Early Autumn – September
Not far from our home lies the Järvefältet – a vast, protected nature reserve. Here there are woods of magnificent evergreen fir trees, a wetland harbouring a wide variety of birds, lakes, meadows, copses of silver birches, pastures with brown-and white cattle or woolly Highland cattle, and meadows filled with flowers in summer and blanketed in snow in winter.
There is also the quaint Säby Café café. Formerly a barn, this wooden building is warmed in the winter months by a fire, candlelight and genial hospitality, and serves delicious Swedish treats: smörgåsar (sandwiches), goulaschsoppa (goulash soup), and succulently fragrant vanilj bullar (vanilla buns). It is usually the scent of vanilla that draws people from their icy walks and bird-watching to this “hidden secret” northwest of the city centre.
It was in the Järvefältet that we met up with friends for a delightful morning of mushroom-hunting. These illusive delicacies – especially the chanterelles – are well-hidden beneath thick carpets of moss and fallen leaves. The recent rains, followed by spells of warm sunshine, had brought forth more of these edible fungi, and the local residents were already out in the woods armed with baskets. Evidence of earlier hunters was revealed by discarded stalks in the undergrowth, and tiny hollows now bereft of their sought-after contents.
Our search produced a piteous yield, but it was not so much for the mushrooming that we were there, and being initiated into the secret rites thereof, as the enjoyable pastime that this proved to be. We also had the opportunity to get to know our new Swedish friends better. Gunilla proved quite the expert: armed with a special svamp kniv with a sharp blade at one end, and a soft little brush at the other, she tasted, and accepted or rejected various species, based on their flavour and texture. Bitter ones were instantly discarded, for danger of their toxicity, and also those with poor “blades” beneath their leathery domes, and those with insect-nibbled holes.
We found a few mushrooms of all shapes, colours and sizes: brown, creamy-white, yellow, orange and red – large and tiny. The chanterelles are flat and curly, and more easily spotted due to their bright orange colour.
The activity proved to be singularly calming, as we hunkered down close to the forest floor, inhaling the fragrant loaminess of damp earth and mossy moistness. The quietness in the woods was supreme. Around us loomed tall dark fir trees which admit little sunlight, while underfoot were fallen branches and moss-hidden rocks. The atmosphere was almost completely silent, apart from the odd bird call and the soft breath of the wind in the trees. It was neither cold nor warm, but just right – fresh, cool, and soothing.
At one point Gunilla conjured from her backpack – of which we had hitherto been unaware – a marvelous fika: a thermos of hot water, instant coffee, milk, and packages of sandwiches and spicy buns. We settled amongst the mossy cushions in a small clearing and savoured our picnic together. Fika, in Swedish, connotes more than just the companionable consumption of gallons of strong coffee with cinnamon buns or cakes, but the concept of conviviality, fellowship and sharing. It was then that I learned that Gunilla, now retired, had been a research chemist at the Karolinska laboratories in the city, screening samples for the detection of various inherited diseases in newborn babies. She is also a lace-maker, attending conventions at Vadstena every August, as well as an avid knitter.
The peacefulness of the woods, gentle companionship of our new Swedish friends, and communing with nature far away from the bustle of the city, had a sanctity of its own. It was a time of serene tranquility and mental repose.