Hunting the Wild Finnish Mushroom

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Now we come to the adventuring part of this year’s mushroom hunting posts. As mentioned in my previous post, I’m getting pretty good at locating and picking the “beginner mushrooms” local to our area. This means that I’ve been turning my eye to other prospects, wanting to identify different species around us and learn what other culinary options we have. Having a wider identification database is also good for keeping curious toddler hands away from toxic species, of course.

The best way to learn these things is from actual experience, so I badgered a good friend of mine until she finally agreed to take me and the kids out on a hunt 😉 Like any proper Finn, she grew up picking mushrooms and berries with her family and could name several varieties without hesitation, even though she kept claiming that she had forgotten a lot in the intervening years. We went out the weekend after I had picked the batch from my previous posts, figuring that the recent confluence of rain and warmth might lead to a bountiful fruiting of the local fungus population. This did turn out to be true, though not for the species that I had been hoping to pick. The picture above shows our total haul — this would prove to be the Morning of Many Milkcaps! (Obligatory disclaimer: Please do not consider this post an actual guide to picking mushrooms yourself. This is merely me sharing my own experiences from a specific time and place. Hunt for wild mushrooms at your own risk and always be sure to consult multiple guides and sources before consuming anything you find. That should cover it, right?)

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The most common mushroom we found was the Wooly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus — karvarousku in Finnish), with large patches appearing all along small roads and in the woods. The standard rule definitely applied to them — if you saw one, chances were many others were growing nearby. Some of them were pretty big but you had to be careful because the older ones could get pretty slimy underneath without really showing much sign of decomposition from the top. Apparently only Russians and Finns seem to consider them edible — my friend advised boiling them twice to remove the toxins, then pickling them. A quick online search shows that this is the most common preparation, and that wooly milkcaps are appreciated for their peppery taste. Despite the additional prep work, my friend seemed to be quite happy to find them so I’ll probably have to sample some one of these days just out of curiosity.

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The second most plentiful mushroom we found, Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus — männynleppärousku), also happened to be quite a choice one, according to many sources. It is collected across the entire Eurasian continent and can be eaten raw or cooked. They were quite easy to spot, being a dark yellow and rather large. I am told they have a crunchy texture and there are countless recipes hailing from all over the globe on how to use them. My friend kept these in a different bucket from the others, since they required only a little cleaning before being edible. These are the ones I will most likely start picking myself next year. I didn’t have the time or inclination to take home any of this trip’s haul, though I might try a bit of whatever my friend prepares with it, should she be willing to share.

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Next came the Aspen Milkcap (Lactarius trivialis or haaparousku), popular because of its wide availability in Finland but seemingly not spoken of much anywhere else. The Wiki entry is rather interesting, describing it as having a “tangy” flavor with a smell reminiscent of coconut. They require five minutes of boiling but don’t seem to have the getting-rid-of-toxins issue that their wooly cousins do. My friend tossed these in with the ones that needed further processing, since they will all be pickled together into a wild mushroom concoction anyway.

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The next two are not actually milkcaps, they’re brittlegills. Just a matter of nomenclature for those that want to be precise, though both genera have a crunchy texture, concave tops and prominent gills so I don’t really consider them too far apart. The Green Brittlegill (Russula aerugineakoivuhapero) is another one of those mushrooms that tends to get tossed into mixed salads and pickles. It requires a minimal amount of cooking, though not recommended for eating raw, and has a mild taste.

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Finally, we also found the Darkening Brittlegill (Russula vinosa — viinohapero), which I found much easier to remember by its Finnish name of “wine brittlegill”. One look at that deep red coloration and you know why they called it that. They have the same preparation and flavor profile as the other brittlegill that we found, and were also tossed into the “to cook” bucket. I might give the brittlegills a try next year, too, though I’ll definitely need my friend to vet my findings before I’d feel comfortable doing anything with them. These were fairly easy to recognize and sound just as simple to cook, while also having very appealing colors.

There were a few other mushrooms of note, but nothing else of the edible sort like I’ve been describing in this post. We had a lot of fun tromping though the woods in our rain boots with the kids and I really enjoyed the entire foraging experience. Definitely looking forward to applying this new knowledge on future trips, though a good portion of what I find might end up going to my neighbor anyway since I am not a fan of pickled anything. The brittlegills and saffrons made the list, though, so recipes including them might just start popping up this time next year!

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