In autumn Finland's forests are a riot of colour – and food. Here's your guide to filling your basket with delicious berries and mushrooms – for free!
Autumn in Finland , or ruska as the season is fondly referred to, is defined by the spectacular golden explosion in the northern forests, where not only is the ground covered by fallen leaves, but also dotted with a collection of gourmet woodland gifts. Mushroom and berry picking are popular outdoor activities during the brief autumnal months, and is permitted under Finland's 'everyman's right', which allows open access to all forests for purposes such as mushroom and berry picking, regardless of land ownership.
The fresh, clean air and long summer days provide the ideal conditions for growing nutrient-rich fruits, mushrooms and herbs, which are then eaten fresh or taken home and used as a staple ingredient in typical Finnish cuisine.
Here's your guide to finding the freshest and the tastiest.
There are over 2,000 varieties of mushrooms in Finnish woodland, yet most people eat and consume around ten types as these are the easiest to identify and locate. Finland is the world's second largest producer of porcini after Italy and even the Italians – famously proud of their own food culture – stock up in Finland every autumn, where porcini can be bought for half the price.
Edible mushrooms are numerous in Finland's forests, with the easiest mushrooms to find being the russila, milk cap and boletus, lying in the bases of trees and other shady areas. Novice harvesters should watch out though – there are also plenty of poisonous mushrooms out there too, so it's important to have a mushroom guide (or really know your fungi!).
Known as bilberries in the UK, Finnish blueberries are smaller than average, but make up for their size in their sweet flavours, rich nutrients and healthy vitamins. Finnish blueberries also have a darker skin and are blue on the inside, plus due to the short but light growing season, flavours are stronger than cultivated blueberries found in other places in Europe. As soon as they come into season in spruce forests from late July, the Finns start filling pails with this juicy superfood and eat them fresh or preserve them to use in desserts, jams and juices so that the berries can continue to be enjoyed throughout the winter.
Also known as cowberries, lingonberries are a regular feature in Finnish cuisine, often served with meat, such as sautéed reindeer, black sausage or liver. They are small, red, acidic berries that grow wild in pine forests across Finland. Lingonberries keep well without additives, even sugar, and their slightly tart taste goes well in pies, soups and liqueurs, while with plenty of sugar, they can be used in jam, juices and porridge.
As many as 50 different berry varieties exist in Finland's forests, from cranberries and raspberries through to the more unusual bearberries, crowberries and whortleberries. The ultimate prize in wild foraging is the cloudberry, the greatest Finnish delicacy of all, which is referred to by the locals as 'the marsh gold' due to its difficulty to find in the bogs and swamps of northern Finland.
Wild strawberries and raspberries from Finland are counted among the best in the world thanks to the northern growing conditions that make their flavour so intense and they are often enjoyed plain, with cream, or in jams and desserts.
Guided mushroom and berry picking trips are available in woodland areas across Finland. Nuuksio National Park organises a three to four hour guided hiking trip taking in the best picking places for mushrooms and berries. Ylläs Adventures organises guided mushroom picking trips in Fell Lapland (Tunturi Lappi) And visitors to Kuusamo in Lapland can learn about Lappish dinners with a cooking course using seasonal ingredients that give the edge to northern Finnish cuisine. For more information, drop by the VisitFinland website.