Monday, 8 November 2010

The Language of Mushrooms

Well, another week has flown by. I cannot really quantify what I did this week although I know it was lots of stuff. Lots of little stuff that had been neglected while I was moving certainly towards my exhibition deadline. I do remember that I also had to go to Malaga twice as well for different things. A busy, busy, busy little bee!

One thing I am certain of though is that this week I was incredibly tired all of the time and putting one foot in front of the other has been an effort. Still I did do a couple of desultory runs either in the forest or on the country road route, which is the shorter run for busy days.

I can only suppose that it is in the aftermath of the exhibition as the adrenalin has receded that I am feeling all washed up.

One thing is for certain though, at the moment my passion for running has decreased as my passion for mushrooming has, well…mushroomed. :-) Sorry! I know, really a terrible pun!

But seriously, running does become quite difficult when your head turns involuntarily at the sight of something interesting winking at you from the hedgerow and you are forced to swerve to a sudden stop to take a quick examination of the said ‘winking’ object.

It was when I was out – probably last Sunday - in the forest that I started to notice little glossy brown and yellow heads poking their way out of the ground and through the pine needles. I knew that there were mushrooms to be had and so I was on the lookout and it really was only a short step, once my interest was aroused, to going on a proper hunt.

Now by proper I will admit that I am ill-equipped at present. I do not have a basket to my name so had to make do with plastic bags (which is completely the wrong thing to put mushrooms into), but I took a little sharp knife and my trusty camera. It has been such an enjoyable and satisfying sort of an exercise, going off road and starting to explore the actual forest floor. And even on my first outing – which was completely at the wrong time, being of an evening, a Thursday it was. I still managed to get quite a few mushrooms, which I then rushed home with in order to start the identity parade.

I did know that I was on to something as when I was looking I found the ground disturbed in lots of places and some remains of mushrooms. At first I thought it might have been animals rooting but then along my travels I bumped into two women a-foraging too. They eyed me suspiciously as I was obviously ‘stealing’ their mushrooms.

The next morning I went out for my jog, but wished that I had brought a bag and my knife, for while I was sweating along two cars overtook me and parked up ahead. When I reached them the occupants were already well up in the woods with their baskets at the ready and they were bent over and looking, looking, looking all over the forest floor. I yearned to follow them up and see where they were looking and what they were finding, but am not sure of mushroom etiquette – it seems to be quite a solitary sport and I am sure there is a certain amount of competition involved: The biggest, the most, the rarest, the most tasty, the most peculiar looking one. You do have to be careful who you ask about these things as not everyone is willing to share their own hard won knowledge.

Still I get nearly as much satisfaction knowing that others are picking the mushrooms and making use of them. Even uneaten – as mine still are – I so enjoy the way your mind just turns off everything else as you have to concentrate on looking around and trying to discern the smallest hint of fungi poking its way out of the ground – and they are well hidden, well disguised as stones a lot of the time. Quite clever they are.

I went out again today as it was a Sunday, so a day for recreation. I was planning to go really early, which would have been the time, but I went out to visit a friend last night so was not home until around two! Getting up early this morning just was not on the cards. So it was about 12 before I was ready and up and out. Again this was a bit too late and when I got to all the secret places there was recent ground disturbance and evidence of mushrooms taken. Still I had a successful forage and quite lost myself to the forest, the earth, the trees, the smells and the sounds. There were other people there too, some picking mushrooms and there were others beating olives off the trees.

The difficult part starts now of course. I do have a few books of mushrooms, one in English, one in Spanish and two in German – just to make things interesting. So as a result I am concentrating on the Latin names so that I can cross-reference between the books. I am finding that you have to do that. One book may have a photo, the next a drawing and the third has a really good description and I am feeling my way with this whole project. By the way this project does not simply involve collecting, cooking and eathing the fruits of the forest but I also know that there are one or two paintings or prints gestating away somewhere in the farthest corners of my brain.

I have also asked several people what they think. One man told me that the yellow ones were definitely edible – but you have to peel the skin and take off the spongy underside. The next told me that the others I had in my bag were definitely the edible sort but not the yellow ones! But I sensed that he was also open to suggestion as when I asked him about the ones with the pink stalks he sort of moved over to my way of thinking on them, so I got the feeling that he really didn’t have a clue. The last person I asked today is Latvian – and Eastern Europeans really do have the knowledge of these things. He passed most of them as edible with an easy assurance but said that of them all the yellow ones are the most tasty! So I think I can safely try those at this stage – although by this time they are a bit wilted so will have to make an effort one morning this week to go again and collect some fresh. Even the books contradict each other regarding tastiness of the various types, but not on the toxicity.

So the rest is down to me now and my books. Unless I can find someone who really knows and is willing to go with me up to the forest. That would be completely super of course, but I am not sure that there are that many experts here, but then again you never know until you ask and that is one thing I am getting very good at – in any language!

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