Foraging for food seems such a novel idea. Or rather, retro; a revival of the way it used to be in the hunting and gathering days of the bygone. However in Poland, foraging is so part of the autumn scene that folks don’t even think of it as foraging. While some folks hurry to fit in a few more BBQ’s before rain halts outdoor cooking, others get a head start with grzybobranie (mushroom picking).
Over a decade I’ve been here but last week was only my second outing to scour for edible discs. Edible is the keyword. Even trained eyes now and then falter and let into the basket the poisonous pretenders of the innocuous. Graham Crawford, one of my favorite Poland-based English language journalists, penned (verb: pen; not noun: penne) a peal against romanticizing finding-fungi-in-the-woods (last year, or maybe further back; one loses track of time) in his “Without Rhyme or Region” column in the New Poland Express. Every year, some members of the find-your-own camp lose their lives or land in hospitals due to a few mo’s of oversight. In the said column, kids were rushed to hospital with liver failure after servings of mushrooms of mistaken identities. In more fortunate cases, the bad stuffs might only induce vomiting. I have cautious friends who will only eat mushrooms that have been gathered by themselves or trusted parties (parents, siblings, and partners).
So, it’s not an activity to bounce merrily into without good sense and sensibility. It’s not Disneyland out there. Without any in-house expert (and other operational constraints), my count stayed at one. I did enjoy my first encounter. It was in the private grounds of a neighbour’s country home (działka). In the game of hide and seek, your eyes gradually adjust to the nuances of the mossy undergrowth, and a burst of satisfaction comes when you spot the harvest. Success spurs you to trample on, and before you know it, you’ve spent the whole morning in soothingly Zen-like haze. The sort I imagine you get from meditation.
If you live in Warsaw, the competition from other foragers is intense. For some, it’s not a weekend hobby, but a livelihood. The goods are gathered and sold, either as-is or pickled. To bring home something to chow, you’re best to start the action early, like 6 a.m. Yes, this is one of the “operational constraints” mentioned above.
The web offers tips on how not to come home empty handed. Look for pine forest carpeted with moss. But our single (as in one piece) find last weekend was in a birch tree patch. It’s still early in the season, we might still bring back more than one serving.