Harvest your own food

Two businesses located just a short drive apart on either side of the national border are earning praise for their extensive use of the region’s abundance of wild plants. The founders of the respective businesses Jim-André Stene and Lena Flaten are in complete agreement:  There is a lot of focus on food waste, but the greatest source of food waste is everything we don’t harvest from nature.

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Text: Cecilie Larvåg

 

Lena Flaten is one of the pioneers of a constantly growing group: Those who have a serious interest in using the wilderness as a pantry. (A wide range of delicacies can be found on your doorstep or in a ditch by the nearest car park, but we’ll come back to that.)

Lena attributes credit for her joy of natural resources from the wilderness to Pelle Holmberg, the recently deceased biologist, who was Sweden’s mushroom oracle. He also received numerous gastronomic awards. They met at Storlien in the 1990s when Lena’s knowledge of mycology was limited to recognising chanterelles and white button mushrooms.

“He could talk about mushrooms the way a sommelier talks about wine, but he was completely helpless in the kitchen,” laughs Lena. “We spent countless hours in the forests and fields focusing on mushrooms and edible wild plants. It became the norm that he did the picking and I did the cooking, either out in wilderness with guests or at the restaurant in the evening.”

She also draws inspiration from the region’s Sami food culture. Before the railway line was constructed over the mountains, Storlien was primarily a grazing area for reindeer. The Sami people’s diet was based on reindeer meat with all the trimmings. These natural side dishes were also eaten by the reindeer: angelica (aka wild celery), alpine sow-thistle and sorrel leaves.

Lena also swears by spruce sprigs and green juniper berries as garnish.

“There’s not really anything unique about this,” she says. “People have been using the same wild plants that I use for centuries.”   

Kveldsutsikt i Børgefjell nasjonalpark. Foto: Bernartwood / trondelag.com

SHORT SEASON

Today, when Lena invites guests to her local gem, Flamman Skafferi in Vintergatan in Storlien, the menu is filled with wonderful flavours from the Jämtland nature….

Local farmers, hunters and cheesemakers have gradually become an important part of the sphere around Flamman Skafferi.

The fact that skafferi is a synonym for pantry is clearly visible in this restaurant. The result of the intensive work during the short summer season is gathered on the shelves and in other storage areas. Fruit and berries are juiced and pickled here. Vegetables are boiled, fermented and preserved, while chutneys and purees are also made. Fish and meat are cured, smoked and air-dried. In the vegetable garden, the neighbour’s free-range chickens serve as “gardeners” who keep bugs and insects away from the growths of the soil.

The season for harvesting wild plants is short here at 63° North, 650 m above sea level. Everything must happen in the brief window of opportunity from when the snow disappears in June until fresh snow falls, generally around mid-October.

 

THE KING ON THE HILL

The 32-seat restaurant Flamman Skafferi is open year-round (check flamman.nu for opening hours). This is due in no small part to people visiting the estimated 2,500 cabins scattered across the mountain landscape here. The most prominent cabin owners are the Swedish royal family, who reign in a relatively simple mountain cabin on top of Kungens Backe just behind the restaurant.

“Yes, they come here just as it is,” says Lena, not wishing to comment further on that subject.

Besides all the visitors, Storlien has a population of 78 (based on the last census). Many of the locals stop by for a taste of slow-cooked moose stew, smoked and cured leg of lamb or a Jämtland-style sourdough pizza from the wood-fired stone oven.

This winter, Lena is putting the finishing touches on the cookery book she is collaborating on with mushroom expert Niki Sjölund, who in a way has taken over the legacy of Lena’s mentor, Pelle.

They also run inspirational courses and trips together in the border regions about locally produced food.

Foto: Jämtland Härjedalen Tourism/Tina Stafrén

Foto: Trondelag Sankeri

SINGLE-MINDED GATHERER

“Lena and Flamman Skafferi are a great inspiration,” says Jim-André Stene from Trøndelag Sankeri (trondelagsankeri.no).

In 2019, he left his job as a sales manager in the IT industry to concentrate full-time as a wild farmer – a job title he came up with himself. He wanted to harvest ingredients that few others pick with the aim of giving the dishes created by some of the country’s leading chefs a unique flavour and texture.

He didn’t have the ideal starting point. Jim-André knew about chanterelles and coltsfoot from his childhood walks in the forest but that was about all. He had a steep learning curve, including an advanced mushroom course that qualified the new saved mushroom enthusiast for the title of mushroom inspector.

“There are roughly 4,000 species of mushrooms in Norway, and I aim to learn about all of them,” says Jim-André, joking that it helps to be a bit single-minded.

“I can be quite obsessed. My wife wasn’t very impressed when I started leaving at six o’clock in the morning to spend a couple of hours in the forest before work.”

SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT

As Trøndelag Sankeri now offers more than 300 different edible plants to the country’s most innovative restaurants…

… Jim-André needs plenty of assistants to help with all the picking and gathering. The same wife is among them. Many of his helpers have fallen out of the labour market but thrive in nature.

He has never needed to look for people. They always find him.

“Suddenly the yarrow they picked appears in a dish at the Michelin restaurant Maemo in Oslo. There is a real sense of achievement in that!”

Kveldsutsikt i Børgefjell nasjonalpark. Foto: Bernartwood / trondelag.com

TALKING ABOUT ANTS

“It started with the head chef at Troll Restaurant here in Trondheim posting a rare mushroom on Facebook. I contacted him and asked if he was interested in edible wild plants and, if so, which ones? ‘Everything that’s edible is of interest to me’, he responded. In total, I probably delivered him a trailer load in 2018 alone.”

His customer list includes recognized restaurants such as Speilsalen and Fagn in Trondheim and Maemo, Kontrast, Einer and Arakataka in Oslo. The list now numbers 143 restaurants, many of which send their orders every Sunday.

The company’s portfolio consists of 300 different species: Herbs, sprouts, berries, mushrooms, cones, shoots, seaweed, roots, leaves, flowers and insects. In the latter category, the more unusual delicacies on the plate include ants and amphipods, which have a taste reminiscent of shrimps.

Ants from Trøndelag Sankeri became the talk of the town during this year’s Øya Festival, where the social entrepreneurship business Sandwich Brothers sold ice cream with sea buckthorn glaze – also supplied by Jim-André – topped with a sprinkling of crispy ants. Status: Yum Yum and sold out!

NORDIC PARSLEY

A typical week for Jim-André and his team starts on Monday morning. The orders have ticked in the evening before and it’s time to distribute them. Perhaps you are thinking that Jim-André and his gang trawl Trøndelag in all directions hunting for the ingredients.

Well, they do to a certain extent, but it’s astonishing what they find within a radius of 1 km from car parks at the nearest uncultivated fields

But we want to know if there are plenty of ordinary people picking there, too.

“Yes, they pick blueberries, lingonberries and chanterelles, so that leaves 297 other species for us to pick”, laughs the company’s founder.

You may remember that we mentioned edible plants that are available right outside the door. Did you know that ground elder (sometimes called wild masterwort) is called Nordic parsley and that stinging nettle tastes great in soups and pies?

“I really don’t understand people who buy iceberg lettuce in the middle of summer,” sighs the professional harvester. “It has no taste at all! Get out and use the plants provided by nature!”

Kveldsutsikt i Børgefjell nasjonalpark. Foto: Bernartwood / trondelag.com

Foto-Trondelag-Sankeri

WINTER HIBERNATION

As is the case for Lena Flaten in Storlien, the seasons determine the product range. The pickers and gatherers harvest from nature during the hectic season that lasts 6-7 months. When the season is over and the plants go into hibernation, Jim-André does the same. However, he can still harvest seaweed even when the temperature has dropped below zero and the snow has settled over Trøndelag.

“But not all chefs understand nature’s cycle”, laughs Jim-André. “A man called in April and wanted 5 litres of bluebells. I responded ‘Have you looked? There’s half a metre of snow outside!’.

 

 

 

 

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