Winter foraging, Fäviken-style

Clockwise left to right: Common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune); Trametes versicolor (turkey tail fungus); unidentified lichen; Silver birch bark (fresh); moss, possibly Hylocomium splendens (glittering wood moss);  fallen beech leaves (this year's); bracken; fallen beech leaves (this year's); silver birch bark (aged).

Clockwise left to right: Common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune); Turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor); unidentified lichen; Silver birch bark (fresh); moss, possibly Glittering wood moss (Hylocomium splendens); fallen beech leaves (this year’s); bracken; fallen beech leaves (last year’s); silver birch bark (aged); snail shells, possibly Roman snails (Helix pomatia).

I’ve been asked to write a review of Magnus Nilsson’s spectacular Fäviken cookbook for PPC. Based as it is on his intense relationship with local produce, landscape, and year-round foraging and preservation techniques Nilsson’s cuisine and ingredient list is highly specific to the region on the border between Sweden and Norway. So, in many ways, this Phaidon publication is a classic coffee table book – not a cookbook – for an urban food enthusiast like me. Indeed, the recipes calling for varying volumes of both this years and last year’s autumn leaves and quantities of reindeer lichen have provided quite a talking point (even some hilarity) in my inner city apartment. But yesterday, on a cold sleety walk on the beautiful Surrey section of the North Downs we felt the call of the north, grasped our opportunity, and filled a bag with a fabulous selection of leaves, moss, lichen, bark, bracken, funghi and shells.

I love foraging, but have generally stuck with the simple and obvious – easily identified edible leaves, herbs, shellfish and mushrooms. Anything else has been collected purely on the basis of its looks, for decoration. Moss, lichen, bark and leaves are a new departure for my cookery. Almost immediately I wished I’d paid a bit more attention and brought a few notes on exactly what to collect. Was it beech or birch leaves? Moss, lichen or both? Would any of our local stuff actually prove to be edible, once we knew what it was? Once home, the mosses were tricky but not impossible to identify with the help of some wonderful websites like the British Bryological Society.  But who knew how complicated it would be to find out which lichen you have in your hand, even with the Natural History Museum’s incredible online plant identification guide?

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Fresh duck egg yolk (top) and two hen’s egg yolks in a 50/50 mix of salt and sugar, ready to start curing.

The thrill of the chase only made me more enthusiastic about attempting to reproduce ‘Crispy lichens with dried egg yolks and very lightly cold-smoked fish, lightly soured garlic cream’, resplendent on pp202-203. Unfortunately, my larder has a shameful lack of cured egg yolk just now. Although Nilsson does not share his technique for making these, Consumed Gourmet gave some excellent tips and the process is now underway. In fact, I’m feeling rather smug about having one duck egg yolk to compare to the two hen yolks. While the yolks mature I have at least three weeks to dry some trout and find a decent pair of lichen substitutes. Meanwhile, I am entirely ready with everything I need for the ‘Broth of autumn leaves’ on  pp190-191– but perhaps I need to make a nice, safe, compensatory tray of ‘Douglas’ shortbread biscuits’ (pp208-209) to follow, just in case…

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