Mushroom picking in autumnal Savoy – a quick introduction
Cueillette des champignons en Savoie
We returned this week from a long car tour around Europe. It was really enjoyable. We saw a lot of things and experienced some new things. I hope I will find some time to share some of our stops over the upcoming weeks. We’ll see. Today I want to share something we did this weekend. A little mushroom picking hike. The third one we have done so far.
The first one was a mushroom tour around the canals in Leiden, years ago. That tour wasn’t focused on edibles. The tour guide just wanted to show us how many (different type) of mushrooms grew in the city centre. Last year we went on our first proper mushroom (picking) tour. A friend which we visit now and then in the Ardeche took us out for a tour on one of the mountains close to her. What an amazing experience that was, to see her and her children walk onto the mountain, into the forest, off the paths in all directions. Naively, I expected that one could pick mushrooms while staying on the walking paths. Apparently that’s not how you do things. Ideally you crawl, ascent where nobody (or no-boar) has been before. That time we ended up going home with many types of yummy mushrooms that we cooked up at their house.This time we went out to spot- and pick mushrooms closer to home. Our friends Gabriella and Pierre invited us for this adventure and that’s how we ended up on a mountain in the Savoy on an early Sunday morning. A very rainy Sunday morning. The first rain in one month time, which meant that the mushroom population wasn’t fully developed. Enthusiasts as we are, we went anyway. But first we needed to prepare. Let me share with you what you need to bring with you when going out on a mushroom hunt.
First of all, you will need some proper attire that’s suitable for the conditions in which you do all this mushroom picking. You are walking off-road, with a highly humid environment. Waterproof walking boots are important. Some kind of rain coat will also proof to be useful, especially if it’s raining. Try to find some strange coloured clothing to take with you, colours that normally don’t appear in nature. You are hunting for mushroom at the same period in the year as hunters hunt for animals. It’s smart to make sure you are seen by them, and that they determine you as a human that is wearing ridiculous colours. Fashionable hipster dark greens and browns, will make you look beautiful, but not very safe. It’s your choice. Then, if you are not used to walk on very steep mountains continuously (like me) than it’s useful to take walking sticks with you. Sticks will be also helpful in finding the mushrooms as you can push away greens to look better at a certain spot.
Now the more specific mushroom picking things. First of all you need something to collect the mushrooms into. The pro’s walk around with baskets. So you can do that too. We actually didn’t want to take a basket along (I also had my hands full with sticks and a camera), so we ended up taking bags with us. Several bags, as you want to be able to divide your mushrooms by type and have some spare bags in case you find something that you don’t know and want to show to your pack leader later on. Something that is possibly poisonous and therefore has to be put aside and not in one place with edible mushrooms. When choosing the right type of bag, you have the choice between paper, cotton and plastic. Paper is ok if it’s not raining. Cotton and plastic are better choices for when it rains. I’m dreaming of getting one of these one day to solve my basket vs. bag problems. One needs to have goals right?
A good knife can also be helpful. We had regular Optinel knives, but our friends had more professional sharp gadgets, which included fancy brushes. Optinel has those on stock as well.
And then you need to take some snacks with you. Snacks and water actually. You never know where you end up on hikes or how long it will take, so always take something with you for when you get hungry or thirsty.
I would also recommend taking a guide with you. Somebody that is confident enough to decide the right from the wrong specimens. In case you don’t have a guide, you can turn to a paper guide for mushroom picking. That’s better than nothing, but that wouldn’t be my first choice. Some things are really difficult to determine. And the people that we have gone with on a search, have always been very clear about what they pick. Most of them only pick three or four varieties of which they are sure that they are not poisonous. Everything they are not sure of, they leave behind in the forest. I think that’s definitely the right way to go.
With this we come at the hunt. Let me give you a short summary of how this goes. First of all you drive deep into the forest or onto a mountain. Where we are normally used to stop at an organised parking spot at the beginning of a track, where lots of other people stop, in case of mushroom picking, you try to stop somewhere where others haven’t stopped before. We were told that in France mushrooms are becoming a scarcity as loads of people pick mushrooms. So if you are aiming for success you need to leave the masses and search for solitude. If you have the idea though, that the car that just stopped before you looks like a car from someone who knows where you can find the good stuff, you can definitely stop there too, to increase your chances. Hahaha.
When you leave the car, normally one takes the beaten path and walks onto it. In case of mushroom picking you don’t do that as I said before. You just take the quickest way into the forest and start strolling around, with your eyes focused on the soil. No time to look around (unless you are the lucky photographer). You also don’t walk in a line behind each other. That’s another thing that differs from a regular hike. Spreading around increases your chances of finding something that the other hasn’t already found. As you can see on my pictures, we walked in a line at first until our strict pack leader Pierre told us to spread. We listened.
You also decide what you are going to pick at the beginning. We decided to pick chanterelles, or girolles as the french call them, and were told what to look for. Unfortunately, you will soon find out that you will find many more mushrooms that you chose not to pick. Very disappointing obviously. Again if you are the lucky photographer, you will get a bit more satisfaction out of it. And then it’s just a matter of perseverance until you do find the right mushrooms. You keep on walking and focusing. My experience is that the longer you do it, the better you get at it. It took me an hour until I found one, but then I continued to find more of the good stuff. You slowly learn where most of your beloved mushrooms live. In the case of the mushrooms that we were looking for. I found out that they grow quite deep into the moss. So they are less obvious. Not like the mushrooms above and below which clearly like to be seen.
And then when you finally find ‘the precious’, you can place them in the bags you took with you and keep on walking. Walking and shouting. Well not too much shouting, but as you walk quite chaotically around a mountain, sometimes far from each other, you communicate by shouting. Not full stories obviously, but you just shout to hear an echo from the other(s), so that you know that you haven’t lost each other (which shortly did happen in our case). When you hear that the other is still around, you continue your search until your bags are full, you are soaking wet or your pack leader is content with what you have picked all together. In our case it was the combination of the latter two.
And then you drive back and start thinking about what you are going to make with the haul. At home you clean the mushrooms with brushes and knives. We decided all together to make a classic meal with them, so that we could taste most of the mushrooms. Pierre found out how we could combine the two type of mushrooms that we picked. He stir fried the mushrooms with some onions and garlic and added salt, pepper and parsley in the end. They turned out beautiful and tasty. We combined it with some Hungarian style mashed potatoes, that were spiced up with chervil. Tomatoes from the garden on the side. Perfect.
Let autumn begin!
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