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How to pick mushrooms in Norway like you've been doing it all your life

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
How to pick mushrooms in Norway like you've been doing it all your life
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

There is one benefit of a wetter-than-usual summer: it's great for mushrooms! Richard Orange discovers five things you need to know about how to mushroom-hunt like a true Norwegian.

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Last month's extreme wet weather, as well as bringing disruption to much of central and southern Norway, has also brought the mushroom season a little earlier than usual.

This is the season when many (perhaps even most) Norwegians bunk off from work early to roam their local forests, bringing back giant hauls of tasty chanterelles (kantareller), trumpet chanterelles (traktkantareller) and ceps (steinsopper).

If you're in the right part of Norway, and find a good spot, you can bring back kilos and kilos, which if dried or frozen can keep you going right through to next season. 

But for many foreigners (at least those who don't come from similarly fungally-fixated nations), it can all seem overwhelming, meaning they miss out on one of the great joys of living in Norway. 

To know when to go out, study the weather. If there's been a heavy downpour, that will get the mushrooms growing, with ceps showing up 3-10 days after a heavy downpour and chanterelles taking two to three weeks.

The Local spoke to Patrik Björck, co-founder of the Svamp-Klapp, the biggest Facebook mushroom forum in Scandinavia, about how to get started. 

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1. Only pick (and eat!) what you know

Many beginners tend to uproot the first mushroom they come across and then seek to identify it and see if it's poisonous or not. Don't do this. It's a much better approach to study just one or two of the most common edible mushrooms beforehand and then go out looking only for them.

"Never eat anything you can't safely identify," Björck advises, although he stresses this is no reason to be overcautious.

"Do not be scared or intimidated by the number of different mushrooms you encounter: only about 100 of the perhaps 10,000 possible mushrooms you might see are good edibles. But only a couple of handfuls are potentially lethal."

Chanterelles, trumpet chanterelles and ceps make a good start, and are in fact more or less all the average Norwegian will pick.

To start off with, stay away from the sort of white mushrooms you might find in supermarkets, as they can quite easily be confused with fungi that are very poisonous indeed. Particularly stay away from white mushrooms with white gills. 

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Chanterelles are most often found in pine woods (although you might find some under beech and oak in Sørlandet), and hide under fallen leaves, making them hard to spot until you get the knack for it. You're most likely to find nothing for an hour and then stumble on a patch hiding dozens and dozens, so be patient.

They are yellow and, instead of gills, have ridges which run down the stem a bit with no defined ring dividing them.

The beauty of Chanterelles is that the only thing you can really confuse them with, the false chanterelle (falsk kantarell) is only slightly unpleasant tasting and not actually poisonous.

According to Björck, there are two ways of telling the difference: "Flesh colour: Chanterelles will have white, slightly stringy, meat when cut open. False chanterelles will have orange, slightly rubbery, flesh. Scent: chanterelles are apricot-scented, false chanterelles smell of rotting wood."

A cep, also known as a penny bun mushroom. Photo: Strobilomyces/Wikimedia Commons

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The cep is the most popular of the bolete family – in Norwegian sopp(er). It's the porcini mushroom beloved of Italians, which you can buy in delicatessens sliced and dried for risottos.

But some of the others boletes, such as the bay bolete (svartbrun rørsopp) are also tasty.

The boletes are easy to identify due to the spongy tubes they have in place of gills, and their brown dimpled caps. As with chanterelles, there's little chance of unexpectedly ending up in the emergency ward, with only one poisonous genus.

"Genus Rubroboletus are the only truly toxic boletes, albeit not lethally so," Björck says. "You won't die, just wish you did."

These include the Satan's bolete (Satansopp), which will make you very sick but has never been found in Norway. 

"To keep away from these, avoid boletes with a grey cap colour and red pores, since that combo only is found in that genus," Björck advises.

You should also watch out for the very bitter but not actually poisonous bitter bolete (Gallerørsopp), which you can identify by the pinkish pores, and the black web on the stem.

The Devil's bolete. Would you really eat this anyway? Photo: Archenzo/Wikimedia Commons

2. Find your spot

The best forests to hunt for mushrooms in are old-growth forests, ideally a mix of pine or fir with a deciduous tree such as birch, oak or beech. But Björck stresses that you can still find ceps and chanterelles in commercial spruce and pine plantations.

If you ask around, you can normally find out which local forests are deemed decent for mushroom-picking, but you will still need to spend a long time walking around until you stumble upon a really good spot. When you do, note it down, because it will probably still be producing in a few weeks, and then again next year.

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If you can convince a friendly Norwegian to show you some of their best spots, it will save you a huge amount of trial and error, but it would have to be a very friendly Norwegian indeed, as most guard theirs with their lives.

Often, local nature reserves organise fungal forays, which might be a way of accessing local knowledge.

The Norwegian Association for Mycology and Foraging organises a mushroom day, or Soppens dag, every year on the first Sunday of September (September 3rd this year), and you can find a packed schedule of fungal forays on their calendar every autumn.   

They also have Soppkontroll or "Mushroom check" events, where you can bring specimens you've picked to be checked by experts. 

It also pays to get away from well-trodden paths and at least a few hundred metres away from the nearest car park. Some take bicycles so they can go deep down narrow forest paths. 

Trumpet chantarelles are popular in Norway. Photo: Jörg Hempel/Wikimedia Commons

3. Get a book

Probably the most popular Norwegian book is probably Sikre Sopper (safe mushrooms), by Inger Lagset Egeland, which you can buy at Norli here. It's small enough to stick in your anorak pocket and has more than enough mushrooms in it to get you started.

Egeland also publishes a more in-depth book called Norske Sopper (Norwegian mushrooms).

I'm a big fan of the River Cottage Handbook No.1 for Mushrooms, by John Wright, which is amusingly written, full of information, and has good photos and drawings. It's more oriented to the UK, which would be more of an issue the further north in Norway you get. It includes lots of field mushrooms few Norwegians would touch, giving you a competitive edge.

Mushroom forums such as Vi som liker sopp, with 38,000 members, are also very useful, and the members will quickly identify anything you pick. But you need to upload good pictures taken outside in decent light, showing the mushroom from various angles, gills, stem and so on.

4. What to bring? 

Björck recommends travelling light. "Bring only useful things. All you really need to carry is a good basket, a knife, your phone. And of course a snack or beverage; forest fika is always a spiffing idea." 

You might want to decouple from technology during your mushroom hunting, but a phone is very useful for tracking your location, and noting down where you find good spots, and also for photographing what you find and getting help identifying it online. 

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Baskets are better than buckets, as the mushrooms are less likely to get slimy. I sometimes bring two – one for mushrooms I know are edible, and one for ones I picked out of curiosity. Opinel knives are good for harvesting mushrooms, but more or less any knife will do.

5. Be a snob and don't lay waste to the forest

Björck says it pays to be be picky. "Dragging home maggot-infested corpses isn't very productive. Only pick the perfect specimen. Leave the rest to the critters already inhabiting them. The forests are vast, and there are many more mushrooms in them than you ever could pick, so discretion is strongly advised." 

Many Norwegians leave the root of the mushrooms, believing that this will help them grow back, but as mushrooms are just the fruiting bodies of vast underground networks, in reality leaving the root doesn't make any difference at all.  

You should, however, avoid ripping up every mushroom you see then throwing it away when you decide it might be poisonous.

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