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Food, just waiting to be picked, gathered, juiced, cooked, preserved, frozen – you name it.

August 29, 2011

This summer has been a voyage of discovery for me in terms of growing my own food and gathering it too.

Have I mentioned that I am doing my master’s degree from Athabasca University in the MAIS program? (That is worth a whole ‘nother blog entry in itself.) It’s a sort of mix and match program and I have decided to major in global change with a focus on the environment and women. I am currently enrolled in an anthropology course called Ethnobiology: Traditional Knowledge of Plants, Animals, and Land in Contemporary Global Context. And in the past few weeks since I got started I have learned an incredible amount about the plant world around me. And how much of it I can eat – right out of my own back yard.

This past weekend was an incredible roll of DIY gathering and preparation of our own food. So instead of hitting the books and studying the importance of plants in people’s diets, I was busy gathering my own – playing hooky from school, so to speak. I hope my course advisor would be proud.

I found this beauty of a mushroom growing in my yard the other day. In just four days it went from this… (my Facebook friends had a riot with this one)

To this…

Upon consulting my mushroom book (and the internet) I found out it is edible. It’s called a parasol mushroom. Until I know for sure about other species of mushrooms, I’ll leave this one, but look for it next year. A gander in the back yard revealed several more growing the same area. Many mushroom species in Finland are edible and thousands of people march into the forests of the country to seek mushrooms. I myself don’t know too much about mushrooms, but hope that I can learn more someday.

On Saturday I went to visit my friend P. who lives on the edge of Nuuksio National Park out in Vihti. Over a year and a half ago, the land around her house was harvested of its trees and left like this:

But, the lingonberries are incredible, there are a lot of them this year thanks to the right weather conditions – warm weather and plenty of rain. So, I spent a couple hours on Saturday picking berries and it didn’t take long to fill half a bucket.

I picked “clean” so to say, but my friend P. employed a handy berry picker.

It’s box-shaped with a handle for gripping and has a comb-like mouth for grabbing berries off the bushes. It is rather effective, but you need to clean the berries afterwards because you also get the leaves, branches and other unwanted stuff in your bucket. They even come in a kid’s size. They are used to pull the berries off the plant without damaging the berries. They are quite popular in Finland and cost about EUR 5. (CAD $7.00)

Lingonberries are used for all sorts of things, wisped porridge (a nice dessert) and as a compliment to red meat such as reindeer in the form of a sauce.

Finns also make jam, juice and various desserts from lingonberries. I gave some to my neighbour Saturday night and she returned with some pie like this:

Not exactly sure of the contents besides the lingonberries, but it sure was good!

Back to picking – P. also found a lot of mushrooms. She said she pickles them, so I am not sure of the species, but there were a lot of them around.

And this leads me to our other activity of the weekend. In our back yard we have a black currant bush and two gooseberry bushes. So the Mr. and I spent the last few weeks picking and freezing berries for juicing. We also have two cherry trees and some rhubarb in our yard. In early July we visited a “pick your own” place nearby and collected some 20kg of strawberries for juice, sauce and all round eating. We are juicing the majority of them with an electric “juicer”. It is made up of three parts: the bottom part that holds the water with an element to bring it to a boil. The second part has a cone shape with a hole in the middle to allow the steam and heat in to help cook the berries. It is a juice catcher and has a small hole with a tube coming out the base in order to allow the juice to collect in a bowl or pot. The third part is a colander-type basket where the berries are placed and you allow them to give up their juices over a period of time. We have discovered that the electric juicer is much faster than the traditional three-part pot system that many Finns have in their homes. I estimated that we had some 20kg or more of berries in our freezer and we got more than 20 litres of juice from them. That should get us through the winter.

The truth is that there are many ways to get berries and mushrooms and other foods to preserve for the long winter. How can you possibly pass up something like this?

We strain the juice, add some sugar, put it in containers and store it as a juice concentrate.

For me berry picking is an extremely relaxing activity and it’s almost like I am competing against myself – it is so difficult to leave the bush without grabbing that last handful of berries, or getting enough to fill that container or bucket. I need a bigger freezer.

We also went to pick some corn yesterday and that was a great experience. I even found out from the pick-your-own vendor that the variety is Canadian and well suited to the conditions in southern Finland. www.maissia.fi.

Many species of cultivated and commercially farmed plants are quite sensitive to the wildly varying weather conditions in Finland. We have had some very hot weather the last few years and combined with dry conditions, it can spell problems for the grain harvests low yield; too wet and farmers can’t get their soggy crops off the fields. In any case this corn farmer said that the conditions were so warm and the amount of rain just right that the ideal picking conditions were actually last week. He said that some years they have been picking well into September.

You can visit the stores and the street vendors around the country, who provide an abundance of forest fare and commercially farmed produce. But by far the easiest way is to gather your own, which we have done this year. Picking your own or buying from a vendor is not cheap, so unless you grow your own strawberries or corn, you’ll pay a pretty penny to get your hands on some.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Brenda permalink
    August 29, 2011 10:57 pm

    Wow Carmen I am proud of you and your green thumb and industrious attitude….Way to go…!

  2. August 30, 2011 2:05 pm

    what a lot of fun, and an amazing mushroom too. Nice post and a good addition to your blog.

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