Friday, October 1, 2010

Signs of the Season

Recently I was talking with a friend about the upcoming mushroom hunt he was happily anticipating. What I really wanted to do was invite myself along, but that wouldn't work for various reasons (politeness among them) and so I did what I thought was the next best thing. I invited him to "guest blog" all about it. As we begin to discuss the value of eating seasonally and locally here at Expat Kochen, how perfect it seems to hear about a walk in the nearby woods to gather some mushroom bounty. Maybe I (you too?) can join him next year!

And so it is with great pleasure that I present Alan Hochberg and his mushroom adventures. Thanks for your informative and inspiring post Alan!

On (a recent) Saturday I took part in the mushroom-picking excursion in the woods at St. Chrischona, led by Peter Kaupp of the Basel Pilzkontrolle department. There were 15 of us in the class, and there was quite a range of age and experience. There were a few other newcomers like me, but many of the class members recounted fond memories of going with parents or grandparents to pick mushrooms when they were children. Mushroom-picking seems to be something that it is easy to get sentimental about, as well as downright fanatical. As we walked through the woods, we ran into a number of other mushroom collectors, all of whom were very excited to run into Peter and his class of neophytes, and they wanted to show us what they had in their baskets.

With the cool, damp weather we've been having, conditions were perfect. After a brief introduction, Peter sent us off into the woods for about 15 minutes just to find samples of whatever was out there. It was impressive to see that we found about 30 or 40 different varieties of mushrooms just in that short time. Using our finds as illustrations, Peter gave us a mushroom anatomy lesson, and taught us some of the features that are used to classify the different varieties. A lot of it has to do with looking at the underside where the spores are, but it also involves feeling, smelling, and even tasting. There is one variety where you need to put a small piece in your mouth. If it tastes mild, keep it, if it tastes spicy, toss it. (Warning! This is not a general rule, and is only for one variety, called Täubling. Tasting random mushrooms is dangerous!)

It turns out that one couple in the class had found a nice bunch of Eierschwamme (chanterelles)--a real prize—and some of the rest of us had found other edible varieties. We had also found some poisonous varieties as well, including a beautiful specimen of the deadly Amanita phalloides, which Peter casually tossed on the ground after showing us all how to identify it. I will say that having an expert right there really took the worry out of mushroom-picking, even after he shared some hair-raising tales of mushroom poisoning. Fortunately, Switzerland has a network of Pilzkontrolle offices whose job is to inspect what the professionals and amateurs have collected. I absolutely plan to take anything I find in the future down to their office!

The mushroom population of a forest depends on the types of trees that grow there. So nobody in St. Chrischona was finding the treasured Steinpilze (cepes). We were told they are more common in the Black Forest where there are more pine trees.

I brought home some Parasolpilz (Marcrolepiota procera), and some Violetter Lacktrichterling (Laccaria amethystina). The latter don't have much flavor, but their violet color has eye appeal.

On the night of the mushrooming excursion, I put them into a frittata along with some snow peas.

I also brought home some nasty-looking paper-like little black trumpet-shaped Herbst-Trompete (in the first photo), which Peter told us were edible. I was dubious, so I only grabbed a small handful. On Sunday night, I chopped them into small pieces and threw them into a sauce for a braised Falsches Filet. They were delicious! Now I'm kicking myself for not grabbing more of them when I had the chance. (There is a one-kilogram quota for mushroom pickers, but that's actually an enormous quantity for personal use.)

At any rate, I think I'm addicted to mushroom-picking now. I treated myself to a beautifully illustrated handbook (Pilzführer Schweiz, by Markus Flück), and I'm hoping I can get in another trip or two into the woods before the first hard frost ends the season.