Vittskövle: VEET-hwuh-vluh (I think.)
Into the Woods in Vittskövle, Sweden
My boyfriend’s dad’s family has a cottage in the countryside in a tiny little village called Vittskövle, which is mostly famous for its castle, which is, as Wikipedia says, “one of the best preserved Renaissance castles in the Nordic countries.” It is also one of the largest castles in Skåne (Sweden’s southernmost state and my current home). The castle is really, really beautiful, and—unbelievably enough—still a private residence. The Stjernswärds live there. As you can see below, there’s a moat and everything.
Can you believe a family lives here? Incredible. Our destination was just around the corner from the castle and slightly simpler, although doubtless no less comfortable.
Into the Woods
One thing about Swedes—they take their “outdoors time” seriously. This includes annual trips into the woods every fall to pick mushrooms and forage for berries. And then they eat what they find. I found this a little hard to believe at first… berries, ok. But mushrooms? I’m pretty sure I was raised not to put anything looking even vaguely like a mushroom into my mouth unless I bought it from a grocery store, wrapped up in a styrofoam box and plastic. Not so, here.
Fortunately, there were a few guidelines that make it possible for even for a “nybörjare” like me to go mushroom picking without condemning oneself to a slow, painful death by poisonous mushroom. The easiest thing is to go only for the Chanterelle mushrooms (or Kantarell in Swedish) because there aren’t any other mushrooms that look like it that are poisonous. There are fake Chanterelles, but if you can see the difference between the two, then you should be all set. For other mushrooms, you should use a reference book to make sure what you’re eating is actually edible (or ätlig… I learned a lot of new vocabulary this weekend).
We were lucky to have a quasi-expert with us in Anna, who has been picking mushrooms with her family since, well, forever. Simon and Nils were also definitely experienced mushroom pickers, and then there was me… wandering around the forest being just about as useful as the dog.
We spent the weekend in Vittskövle, and a lot of that time was devoted to hunting down Chantarelles in hopes of eating them for dinner. In typical fashion, however, we didn’t find much when we were looking, but Anna and Nils stumbled upon good-sized patches both Saturday and Sunday morning while they were walking Castor. On Friday night, we just had a small appetizer of Chantarelle and “Bronssop” mushrooms sauteed on toast. On Saturday night, though, we had a feast.
Chantarelle mushrooms + butter + cream + meat + potatoes = Sweden’s answer to turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy.
This dinner was ridic. End of story. Anna was in charge and she watched over the various pots and pans while I helped and the guys chopped wood outside.
I wish I had photos of the finished product, but I don’t, so all I can say is that this dinner was warm and filling and rich and made you feel like fall is the best season of all and that simplicity and real, fresh ingredients are the best things on earth.
Here’s how Anna did it.
To prepare the mushrooms: Clean the mushrooms by dusting away the dirt with a small brush. Do not soak or rinse in water. Chop the mushrooms into small but not tiny pieces. Sauté in lots of butter in a frying pan. Reserving the butter in the frying pan, remove mushrooms and put into a medium saucepan. Add cream. Cook.
To prepare the meat: We used pork loin, but I think you could use either pork or beef and any cut of either (although it was nice to have a substantial piece of meat on the plate with mushrooms and potatoes). Season with salt and pepper, cook in the pan that the mushrooms were cooked in.
To prepare the potatoes: Peel and slice potatoes into desired shape (slices or wedges). Season with salt and pepper, toss with olive oil, spread out over a large baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and slightly crispy. You can add onion and/or extra spices if you want.
Like I said… sometimes simplicity and real, fresh ingredients are the best.
The rest of the weekend
The rest of the weekend was spent in ridiculous relaxation. In between taking long walks in the woods and eating delicious dinners, we hung out, listened to music, napped, practiced speaking Swedish (me), made friends with forest animals, chopped wood, made late night visits to the local church graveyard for water (the water wouldn’t turn on in the cottage, so that made things a little interesting), and so on. It was amazing.