For the Love of Mushrooms

October 17, 2011

One day I was walking down the street near my university when I saw two elderly women stopped on the sidewalk, staring intently through a metal fence and

Crickey, She's a Beauty!

Crickey, She's a Beauty!

whispering urgently to one another. I peered through, curious as to what was so fascinating on the other side. Just out of reach in a gated yard, sat three big, juicy mushrooms. As the otherwise very dignified looking babushkas took turns bending down and groping through the fence, I crossed the street to try to sneakily snap a paparazzi shot of the cultural moment. The babushka’s accomplished their task before I did mine, or you would have a photo of the lovely ladies here!

Galya Picking Mushrooms

Galya Picking Mushrooms

With that said, it makes sense that no Russians are ever surprised my host mom Galya took me mushroom picking at her dacha. However, when I tell them I had never picked mushrooms before, people practically fall out of their seats. I always assumed this was a hobby that only the older generation pursued, but apparently Russian mushroom picking is still right up there with hockey as a national sport!

So what is this ‘mushroom picking’, exactly? When Galya and I go to the dacha, we change into warm clothes and go out into the forest with buckets and bags. We split up and search for mushrooms, occasionally calling out to make sure we aren’t too far apart. Once you’ve found a mushroom, you cut it at the stem with a knife.

I now have eaten mushroom perogi, mushroom shi (soup), pasta with mushrooms, rice with mushrooms, preserved mushrooms, marinated mushrooms, mushroom stir-fries, and even mushroom drinks! Of course, it’s important to know which mushrooms you can and cannot eat. Each time we go out, Galya tells me, “Don’t worry! I’ll just check yours when we get back to the dacha!” and each time I seem to collect about half a bucket of poisonous mushrooms. Thank goodness for Galya!

Me and the Mushrooms!

Me and the Mushrooms

I have caught on a little, though. I now know that the matryoshka mushroom is good in soups, the podberyozovik is delicious marinated, and the opyato is yummy salted. On the other hand, the prettiest mushroom—the siroyeshka—is unfortunately poisonous. Нельзя!

Remember, mushroom picking is NOT an activity to engage in without a born-and-bred Russian supervisor. Do not try this at home. The mushrooms growing on the log in your backyard might be okay, but please don’t take any chances. I sure wouldn’t go without Galya!

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