Last Sunday, myself and 18 other enthusiastic shroomers, hiked up into the mountains above Pender Harbour and had a great afternoon tromping through the woods.
It was a cold and clear day and the views from the ridge we were on were breath taking. There was a great view down into Pender Harbour and Barry, our foray leader, pointed out his house to us.
When we got the area that Barry had scoped out, we found a tree blocking the road. Barry got out of his truck and grabbed his chainsaw out. In minutes, with the help of the rest of us, we bucked up the tree and cleared the road. Note to self…pack a chain saw with you when you are heading up into the back country. Never know when you have to clear the road.
Many years ago, when I was living in the City, a neighbour of mine took that one step further. He was an older guy, much into fishing and hunting, and taking pack horses into the back country on the Alberta-BC boarder. He told me that he and a friend had a favourite valley in the Fernie area where they hunted for Elk and deer every year.
There was only one old logging road into this valley, and each year he and his friend would go there to hunt. In order to keep the elk population in good shape and so that other hunters wouldn’t find their private “Shangrila”, they dynamited the road to keep others out.
I know that many shroomers are very secretive about their “patches” and will go to extreme lengths to keep their favorite spots protected. However, dynamiting the roads to keep it safe….that I have not heard of yet.
I come by my passion for mushrooms and being in “the bush” from my father Tony. My ethnic background is Ukrainian, and being the son of an eastern European, mushrooms were always on the menu. As much as my father was passionate about mushrooms, my mother was just the opposite. There would often be a “discussion” about where my father was off too, especially when she found him pulling on his rubber boots and putting his mushrooming buckets into the truck.
It frustrated my mother to no end when my father would arrive home with a pail or two filled with mushrooms.
My dad picked and he cleaned the mushrooms but it was my mother who cooked and canned them. She never froze them, only canned them.
As for cooking, she did it the way most Russian or Ukrainians did…boil them for at least an hour, drain, and then make a “much-ka” as she called it, then add the mushrooms to it.
Much-ka ( my spelling) was the universal sauce used in our house. It was a basic cream sauce made by frying onions and garlic in butter or margarine ( that’s when butter was bad for you and margarine healthy), followed by fresh full fat cream from the farm, salt and pepper. That was it. You would then add your prepared mushrooms and heat through and serve on perogies, home made noodles (macaroni to my dad), new potatoes, chicken, pork-chops or just a slice of rye bread.
Sometimes my mom would add dill to the sauce, particularly with new potatoes or her young chicken stew.
Just recently I asked my 88+ year old mother how she actually canned her mushrooms. Her response was to clean then boil in salted water for 1 hour, pack into pint jars then process in boiling water for 2 hours. After they were cooled, store in the fridge or cool place, like the root cellar.
I said “2 hour?”.. she said you cook them an hour to get rid of the possibility of poison, then process for 2 hours as an added insurance.
When I told her I just lightly saute them in butter, she was quite shocked.
I have to say that even with the cooking for lengthy periods and canning, the mushrooms still had good flavour and texture. I know that my dad picked morels in the spring, birch boletes in the summer and another mushroom as well that I have yet to identify. He called them “cows mouths” or “karovchi-peski” ( my spelling of the Ukrainian vernacular).
They were a light tan to gold in colour; short stemmed; light coloured gills;somewhat funnel shaped cap with the edges curled under; when you cut the flesh it turned an orange colour and was firm.
Sometimes we called them chanterelles, but it was more than 45 years ago that I picked them, so my memory may be wrong about if they had gills or folds at the time. They were my favorite.
In the fall my dad picked peidpenki – or honey mushrooms. Now I now know that these mushrooms should be boiled for 5 minutes then fried, as if you don’t do this, some people have gastric upset. If you dry the honey mushrooms, you just have to re-hydrate and cook. The drying seems to have the same effect as parboiling them when fresh.
My dad also picked another species of mushroom after I left home, which he called “pitch-chi-ritchie. I don’t know what they looked like or what they tasted like, as I never got to see or taste them.
I asked my father why he liked picking mushrooms so much. His response was this….” I love being in the bush…it reminds me what it was like in the Ukraine as a boy….also the mushrooms are free … nothing tastes better than something that you get for free”.
What use to really get my mother going was that his favorite day for foraging was Sunday. My mother was very religious and was always insisting that my dad drive us all to church on Sundays. My dad was not a “church” kind of man, he believed in God, but disliked the organized church,and especially the priests…”blood suckers” as he called them.
He would say to my mother ” my church is in the bush…I feel close to God when I am in the woods” …..then off he would go with his boots and his pail, singing merrily as he went.
My dad had a wish…that wish was that if he could choose the time and the place where he would died, he wished he could die while in the woods, hunting for mushrooms.
One day his friend fellow forager,had gone out mushrooming but failed to return when he said he would. His family and friends being concerned , went out to look for him. They found him, sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree. He had passed away. From the look on his face,peacefully. Beside him was his picking pale, full of mushrooms. All around him in the grass, were hundreds more. That was how my dad wished to go.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen as he died one very cold February day, in the hospital, after a very short illness.
This fall I went to Saskatchewan to visit my mom. One of my families traditions, is to visit the graves of close family. So one day we did that and visited my father’s grave as well as several uncles, aunts and grandparents. All the graves sites were well maintained and the grass cut.
However, right over my father’s grave, there were mushrooms growing. No where else in the whole grave yard were there mushrooms growing…only over my father’s grave.
I smiled and I thought… how appropriate…my dad was an avid shroomer…he loved being out in the wild, foraging for mushrooms…he even hoped that when he had to leave this world he would do it while on a foray. That never happened, but he still rests where mushrooms keep him company.
I digress…back to the foray…the Barry took us took was great, but at first, there seemed to be too many ferns and undergrowth to see anything. We hike up a steep trail for about a hundred yards when the under-story began to clear. I said to the folks just behind me, lets go in here to the left. I stepped off the trail and right there in front of me was a huge cauliflower mushroom…
I shouted ” I found a cauliflower” and everyone came running. A few thought I joking, but no, in fact there she was…beautiful and fresh, with no elk nibbles. I gave everyone a piece to take home and try, and I still had a couple of pounds left.
Everyone was able to pick large numbers of them. This is the kind of weather that winter chanterelles really like.
As for other varieties…there were a few late oyster mushrooms and when they start to show up you know the season is about done.
That beautiful red mushroom a the front of this blog is Hygrocybe conica, or Witches cap…it seemed to be out everywhere as well. (Correction…this mushroom is not Hygrocybe conica, but Hygrocybe miniata….thanks Ann)
So, there you have it, time to put away the basket, clean the harvesting knife and dry the last batch of winter chanterelles. It was not a bad year, not a great year, but an average year. There were lots of pine mushrooms this year, in places I had never seen them before. And of course there is now the anticipation of what we may find in the burn site in West Sechelt. Visions of morels dancing in our heads.
Hope to see you sometimes on the trails and maybe in the burn site next spring.