Monday, October 8, 2007

Hunting and Gathering

I thought I would write a bit about what we’ve been discovering during the “Great Internet Absence of Fall 2007.” We use it to talk and write to family and friends, and while I’ve gone through lonely times I’ve managed to come through that funk by learning more about this place. I now have a fairly regular bus pattern, know where to get fresh fruit and vegetables, band-aids, toilet paper, and am able to do those things before Thomas needs a nap, what more can one ask for? AND no, you don't necessarily find all of those things in one store here. There are paper stores, drodgerie stores (drugstores without any medical stuff at all, and often house-paint), bakeries for bread, grocery stores that carry one brand per product, pharmacies that carry over the counter medical stuff (like asprin and baby things) & fill prescriptions, and then there are the miscellaneous Vietnamese import stores that carry produce, housewares, knock-off toys and cheap clothing. Many of these stores are closed on the weekends, and close for lunch between 11 and 1:30pm, and I must take a bus down the mountain to shop and bank in Novy Bor. Our town, Kamenicky Senov (pronounced Kuhmininzky Senuhf) is a town on top of a mountain comprised of many villages, we live in the town center, & thus can walk to a couple of smaller expensive convenience stores. The Czech mountains are small, and not marked with altitude signs. This detail is not an insult, because the mountains here are beautiful and romantic. The Rockies and Cascades of the United States are more like testaments to endurance, or thrill seeking athletic monuments, while the mountains here are like fairy tale illustrations. Yesterday we saw one with a medieval castle on top. The forests are tall with mossy floors perfect for exploring unencumbered by brambles or brush and littered with an amazing spectrum of fungi. Mushroom hunting is often referred to as a national sport because it is so popular. People here are very knowledgeable gatherers. The country owns and protects quite a bit of land for environmental preservation reasons (and I will write more about that later, because some of it is just so fantastic. It is law that people are allowed to gather fruit, nuts, mushrooms, etc. from any land, private or public, as long as they don’t pick things from privately grown plants, do damage, or litter. Anything on the ground is fair game for gathering, and you cannot be shot while doing so. I am amazed at the hordes of cars lined up along the roads from basket carrying people of all ages. I am wildly jealous of the kind and smelly old men who board the buses with baskets overflowing with mushrooms. The collections are a sight to behold, and it is hard not stare at all the different varieties, but rule #1 for women on buses is no making eye contact with old men who smell of beer and B.O. That said, a nice one kept Thomas occupied with some cute little clucking noise game last week,. My lack of linguistic prowess comes in handy sometimes. Chad has been more than a little excited by the mushroom crops here, and was dying to go hunting, but rule #1 of mushroom hunting is to only pick what you know. We don’t know anything. Frantisek took us to his summer home this weekend in a small village on the countryside an hour or two south of Prague. The drive was long, and curvy, but as we sped around the last curve before the village we entered a tall dark wood with a floor speckled with bright spots of all colors. I gritted my teeth, so as not to make worried faces at our racecar driver, (more on Czech driving and my equilibrium later) but Chad had the presence of mind to ask if Frantisek knew anything about mushroom hunting. He does and very patiently took us early the next morning. We had a ball, and filled two huge baskets, with just three or four varieties. You only pick what you know. I used the small brown spongy ones for pasta that night and Frantisek cooked us a traditional mix of onion, eggs, caraway (kmin), and the other varieties for breakfast the next day. They were both great & much to my surprise we had no digestive trouble. Frantisek never really examined our basket, so I was quite distracted by fears of radical health issues due to our lack of supervision, so either he watched us closer than I thought or we just got lucky.


Tom said...

Good Morning,
Great read, great stories! I'm curious to know if they harvest the Boletus Edulus mushrooms there? They are fond of growing under pine trees, and are the color of the golden yellow to brown needles. They are a large mushroom with the spongy underside, and a large and thick base. They are wonderful to eat. Also, whenever you find mushrooms with the spongy underside, just rub the underside with a stick. If the bruise turns blue, or green/blue, the mushroom is inedible and bitter. The Honey mushroom which grows in clumps is very popular in Europe and the eastern part of the U.S. And there is the Morel as well. Does Chad have his mushroom book with him? If not, I can try to find photos and info to send you.
Love, Dad

Chloe said...

Good Morning to you too!
Would you believe that I remembered that certain Boletus were not good & that the ones that bruise blue were bad? I thought that was a rule you went by when we hunted, and here it is. The brain works sometimes. However, these mushrooms were boletus that grew under the pines, were a rich brown color on top, pale yellow underneath & very spongy, but they did bruise blue. I inquired about this & Frantisek assured us these were good eating and so I was pretty nervous, as I wrote, but I looked them up in his guides & they were okay & we were okay after eating them. There is one similar boletus with a pink bottom that isn't good, but the rest of the mushrooms in the guide that looked similar were labeled good for eating. It's a tricky sport, and the season is almost over, so we probably won't go again. Chad was very excited at the prospect of finding morels, but alas no luck there. Thank you for the info & it was great finding a signal to talk yesterday. I missed you guys so much when we went hunting because it brought back so many good memories of trekking through the pretty forests of WA. I so wished you could be there with us all weekend. Love, Chloe