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Mushroom hunt

My lungs are full of fresh air, autumn leaves are cracking beneath my feet, there is a certain scent in the air – the scent of humidity, moss and the smell of mushrooms. It is that time of year again, where all of us take wooden baskets and Swiss-army knives and head into the woods for a special kind of treasure hunt. After all  – it is the season of the mushrooms. Ever since I was a kid, I remember how my parents were eagerly waiting for the end of the summer and the first rain. A little drop in temperature and a bit of water is the perfect recipe for the mushrooms to grow. But not every season is good. Some are better than others – meaning there is more mushrooms and they are healthier, better quality. But let’s start at the beginning. 

My father is probably the most avid mushroom hunter of us all. In these sport, he competes with my aunt’s husband – the minute one goes into the woods, the other one reports what the situation is like. They rarely go together – because a true mushroom hunter goes  and picks in the area that is known only to him and if he brings somebody along, it is their nearest family member – a wife, daughter, son or grandkids. A good mushroom hunter never tells the other where that area is, but when they talk among themselves the information that is important is that there are mushrooms – a lot of them. You usually measure that with the amount of porcini’s that you have collected along your hunt. Anything that is above 30 pieces is good. Anything that is above 50 pieces is great. When number reaches higher, you put on your boots and head out to the woods immediately. Mushroom season usually starts late in August, throughout the entire September and finishes in early October, depending on the weather. There are rules and regulations to be followed – one can only pick 2 kg of mushrooms per day per person. Violators face a fine up to 208 EUR. All mushrooms must be basically cleaned at the site, where they were picked. With that you make sure, something will grow on the same site, next season. This is also why you remember the areas where you found the mushrooms.  Most forest paths and walking trails are accessible to anyone, even if it is someone else’s property. If the property is fenced, trespassing is not allowed. 
Some porcini are “easy” to find…
… some are a bit more shy.
Best time to go foraging mushrooms is early in the morning – usually during the week when people are at work – potential to have slimmer crowds in the woods is much higher. You also cannot go too early – you need to see your way around the woods and since you will be walking in some dense forests a bit of light needs to be there. Of course not everybody can do it in the morning – sometimes it is because of work, school or other obligations – so you just wait till the first possible moment and then you head out. Lots of people bring baskets with them, but in our family we prefer a backpack and a plastic bin inside of it – it is much easier to walk and manoeuvre around some steep climbs. Sometimes the hills are literally vertical, but once you see a mushroom – nothing is steep enough and all of turn into deers, rabbits or foxes. Together with a backpack and a bin, we use a good knife with a small blade – Swiss-army knives are perfect. And we always bring with us some water and a snack – once you are in the forests it is very easy to loose track of time, especially when there is  a lot to pick,  it is hard to stop. We dress up in long pants and long sleeve shirt, to protect ourselves not just in front of thicks but also in front of branches that might give us some scratches. Only a good, solid pair of shoes and you are ready. Another vital part of any mushroom hunt is a good orientation in the forest and it is always better to go in pairs – to have a backup person if something happens. My father experienced a bad fall a few years ago, he slipped on wet leaves, fell about 5 metres deep and almost fell into a ditch of water with his face, but luckily he was in a good shape and he managed to get himself out of it. After that he never goes alone anymore. Or better – we don’t allow him to go alone. Because mushroom hunting is after all not such an easy sport. 

When I talked about mushrooms to my guests people always commented that they would be afraid of doing it, because they don’t really know which ones are edible and which ones aren’t. Slovenians are not afraid of that. Ever since we were little kids we went into the woods with our grandparents. This is how we learned how to recognise good from the bad. And with the years, your knowledge just grows. Due to the three different climates – Alpine, Mediterranean and Pannonian, in Slovenia a wide variety of mushrooms grows in abundance. Some Slovenians pick up all of the edible mushrooms – in our family we always looked out for three kinds – chanterelles, porcini’s and a mushroom we call umbrella, because of its unique shape. The latter one is usually eaten deep fried in breadcrumbs, the other two we eat with eggs, pasta, rise, as a sauce with steaks or in a delicious mushroom soup. When the mushroom season is on, we might go into the woods every single day – the abundance of mushrooms is then slightly cooked and stored into ziplock bags for the winter months. 
50+. That was a good hunt!
Ready for the freezer.
For me the best part of mushroom hunt is going into the woods. It really feels like a treasure hunt.  The mushrooms that are good are very hard to find. Once you see the top of it, your whole body is  overwhelmed by a certain kind of joy that is hard to describe. The feeling is most similar as if getting a candy when you were a little kid. Once you see one, you need to be careful because they always grow in company. So, it might easily happen when you see one, there will be a few of his brothers and sisters around him as well. If you have a hard time seeing the mushrooms – the hint is always to look around for the bright red and poisonous mushrooms – porcini’s love their company. Don’t touch the red – but porcini’s are there for you. After a few hours of exposing your lungs to the natural healing powers of the woods, you happily return back home. In our family, we love to count the heads and report to relatives. It is almost like a secret competition. And once the number is out, the pleasure stops for a while – now the hard time comes. Cleaning the mushrooms is not that much fun as foraging them. But it’s got to be done too. I always like to remind myself that the work I will do now, will be very appreciated once the winter comes and the sweet smell of mushrooms will awake my nostrils and bring me back to the fall, into the woods, in the midst of cracking leaves and moss, it will bring me back the sound of the wind that blows among the trees and heart will be full again. 
Twins! Look closely, other family members may be near by. 🙂
Tasty addition of this blog is my mom’s recipe for a mushroom soup – some of our friends visiting us have had a chance to try it and they all agree – it is heavenly good: 
You need about 4 potatoes and 400 grams of mushrooms. Potatoes should be sliced into small chunks. You put both ingredients into a water – water needs to be about a thumb’s height above the mushrooms and potatoes. We add one bayleaf and cook for about 3/4 of an hour. In the new pan we add some olive oil and sliced onions until they turn yellow, we add a bit of tomato paste from a tube and some sweet paprika, we mix that up and then add to potatoes and mushrooms. ten minutes before the mix is cooked we take a different bowl and mix in it about 1?3 of a porcini cream soup from a package, 1 dcl of water, 2 dcl of sweet cream and one spoon of flour. You mix it up to not have any lumps of flour and add into the big pot. Add 1 cube of soup fond, mix it up and serve to the very hungry guests.

Dober tek!