Traditional Finnish wild mushroom salad


This is a really traditional Finnish recipe. One of those classic dishes that in the olden days any self-respecting hostess would have served to guests whether it was a wedding, a funeral or just a normal dinner party. Even today I'm not sure a Christmas dinner can go ahead unless there is a bowl of wild mushroom salad on the table. My mum, who admittedly is not the most modern or adventurous of cooks nowadays, makes this as a side for a Sunday lunch or whenever they have quests for lunch or dinner.

Authentic Finnish wild mushroom, cream and vinegar salad

The recipe dates back to the time before fridges and freezers. The popular, age old method to preserve wild mushrooms, or forest mushrooms as we call them, was to boil them, layer them with generous amounts of salt and press down with a weight. The salt will tease out water from the mushrooms so they end up sitting in brine. I remember mum always having either a bucket or a huge glass jar of wild mushrooms at the bottom of the fridge covered with a plate and a rock on top as weight.

I remember at one point I used the glass jar as an aquarium for the three fishes my friend gave to me. I have always loved animals, but we could never have any pets because of my allergic brothers. They really fucked up my childhood on so many levels. Just kidding. See the smiley face.

So I was so happy and excited to have my own three fish. One day I came home from school to find one of them had been eaten. The bones were floating on the water. I don't know who ate him, but I suspect it was one of the other two fish. Although I wouldn't put anything past my oldest brother. I was very upset. Unable to deal with my grief I donated the surviving two fish back to my friend and the jar back to mum for less violent use.

They keep apparently for years as long as the mushrooms are all covered in the salted water, that's why the weight is important. When taking the mushrooms out of the brine before using them you need to soak and rinse them until they are the desired saltiness. Straight from the salt water they are way too salty. We wouldn't keep them for years, but just over the winter until the next season. The bucket would be empty and the last wild mushroom salad made just when the first new mushrooms were ready for picking in the forest.

Mushrooms preserved in brine

Finns are avid wild mushroom foragers, apparently 70% of Finns do it, which is impressive considering that 30% of Finns must be either too young or too old to even walk. This is not even taking into account the invertebrate teenagers who obviously won't go to the forest because there is no WiFi. Picking mushrooms would be difficult anyway with a smartphone glued to the hand.

I love mushrooming. I am not very good at recognising all of the different ones and I'm scared of many things in there; bears, little girl ghosts, spiders and accidentally finding a dead body to mention a few. So I always go with dad and have the mushrooms reviewed by him before placing in my basket. There are deadly poisonous ones that you leave for your neighbours to find and harmless but foul tasting ones you also don't want in your basket. I know the best edible ones. We tend to favour funghi from the milk cap, porcini, cantharellus, cratellus and russula families. I have no idea what you call all of those in English and whether they grow here.

Porcini actually disagree with me, I apparently lack the enzyme to deal with them. Imagine being the enzyme to break down porcini, not a very busy job, is it, in most cases? Well, mine quit altogether so porcini give me an almighty stomach ache. The rest I love passionately.

I haven't been able to find proper wild mushrooms here apart from chanterelles in a little shop in Chiswick. I would have to remortgage our house to buy any though.

Ideally for the salt preserved mushrooms you'd want the milk caps and the kind. So this time I made my salad with chestnut, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. It's not as tasty as with wild mushrooms of course, but will have to do for me this time. And actually it was really good. I might replace oyster and shiitake next time though, they are not the right consistency, you need something crunchier for this, chesnut mushrooms were fine.

I eat this as a side to any food or sometimes on its own as a weird little snack. It gives you a great vinegary onion breath so nice to eat just before bed. At its best I think it's as a side to a meat dish preferably game. It is also sometimes served with blinis.

chopped brine preserved mushtooms

Salt preserved mushrooms

wild mushrooms
sea salt
sprigs of fresh dill and/or parsley (optional)

The proportion is 10-15% of salt to mushrooms, so for 1kg of mushroom you need 100-150g of salt.

Tear the mushrooms into pieces - no need to chop yet. Boil them in plenty of water for 5 minutes.

Drain, rinse and leave to cool. Sprinkle some salt in the bottom of a large container. Layer mushrooms and salt adding sprigs of fresh herbs if you like in between.  Press down with a plate that sits right on top of the mushrooms and place something heavy on top. Cover with a lid. Check later that all the mushrooms are covered with water - if no add a bit of water.

Finnish forest mushroom and onion salad

Finnish wild mushroom salad recipe

4 dl mushrooms
1 yellow onion

1.5 dl whipping cream
sprinkling of sugar
2 tsp distilled malt vinegar

Soak the mushrooms in cold water until it's the desired saltiness. This may take a few hours and you should change the water a couple of times, or you can leave them soaking overnight. Drain and press gently to get rid of excess water.

If you want to make the mushroom salad from fresh not salt preserved mushrooms, just boil your mushrooms for five minutes, rinse and let cool. You need to add salt to the salad in this case.

Chop the mushrooms. Chop the onion finely and mix with the mushrooms.

For the dressing add a sprinkling of sugar to the cream and whip until it's a light foam, not too stiff. Add the vinegar and mix. Check the taste - it should be quite zingy, if not zingy enough add vinegar!

Add the dressing to the mushrooms and onion. Grind in some black pepper and mix all ingredients well. Check the taste and add salt if necessary. You can eat immediately but it improves if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

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  1. I really like Finnish food! I have been to Finland a few years ago and I remember eating extremely well. Not to mention the amazing liqueurs!! :-) This salad looks great!

    1. :) There's some weird food too, but glad you had a good experience!

  2. I have to say this sounds really interesting! The combo of flavors sound so good together. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sometimes simple natural ingredients are the best!

  3. Well I know pretty much nothing about Finnish food, but what a great idea for preserving mushrooms. There aren't many I recognise, but we usually manage to pick the odd few each year.

  4. I love the sound of this, and I would love to go foraging for my own mushrooms one day! Oh and great story behind the dish, your humour gave me a good wee smile :)

  5. I haven't tried this salad, but it sounds interesting. The Spanish love their mushrooms and other fungi. There are areas reserved for collecting them and rules for going about it; like you have to have a certain type of basket. I wasn't sure how the mushrooms were preserved, but thanks to your article I now have a good idea of the method.

    1. I love that there are regulations about the type of basket! :)

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