Wednesday, 2 September 2009
The Early Bird Catches the Mushroom
I was up and out of the house at 6am this morning. This was partly because the weather is so hot that to attempt anything physical after 10 is foolhardy and I wanted a walk in the woods. Of course this was not just any walk but a mushroom-gathering one, and in order to get the best one has to be up early. Already there were two women in the wood rummaging under fallen pine branches. On the road on the other side of the hill several cars were parked, including this one which had illegally been driven up the track to gain a few yards on its owners' mushrooming rivals.
Well I was lucky and got a good basketful. This year is a spectacular one for chanterelles. They are huge (four inches high) but the moss in which they nestle is likewise tall, so it is very easy to miss them. In addition I got some sheep's polypore, hedgehog mushrooms and russulas. So that's my supper sorted for a couple of days.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I share in the Czech obsession of mushrooming and how in England I am often met with disbelief when I assure people I meet in the forest that you can eat what I have collected. I would like to think that my eccentricity on this is seen as normal in the Czech Republic. But this is not always the case. Czechs are taught what to collect by their parents and grandparents, they inherit a repertoire of mushrooms that they collect and often this is not large. I was taught mushrooming by a Czech with a large repertoire and I have additionally made a great study of mushroom books (so much so at least two are to be found next to the loo in both my Czech and British homes).
Today a fellow mushroomer (a Czech) stopped me in the woods, and she busily told me that the charcoal burner (a russula much prized in Britain) was not edible and wrongly identified the sheep's polypore as a field mushroom. Tut, tut, tut, she went as I showed her I was confident enough to nibble some, and away she went shaking her head. Another Czech friend with whom I occasionally go mushrooming was shocked that I collect blewits (great favourites of mine and ones which are now commercially cultivated) or fungi that grow on trees. She will however collect the blusher – which you will find often listed as poisonous in English books, but which is very popular in the Czech Republic.
So there you go, I can't win. By the way I have eaten blusher – it's okay but not worth the fuss the Czechs make over it, especially as you go through a polaver to cook it.
PS. In response to Karen's comment - here is a photo of my basket of mushrooms. The egg yellow ones are chanterelles, the charcoal coloured one is (you guessed it) charcoal burner, the white ones with the beige tops are sheeps polypore, and the large brown one is a boletus.