penpals through Bifurcated Carrots, and she’d intended to get in touch. I love the serendipity of things like this.

I booked myself on the Cityplot Seed Saving course, run in conjunction with Urban Herbology, and from the conversation  I had with Ann, things seem to have snowballed (in the very best way).  Last Friday, I found myself meeting up with Jennie and a bunch of other enthusiastic people, and heading off to a little patch of wilderness on a burdock seed forage in preparation for the workshop on Sunday.

Burdock Plant in Autumn

Urban Warrior

Harvesting seed from a very irritating plant, covered in bandanas and swimming goggles is a very quick way to unify a group of strangers, let me tell you.

Burdock burrs, ready for picking

Prickly Customers

We all donned gloves to harvest the driest of the burrs from the plants in the patch, before having to wear more protection whilst we shook , stamped on and rubbed the burrs to encourage them to release their seedy treasures. Our unconventional attire seemed to get a lot of interest from passing dog walkers and cyclists. Some of them came and asked us why we were all covering our faces; they went off happy that we were doing no harm, and were just protecting ourselves from the prickles that cover the burrs. We did have to explain ourselves to some parks police, and the actual  police did a slow drive by a couple of times. Nothing that a friendly explanation couldn’t quickly clear up, but left us amused.

Collected Burdock Seed

The Seeds of Our Labour

It was all worth it, and we had collected and winnowed enough seeds for the workshop, plus we all got extra to take home with us. It is edible, but quite bitter. I am experimenting with bread, and I am also sprouting some, so I hope that will appear on a salad post sometime soon.

On Sunday I headed to the seed saving workshop, where there were a lot of new faces, most of whom were fairly recent gardeners, but with some more experienced people. We learned about seed harvesting for both domestic and wild seeds, discussed open pollinating, and the importance of  seed saving and sharing. It was a good mix of theory and practical work, as we headed out to the kitchen garden of the restaurant, which is maintained by Cityplot, to look at different seed type and how to save them. There were plenty of envelopes and seeds to take for all. It was really fun, and was accessible to all abilities.

I guess you are wondering what we did with all that burdock seed? Well, we made a tincture and have instructions of how to mix it, and filter it to make it usable  Everyone who attended the workshop went away clutching their tinctures, which are powerful skin and liver cleansers and a warming tonic for people who feel the cold. This was entirely new to me. I love to forage for food. I am greedy. The herbal and health side of things is not really my speciality at all. It was great to meet with new people and acquire new knowledge.

Cityplot hold a number of other workshops including vermiculture, and growing exotics. Urban Herbology run a number of similar workshops and foraging walks. If you are in Amsterdam, I really recommend them, you’ll have a lot of fun, and learn useful skills.

Also through meeting Ann, I learned that a local arts group, Mediamatic, are having a “Sharing Exhibition” and were looking for examples of sharing. I went along to tell them about Seedy Penpals. One thing led to another here, and Cityplot, and I are looking at ways we can do a seed swap as part of this art project. So, Seedy Penpals could be going from virtual to physical for a couple of months in Amsterdam.

Don’t forget that you can join Seedy Penpals anytime, and that the next swap will be taking place in February. See here for more information, and to sign up. I’d also love to read about any progress your seeds have made, so let me know more.

Disclosure: I was not paid to promote either City Plot or Urban Herbology, and neither was I asked to write about them. I paid for the course, and mention them here because it was something that I enjoyed, and is relevant to seed sharing. I think that others may enjoy their courses and get a lot from them too.

However, I have met like-minded people, and we are looking at ways to collaborate in the future on foraging and cooking, as well as the art project.  I hope that they will become friends too.



 

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Sauteed Chanterelles for Breakfast

…But If You Try Sometimes, You Might Find, You Get the Breakfast You Need.

We were recently in Sweden, and spent a wonderful afternoon with the Big Guy’s sister and her family foraging in a wood. We are never in one place for long in Sweden, and I had spent much of the week eyeing up the meadowsweet and rosebay willow herb that was abundant in the area we were in at the start of the week. I have never seen either plant in the Netherlands, so was looking forward to cooking up some goodies with them. In Swedish, meadowsweet is called älgört (pronounced el-lee-yurt), which means moose herb. Rosebay willow herb is called rallarros (pronounced rah-lor-rose), as it used to be the first plant to line the railways once they had been cleared through the forest, hence the name of railway rose. This is what makes it a pioneer species.

Tettigoniidae spp Bush Cricket

A Fellow Forager

As is often the way, when we got out to where his sister lives, we were actually in a subtly different habitat, and so there was no meadowsweet or rosebay willow herb to be had. This is a good foraging lesson – if you see it, grab some, as conditions may not be the same the next time you come back, or if you move onto a different spot.

Wild raspberry

Forest Jewels

However, all was not lost, we came across some other things I am yet to find in the low countries. First was wild raspberries. Slightly smaller than their domestic cousins, but just as sweet. They were great to come across, and we filled a few tubs.

Bilberries

Edible Carpet

Blue berries are everywhere in Swedish forests. We would call this variety bilberries in the UK, they are a little smaller and less sweet than the ones you would typically buy from the shops. They carpet the forest floor, alongside their cousins, the lingonberry. They are actually not at their peak for a few more weeks yet, but I like them when they are sharper too.

Unripe lingonberry

Not Ready Just Yet

 

The lingonberries are not yet ripe, so we didn’t even try to pick them. Apparently, there is a hybrid between the lingonberry and the blueberry that they call the ‘blingon’. We didn’t find any of those, but I’d love to taste one, just to see what it is like.

Too young Chanterelles

Beloved by Chefs, But Better Left a While

The main thing that we actually did go out to find was the chanterelles, and we were not disappointed. We started to come across really tiny ones. This is the kind that chefs often prefer because they are fairly regular sizes, and can pretty up a dish. However, many foragers lament this habit, because if everyone only took the smallest ones, they would not have time to spore, thus spoiling things for future forages, and the fungus itself.

Mature Chanterelles

We Struck Gold

We were lucky in that we didn’t have far to go to find more mature ones, and we found large mushrooms by the bucketful.

Cleaning Chanterelles

House Work

Because these mushrooms grow in the leaf litter (often quite well hidden, but once you have found one, there will be more) they will need a little trimming, and a bit of a clean with a stiff bristled brush. This can be time consuming, but well worth it to get rid of grit from between the fine gills.

Cleaned Chanterelles

A Bucket of Breakfast

The next day, we ate a king’s breakfast, starting with sautéed chanterelles and scrambled egg, followed by muesli and yoghurt, liberally scattered with raspberries and blueberries. We were leaving Sweden that day, and it was a fantastic start to our travels.

Muesli and foraged berries

Second Breakfast of Champions

We did manage to get through all of the chanterelles, even though we picked a lot. We left many of the berries for the Big Guy’s sister, and I know that she will make delicious things with them. I’m also very lucky that she likes to forage as well, and I’m very grateful to her for a wonderful afternoon, and for the huge pot of mushrooms that she’d dried from last year’s bounty.

Dried Chanterelle spp

Once-Buried Treasure

 

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