01 September 2010

straight from the land

For Saturday's lunch I had an omelet covered with mushrooms I'd just picked. Iceland's got all kinds of interesting mushrooms sprouting up this time of year and I figured some of them must be edible but wasn't daring enough to figure it out on my own. So, I recruited a friend and longtime reader S for some help. She's trained in the forests of Germany, a country that seems to have made a national habit of the hunting of the shroom, so I offered a ride anywhere she wanted in exchange for advice. When the weather promised sunny on Saturday, we packed up and headed to her favorite spot which also happens to be the stands of birch near her office on the edge of town.

We parked in the empty lot and within a minute she'd spotted our first mushroom, a small birch bolete. She explained some of the amateur rules of mushroom hunting as we zig-zagged through the trees, such as if no other creature wants to eat it (birds, mice, worms and slugs), you probably don't want to either. The birch boletes were plentiful in the area, but by the time they'd grown large enough to spot easily, were infested with worms. Still, we managed to spot a few near the bases of the birches by looking for the brown cap pushing through the grass, and looking for the telltale black-flecked stem.

She also pointed out a few of another type with bright yellow pore-underside, the suede bolete. These were equally infested with interesting creatures when we found large specimens, but a few smaller untouched ones made it into the box. S explained that the Icelandic climate was not ideal with all the moisture- it seemed to make the worms more enthusiastic. Furthermore, the forested areas aren't like German forests- there tends to still be grass and other undergrowth around which obscures the best small specimens and collects more moisture, thus encouraging worm occupation.

With only a small handful of edibles found, we decided to turn to another late-summer hobby here, the blueberry gathering. Our immediate area proved fruitless so I called my knowledgeable friend J who gave us precise instructions for a berry paradise. A short drive later down a bumpy gravel road, through some seeding lupines, we came to an abandoned dog agility course where the road ended. We jumped out and found ourselves ankle deep in blueberries. Over the hill it was even more prolific, berries tucked between pine and birch, crowberries crawling over the rocks, and everywhere, the lovely herbed smell of a sun-warmed Icelandic hillside.

We scrambled up the steep hill, pausing for the good bushes, talking as we went, until the benevolent sun and the challenge of picking while standing on a near-vertical hillside caused us to fall silent. It was a treacherous picking spot, despite its friendly smells and fruit-laden bushes, so both of us had moments where our footing gave way and we sledded down to the next lava-rock hole or tangled with one of the (extremely prickly) stubby pines. Nevermind, all par for the course when picking berries in the wilds of Iceland. Who cares with such a view, on a sunny day with the knowledge that it might be the last in a long while? The end of August brings about this special kind of urgency to beautiful days- the darkness has returned and with it the memory that winter is fast closing in.

That evening for dessert, we ate the blueberries in large bowls, drizzled with cream and sprinkled with brown sugar. I'd thought of baking something elaborate but this is how we've ended up always eating the berries here. Why mess with perfection?

I'd like to also thank Maria for her generous support of the photo portion of this blog effort. Readers like her are one of the reasons I keep posting.


SOe said...

:-) I am very happy to be a part of your post. But I am a bit disapointed. You made me so hungry talking about blueberry-muffins and blueberry-cake and then you prepared it just like that ... :-)
I saw your post on the Icelandic Wheater Report too. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Berry picking in Iceland, a pleasure I'm yet to experiment. I know what berry picking in northwest Spain is like though :)

ECS said...

SOe: they were too precious to cook into something else when I thought about it. We'd spent so long getting them that I didn't want to dilute them with other extra ingredients.

and thanks! It was fun to write for a different audience, and it's inspired me to write a bit more here too.

maria: you should try it here sometime- the weather's not quite as hot so it's quite fun IMO.