The Swedes take great pride in their cuisine, much of which is based on natural ingredients from the forest and the sea. Get inspired by their way of life and discover a pantry full of incredible produce.
It may sound like a cliché, but the Swedish lifestyle is built around being outdoors – from functional fashion to allemansrätt, Sweden’s Right of Public Access, which allows you to roam just about anywhere as long as you don’t disturb or destroy.
Foraging for mushrooms is a common weekend activity. Come autumn, and you will meet fellow Swedes with a basket in their hand and a child carried on their back, bringing the whole family on a foraging trek in a nearby forest. There is a feeling of euphoria when the chanterelles, commonly referred to as gold of the woods, suddenly appear, deep under the moist moss. (The joy is of course expressed in a silent hurray, in order to keep the location a secret from other pickers!)
Another unique delicacy in West Sweden available to forage is found in the ocean: wild seaweed. Catxalot (a play on catch a lot) in Havstenssund is a company that provides seaweed to some of Sweden’s top restaurants and teaches people how to harvest and prepare it by themselves. You can join workshops, walks and excursions and get to learn more about this delicious, nutrition-packed ingredient. Did you know, for instance, that each seaweed variety has its own flavour and that dried seaweed gives the food a different character from fresh? Harvesting seaweed in Sweden is safe and easy, as there are no dangerous or poisonous varieties. The best season for harvest is in the spring.
Following the seasons
From high mountains and deep forests to widespread landscapes and open oceans – West Sweden has so much to offer. Not least when it comes to the enormous outdoor pantry open to all. The Swedish cuisine takes pride in its wild foraging and locally sourced produce.
At the Upperud 9:9 hotel, located in an old silo by the magnificent Pilgrim path in the heart of Dalsland, the food is based on what’s on offer in the nearby lakes, forests and gardens.
“The woods and lake are on our doorstep so it’s natural for us to use what’s available. It’s part of our philosophy,” says Bodil Söderlund, responsible for the kitchen at Upperud 9:9.
Upperud 9:9. Photo: Gaby Karlsson Hain/Vastsverige.com
The chefs have a close relationship with food producers in the area, including organic meat from Ekholmens säteri, fish from the smokery Håfverud’s Rökeri & Brasserie and milk and cheese from dairy farm Dalsspira mejeri. They also buy elk and reindeer directly from local hunters, berries from local foragers and fruit from the neighbours’ gardens. In other words, the four seasons offer a wide variation of produce.
“Spring equals lots of ramson, lilacs and spruce shoots. We may cook a wild zucchini salad with beautiful edible flowers. You can eat forest violets, cowslips, blueberry flowers, bluebells and red clover,” says Bodil Söderlund. “Autumn is about mushrooms of course, but you should try to forage more than chanterelle. I’m all into boiled milk caps at the moment, a common delicacy in Finland. We have also recently toasted acorns which are edible, and lots of seeds for salads - try elm seeds.”
Know what to pick
What’s most important when heading out in the woods is to be sure of what you forage. Invest in a book or an app with detailed information. And you always have to show respect to your surroundings, meaning you should view the nature as a treat, rather than a never-ending supermarket.
Forager Lisen Sundgren has written several books on the wild kitchen, and on lifebylisen.com, she shares tips and inspiration on what to forage. She even holds special herb walks and collaborates with chefs to teach them how to use wild plants. According to Sundgren nature always has something to offer, even in the cold, dark Swedish winter.
“All you need to do is open your eyes and your senses to this hidden pantry and take the time to forage,” she says. It will give you access to a whole new world of flavours, something gourmet chefs all over the world are exploring. Foraging is one of the most important food trends right now, globally. It’s hip to be wild!”
Chanterelles are the most sought-after and popular mushroom to pick in Sweden. Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se
Forager Lisen Sundgren’s wild advice.
Do you have any advice to people who go forage for the first time?
“Yes – know what to pick! Learn to identify a few common edible plants. For example, nettles, dandelion, ground elder and cleavers. Then explore various ways to prepare them – are they best cooked, raw, fried, baked, in soups, stews or as an infusion? There are no rules, let your creativity soar! A suggestion – without nature we are nothing, we are a part of it. I like to show my appreciation by bringing an extra bag when I go foraging and fill it with the garbage I find on my route.”
Forager and writer Lisen Sundgren. Photo: Bianca Brandon Cox
Anything people often do wrong?
“In Sweden we have allemansrätten, which means we are allowed to pick above ground parts of plants (leaves, flowers, seeds, berries and mushrooms) on public land. But not roots or branches. This includes spruce buds, which we love to eat. This means – ask for permission from a landowner! I also want to remind everyone to forage with grace – this means take no more than 20 per cent of the patch. Leave the rest for the plant’s procreation and for animals.”
Do you have any favourite wild foods?
“There are so many! Sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum, which I pick in May. Nettles, Urtica dioica, in every shape and form is found on my menu all year, dandelion leaves are delicious and in late spring I jump with joy when it’s elm fruit season, Ulmus glabra.”
Do you have a good guide to recommend?
“My book Vildvuxet (Bonnier fakta). It has beautiful illustrations by artist Nadia Nörbom and even if you don’t understand the language all the botanical names are listed so you can look them up.”