Winter’s Hidden Harvest: What can you find during the snowy season?

When the mercury in the thermometer dips and Oslo experiences what Norwegians call “kuldegrader” (degrees below 0°C), you might find yourself reluctantly stowing your basket and foraging gear, resigned to the indoors until the thaw of spring. The dormant landscape, seemingly devoid of life, can be disheartening. However, nature has a way of surprising us. Even in the coldest months it hides a secret world of edibles that thrive despite the chill. In this exploration of winter foraging you’ll find that the land we thought was barren still has some delights to offer.

For the mushrooms lover there are a few fungi friends you can still find growing in winter:

The Pearl Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Known as “blågrå østersopp”, or blue-grey oyster mushroom, in Norwegian, this familiar friend can be found growing on dead hardwood in both late fall and early spring, even in winter if the weather is mild enough. You might be familiar with these mushrooms from the grocery store shelf, but nothing compares to harvesting them yourself in the wild. Oyster mushrooms boast a delicate flavor and are so named for their distinctive shell-like appearance. Use them as you would any mushrooms. I find that they make a wonderful addition to stir-fry for a quick, and flavorful dish that reminds me of summer time.

The Velvet Shank Mushroom (Flammulina velutipes)

Known simply as “vintersopp”, or winter mushroom, in Norwegian these mushrooms can be found year round, a remind of nature’s tenacity! They are easy to spot in the winter landscape, their flame colored caps standing out against the snow. Though they thrive at temperatures above freezing, they can be found frozen on tree stumps and fallen logs even in the depths of the coldest winter. Simply brush off the snow and defrost them to enjoy their earthy flavor and tender texture. The stems can be slightly tough, so some prefer to use only the caps of these lovely mushrooms. Saute them with garlic and butter for a simple, savory delight.

The Wood Ear Mushroom (Auricularia auricula-judae)

wood ear mushroom growing on tree

Know as “judasøre”, Judas’ ear, in Norwegian and also known as “jelly ear” in English. They can be found adorning the sides of decaying hardwood trees, lending the fanciful image of a listening forest. These unique mushrooms have a gelatinous texture and a mild taste. Marinate them for flavor, or add them to a hot and sour soup.

The plant world also has a few things to offer during the winter time, not least of which the following:

Common Polypody Fern Root (Polypodium vulgare)

Beneath the frost-kissed earth, the Common Polypody Fern hides its sweet secret—its root which contains Osladin, a compound 500 times sweeter than sugar! Known as “sisselrot” in Norwegian and traditionally used by the Sami people of Northern Europe, this winter treat adds a natural sweetness to your foraged repertoire. Dig some up for yourself or the kids to chew on during your frosty hike, or take it home, grate the root, and sprinkle it over winter desserts for a unique, sweet touch.

Juniper Berries (Juniperus communis)

As winter drapes the landscape in white, keep an eye out for the evergreen Juniper bushes. Known as “einerbær” in Norwegian, you may be familiar with them through the unique flavor they lend to Gin. Both the blue, fully ripened berries and their unripe green counterparts can be used. Be aware that the green berries can be intensely bitter. Used in moderation, these green berries unveil a citrusy flavor, offering a unique twist to winter dishes or a zesty kick to pickles. Crush the ripe berries to season game dishes or your homemade gin.

Bog Cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos)

picture of bog cranberries

While often associated with autumn, Cranberries hold their ground well into winter. Found in boggy areas, these vibrant red jewels add a burst of tartness to winter dishes. They are often overlooked in Norway where they are known as “tranebær”, leading some to call them “the forgotten berry.” Whether enjoyed fresh or transformed into a sauce, these berries are a delightful find in the frosty season. Make a quick cranberry sauce to pair with winter roasts or desserts by cooking the berries up with a little sugar and citrus zest. The high pectin level means the sauce requires no thickener! Add water after it has cooled slightly to achieve the desired consistency.

There you have it! Despite the winter chill, nature’s pantry remains open for those willing to explore. So, bundle up, don your winter gear, and embrace the hidden harvest waiting to be uncovered in the coldest months. Nature’s culinary wonders are not hibernating—they’re thriving, ready to add a touch of flavor to your winter foraging adventures.

Happy foraging!

Yours in spores,

Diane 🍄🌿


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