Sofias Country Gardens
Country life in autumn
There is a quietness that descends as autumn progresses. The weather turns more unstable, with rainy days and cold mornings, deterring weekend visitors to the countryside. Although my social media feed seems filled with complaints from people who would much rather live in a warmer and sunnier climate, I love this time of year! The gardens take less and less of my time with only some carrots and beetroots left in the ground and most perennials entering their dormant period, so consequently there is time for other things in life.
I continue drying herbs and filling up my spice rack. The tarragon I grow is much milder than the one I can buy in shops, but I actually think it is a good thing as sometimes the scent and taste can be a bit overwhelming. There are lots of great recipes that require just a whiff of the spice, and my home dried variety is perfect for these. I also dry parsly just because I think it is so pretty to decorate the food with; as it also has a milder flavour I chop and freeze parsley for dishes that require more taste. Nowadays you get fresh parsly all year round from the supermarkets so obviously this is a typically random waste of time activity, but I remember with fondness my grandmother saving parsley for the winter and therefore I like to do so too.
Meanwhile the forests have been filled with mushrooms this year! Picking mushrooms is one of life's simple but great pleasures, and most of my friends agree that if ever one is in a low mood everything feels much better after going out in the forrest for a few hours of mushroom hunting. Earlier in the season there was an abundance of Ceps, also called Porcini or Penny buns (Boletus edulis), Chantarelles (Cantharellus cibarius) and Wood hedgehog (Hydnum repandum), all of which make an excellent mushroom mix for the freezer. (I do also make individual batches of one kind, and if there is a plentiful harvest I dry them for winter storage too.)
Although the main objective in mushrooming obviously is finding edibles, much of the time I simply enjoy the nature around me. Sometimes it almost feels as if having a basket in tow gives me permission to spend hours just walking around in the forrest. While on these walks I often think about the NHS in Scotland prescribing nature walks as medicine and the practice of Forest Bathing in Japan to combat depression, and how lucky I am to just step out of my front door into a fairytale forest world. Such a blessing!
Perhaps one of the ugliest edible mushrooms is the black chanterelle or horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides) which in fact is a great delicacy. In Swedish it is called black trumpeted while in French trompette de la mort (which gives the Italian trombetta dei morti) or trumpet of the dead. It comes quite late in the season and grows amongst damp moss under spruces, kind of where you'd expect trolls to live.
Last but not least this year has been an amazing year for the funnel chanterelle, or yellowfoot/ winter mushroom (Craterellus tubaeformis). I have brought home basket after basket of these, and although it takes some time to prepare them for storage they are such a delight to have all winter long. My favourite method of preserving them for winter is to dry them and store in glass jars. They can be a bit tough or rubbery once rehydrated, so one tip is to soak them in half-and-half of milk and water if you like them as tender as when they are fresh. Personally I like it when used in stews and they come up a little bit al dente. Such luxury and completely free to boot!