The best time for collecting mushrooms here outside Pskov is the end of the Summer and early Autumn. It is at this time hundreds of nearby residents find time to head into the woods to search for them these delicious bits of wild nature. Seeing people walk about slowly, knives in hand in the deep woods, it's no unusual experience to find neighbors plundering about somewhere in the middle of a wild thicket. Imagine a few friendly talking strangers, holding their pocket knives, and looking into each other's baskets. "How many have you picked?" "No, not much." - says a fair-faced man holding a full basket of wonderful ceps.
Fortunately for me and Sasha, there's no need to travel so far from the city in search of wild culinary bliss. Within 50 kilometers, we can gather up from 20 to 300 ceps in a single day. Shroom hunting was the occasion of our most recent trek into the nearby woods, on a damp September day. Here's some pictures and some tips, into what it's like to go in search of fungi in the forests of western Russia.
Sasha, my faithful companion in everything, he's our guide today. An experienced mushroom hunter, accustomed to the woods since his childhood, the tech guru slash husband person, he knows a lot about mushrooms, like how and when to collect them, and how to cook them best. On this day, there were rains a day before our walk, and Sasha says that this is the time for the most profitable mushroom hunting. As we walk, I always try to stay close to Sasha, and listen to his teachings - making especially sure, so as not to take unfamiliar beautiful mushrooms, or to lose sight of the group. Regarding our prey, he says that the cep is a master of camouflage - Sasha says, "you can look directly at him and not notice him at all."
Difficult as these mushrooms are to find, it makes them all the more fun to find. It seems, the mycelium of these fungi can extend for kilometers, and it is capable of thinking... or at least Sasha believes it can. However strange you may think his mushroom vision is though, I assure you he's onto a mushroom fact. While the rest of the posse of hunters may find a single mushroom, Sasha finds seven by himself. Apparently, he's made some sort of agreement or blood pact with the strange life forms.
This method of his involves putting a bucket on the spot where he finds his first cep, then walking in a radius around the spot, he tries to find mushrooms from the origin of that same mycelium. As for taking the specimen, Sasha does not cut it, but twist from the ground to avoid a stipe decay in the mycelium.
Here in our woods, one can harvest not only ceps, but chanterelles, russula, boletus, pepper-mushroom, aspen-mushroom and many others. However plentiful the others may be though, it is a cep that is considered to be the main fungus because of its excellent flavor and taste. Sasha also knows the habits of fungi, and the places where they like to grow. So we always have little trouble collecting buckets of different mushrooms.
For those of you who have never been hunting, reading this you may be fooled into thinking mushrooms picking is nothing more than an idle walk. This is far from being so. First of all, it is very easy to get lost in the forest. Deep in the woods, it is hard to hear the screams of people after 200 meters away from you. If you do not have the terrain orientation skills, it is highly recommended not to lose sight of your car or people from your group.
Just two weeks ago, rescuers found a woman who spent five days in the woods. Her rescue was a great success. She told reporters then, that the first two days she was crying, then she felt that was wrong and very dangerous, so she stopped. She then pulled herself together and decided to go on, guided by the sun, and to eat berries and mushrooms. I remember a famous Hollywood movie with Philip Anthony Hopkins whose hero told something like: "Fear and despair kill into the Wild." It seems that it is true. Therefore it's not surprising that the forest is full of shouts like "AHOOO" and "Hey".
Secondly, a forest is full of wild and sometimes dangerous animals, and to encounter them can be lethal. From the news of the last three weeks:
70 km away from the city two mushroom hunters were attacked and killed by the bear. The Bear escaped. A few days later the same or another bear attacked people and was killed. Fortunately, people were not affected. Besides, wolves sometimes terrorize lonely villages and attack pets. By winter they will be hungry enough to start attacking people. Only hunters can protect the locals.
Then too, only few days ago a friend told me that they had come to pick mushrooms and saw a parked car in which there was a child sleeping. After a few hours they returned and heard the cry from the car. They began to call people and later activated the car alarm. Hearing the keychain sound nearby, they stumbled upon a dead woman. As it turned out, she was bitten by a snake in the face, perhaps when she bent down to pick a mushroom, and died before reaching her car.
We can say that we were lucky to get out of the woods alive! But this would be sensationalism, Sasha sees to it we are never lost like newcomers to the sport.
Anyhow, once mushrooms are collected, they need to be processed. You'll want to check each of them for worms and clean them. Mushroom can get easily spoiled without this procedure. It is a lucky thing, if even half of the mushrooms you collect are good specimens. Once they are cleaned and inspected, the mushrooms should be cut to pieces. Once segmented in this way, some can be frozen, and then the rest can be used for some amazing mushroom enhanced food dish cooking. Even simple pasta can become a masterpiece of culinary art if it is cooked with ceps!