CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From Russia

Tradition Of Mushroom Hunting In Russia

11.01.20
CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From Russia

Explore the culture and tradition of Mushroom hunting in Russia.

If you think about it, Mushroom hunting or any kind of foraging is like a sacred game between you and the forest, somewhat similar to the “hide-and-seek”. While the forest is certainly playing with you hiding mushrooms by placing them in dark spaces, covering them with brown-yellow leaves and moss, at the same time, you will slowly notice that the forest genuinely wants you to find its gifts. It is not uncommon to hear from experienced mushroomers that the forest is guiding them into abundant mushroom places, like if they would have a magnet for them.

Maria Dokshina shares the history and tradition of mushroom hunting in Russia and her memories of doing this with her family.CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From RussiaFrom Maria,

The tradition of mushroom foraging is deeply rooted in Slavic culture since ancient times. During the history of wars and famine, people who lived near forests and knew how to identify edible mushrooms had better chances to survive. These days, nobody relies on mushrooms for survival, the tradition is still strongly planted in culture, presenting itself in a form of almost a sports game – Mushroom hunting.

People from Russia learn from a young age by elders to identify at least some edible mushrooms as well as the poisonous ones, some of which may look almost completely identical and called “a false twin”. A wrong pick can be fatal and even though there are some precautions in preparation that allow the identification of poison while cooking (like a raw onion boiling together with mushrooms will turn the stock into a blue color if even one of the shrooms is poisonous), most people still prefer to pick only the most obvious edible mushrooms like porcini, birch bolete, honey mushroom, saffron milk cup, russele, chanterelle, etc.CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From Russia CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From Russia CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From RussiaIn my childhood, I remember following my grandparents into the dark green and yellow forest in early September, holding my little basket and quietly whispering to the trees that I wish to find the biggest porcini today – bigger even than the palm of my grandpa.

For many people from villages, mushroom season is an opportunity to make some money, picking them in the very early morning and selling on the sides of a highway or bringing into the city. While the general public mostly looks at mushroom hunting as a fun outdoor activity and a reason to spend half of the day far from the city noise. It seems almost like a form of meditation – connecting with nature, eating forest berries like lingonberry and blueberry in unlimited amounts, inhaling and exhaling fresh pine or birch-smelling air, and then – as a nice bonus – bringing a few mushrooms home, just enough for a comforting dish of potatoes roasted with dill and mushrooms.My mother told me how, when she was 6, her parents would bring their three daughters for the mushroom picking. Usually, during the season many roads that lay through the forests are busy with cars parked on the sides. The closer you are to the road, the more people you can see around. However, most people are afraid to go too far from the cars anxious about getting lost (which is fairly easy in a mixed forest). My grandfather, my mom’s father, although, being an experienced mushroomer would go for a few kilometers deep into the forest where nobody could even see him – there, where no human foot has stepped yet today, he would find the most abundant “mushroom places”. At some point little sisters would start worrying and yelling for him “Papa! Papa! Where are you? Come back! Papa!”. He would hear them and come back loudly whispering “Ladies! Stop screaming! Your yells will bring a bear-mother to us – she will think it’s her children crying for her! Then she will find you there and get angry”. Afraid of meeting a bear-mother little ladies would keep quiet, only whispering till the rest of the trip. And although it could be true that there were bears in that forest (probably way deeper), it mostly seems like a smart parenting move for a quiet forest walk!

A knife is the most important tool of a mushroomer – allowing to cut the “leg” without damaging mycelium that will be then able to produce more mushrooms from the same spot. Some people living in villages far from the cities and roads find their “mushroom places” and keep them secret from everyone else. Every year these places produce an abundance of mushrooms that, if prepared correctly, can provide for a whole winter, allowing a family to open a jar or two of pickled or marinated mushrooms a week.CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From RussiaMushrooms should be prepared as fresh as possible in the first 24 hours after picking. So picking them is only half of the activity. Some prefer drying them, some cook a “Mushroom Basket” soup that usually contains a whole variety of picked shrooms, some boil and freeze for later use, and some pickle and marinate them, stuffing the pantry with dozens and dozens of jars.CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From Russia

Russian Mushroom Basket Soup Recipe

My uncle from Ukraine (where no mushrooms are growing and no such harvesting traditions exist) when first visited Russia and heard of a “Mushroom Basket” soup got so excited, that he went into the forest and brought to my grandma a basket full of various mushrooms – literally everything he could only find.

“Here! Now you can cook your famous soup!”, he said. Grandma looked into the basked and cracked up laughing. She would take the mushrooms out of the basket one by one while identifying the names of poisonous mushrooms until there were about three little russeles left in the basket – “Here is our soup!” – she smiled.CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From Russia

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo of different wild edible mushrooms (cleaned from the soil, washed thoroughly, and cut roughly)
  • 3 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 black peppers
  • salt to taste
  • A few big potatoes / a good handful of bulgur

Method

  1. Place mushrooms in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, then strain the water using a colander, let the mushrooms drain a bit.
  2. In the same pot saute chopped onions, carrots, and garlic with some sunflower oil until slightly golden. Then add mushrooms, bay leaf, black peppers. Add cut potatoes or bulgur, cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt.
  3. Serve with a dash of sour cream and freshly chopped dill. A shot of vodka is optional.

CulturallyOurs Mushroom Foraging And Harvesting From RussiaMushrooms are truly a national treasure for Slavic, as well as some Scandinavian countries. Coming to Russia during a mushroom hunting season is definitely one of those things worth adding to your bucket list.

Thank you Maria for sharing this wonderful tradition with us. It is interesting to notice that we usually don’t pay much attention to how truly unique our own culture is, seeing it as a given. Luckily, through intercultural conversations such as these, we are able to understand each other and ourselves a little better.

Do you have a culture or a tradition that is unique to where you are or where you live?

{Words and images by Maria Dokshina; Website: Planty_; Instagram: @planty_ }

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Russian Wild Mushroom Soup By CulturallyOurs

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