Ode to mushroom foraging

post_cover_shroomsBefore I start the post, I’d like to make it clear that this is not a tutorial. Some wild mushrooms can be as dangerous as the others are delicious. If you are interested in learning how to identify edible mushrooms from poisonous ones, please seek professional instruction. In Russia, foraging for wild mushrooms is a very popular pastime, so a lot of people grow up learning the skills from their family. I had the same kind of upbringing. Even so, I only pick the mushrooms I am 100% sure are safe. If something looks questionable, better leave it be.

A few weeks ago I visited the Gifford Pinchot State Park with friends and family. We chose not to stay at a conventional camp side, but instead opted for a designated space when you can camp “in the wild”. Yes, there are no bathrooms or tap water, but check out the view from our camp!

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To a person born and raised in Russia, late summer and fall forest means one thing and one thing only: mushrooms! Whenever I see that mushroom cap peeking up through the foliage, I just have to check it out.

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There turned out to be quite a few “mushroom spots”, as we call them, close to our camp. After a few quick runs back and forth, a little pile of fungi started forming by the fire site.

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Sophia the junior gardener found her first edible mushroom.

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After lunch I crossed the river to the other side of the park and went “silent hunting”, as we call it. I didn’t want to jinx it, so I sort of pretended I was simply going for a walk. I even wore flip-flops instead of sturdy hiking shoes, which turned out to be a terrible idea, since a lot of shrooms were to be found on slopes and river banks. I know this sounds silly, but a loot of mushroom foragers get quite superstitious when it gets to the “hunt”, and I am no exception…

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Another part of my “not looking for mushrooms” disguise was the lack of any sort of container. The best tare for mushrooms should have rigid walls, like a basket or bucket, since the soft walls of a bag make the fungi lump together. But I didn’t even have a plastic bag hidden in a pocket – I was just walking, after all!

Needless to say, as I kept picking, the mushroom pile kept growing till it could no longer fit into my cradled arms…

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…so I used my hoodie as a sack.

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It takes a lot of practice to start identifying edible mushrooms, but some times it’s very clear. These guys, for example, could as well be screaming “don’t eat me!”.

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After we merged everybody’s catch, we sorted it once more. Some inedible mushrooms change color after they are picked, and it’s the easiest way to spot them.

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Normally when we forage during a camping trip, we stir-fry the mushrooms with onions and potatoes, and this is one of the most delicious meals one could ever have. Seriously, we had mushroom haters converted after one mouthful! This time, however, we felt like broadening our horizons a bit and decided to bake a mushroom pie. Sophia helped knead the dough.

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Meanwhile, the grown-ups prepared the filling by sautéing mushrooms and onions in olive oil. Next step was assembling and actually baking the pie. This is where we encountered a problem: how to bake it evenly?

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We even built this stone oven. Yet, after several hours (seriously, like 4) of checking, moving the dish around and so on, we still ended up with a crust that was 1/3 charcoal, 1/3 raw and 1/3 well cooked. The cooked part was delicious, though, and since the filling was essentially done before baking, it was all good, too! So the first attempt at pie-making in the wild was only about 50% successful. And by the time we finally took the pie out, it was pitch dark, so no pictures were taken to commemorate this masterpiece…

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We only spend a weekend at the park and had to come home Sunday night to get ready for the week ahead. Felix the feline gardener is always happy when we come back, because she gets to build a nest in the backpacks!

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Do you forage?

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