Mushroom Pickers Unite!

Well, it’s that time of year again in the Czech Republic. Time for those atavistic hunter-gatherer instincts to be unleashed. Thousands of Europeans with crazed looks in their darting eyes, trembling fingers clutching baskets, socks rolled over their pant legs (ticks!), marching, probing, snooping, we stumble through the forests like zombies. We guard our secret spots, we spy on others for their secret spots, we come home lucky, or we come home dejected.

Yes, it’s mushroom-picking time.

With Czechs and Slovaks, at least, it’s an obsession. I’ve heard claims that 80% of us do it at least occasionally. And this is the time of year. A certain combination of weather conditions (usually rain then heat) makes these buggers sprout up, filling the forests. And collect them, we do. It’s a family affair, taking up our weekends. The fuller the basket, the better. They are sauteed, made into soups, dried for the winter.

The kind we hunt is called the “hrib,” also known as the boletus or porcini mushroom (pictured above).

Americans can’t seem to understand this custom, although there is ‘gold in them thar hills’: one need only read a recent New Yorker article about the fortunes made mushroom-picking in the woods of Oregon, for example. Wikipedia, in a well down article, lays mushroom picking down as a Slavic custom, only for those braving poisoning, using knowledge passed down for generations.