Mushroom hunting is a Russian tradition. It doesn’t need any guns, only a sharp knife, a basket, and knowing what to pick. You’ll know when the season has started, when you see mushrooms for sale outside the metro. But you can pick them for free in the woods and forests around Moscow.
By Irina Sheludkova
The relationship between the Russian people and mushrooms is rooted in ancient times. Mushrooms saved lives during periods of famine, and were a staple food of all Slavic peoples who lived in forested areas with poor agricultural land. Since the10th century, when Orthodox Christianity was widely introduced, they became an essential part of Russian meals as a substitute for meat during Lent.
More than 200 kinds of edible mushrooms can be found in Russia. Before the 1917 Revolution, mushroom hunting in the Yaroslavskaya, Tverskaya and Smolenskaya regions used to be more profitable than farming. At the end of the 19th century in Paris, a bottle of the famous Kargopolskiye salted orange milk mushrooms was more expensive than a bottle of vintage champagne. In 1913, the profits from the exporting of dried mushrooms to Europe amounted to half a million roubles.
Mushrooms contain a lot of protein, as well as fats and mineral substances, such as iron, calcium, zinc, iodine, phosphorus, manganese, sulphur and cuprum. 100 grammes of boiled honey agaric is sufficient for the recommended daily dose of zinc and cuprum. Dried mushrooms contain up to 30% protein and 100 grammes is enough for a daily protein balance. A broth prepared from dried porcini is 7 times more nourishing than meat broth.
As for vitamins, many kinds of mushrooms are as good as vegetables and fruit. For example, chanterelles contain as much vitamin C as citrus and currants.
Some mushrooms contain harmful toxins which can cause illness, and in a small number of cases can be lethal. There are about 25 kinds of distinctively poisonous and dangerous mushrooms growing in Russia. Most dangerous are amanitas. According to government statistics most cases of mushroom poisoning are caused from consumption of false honey fungus, morels and death cap amanita.
Death Cap Amanita
Mushroom poisoning, however, can easily be avoided. You just need to be able to tell an edible from a non-edible variety. If in doubt, before you start cooking, ask your Russian neighbours; from an early age Russians go en famille mushroom hunting, and know which mushrooms to avoid. If you do feel ill, go to the doctor, and take the suspect mushrooms with you.
Do’s And Don’ts
- The Moscow region is considered to be relatively safe in terms of mushroom picking, except the Mytischisnky and Dubninskiy districts. Experts do not recommend mushroom picking in Moscow itself and within a 30 km radius around the city.
- When you go mushroom hunting, treat nature with respect. Use a clean knife to cut mushrooms and be careful not to destroy mushroom spawn, which is very delicate.
- Pick only those mushrooms that you know well.
- Don’t pick over-grown mushrooms, even if they are not worm-eaten.
- Mushrooms spoil quickly, so don’t store them for a long time, especially in warm temperatures. Don’t wash fresh mushrooms, and keep them refrigerated in a paper bag (which keeps away humidity and allows circulation of air) for no more than 5 days.
- Don’t store salted mushrooms in zinc-coated and clay crockery.
Chanterelle (Lisichki): Found in leafed and mixed forests. Contain 2.4% of fat – the highest proportion among mushrooms. Can be boiled, fried, marinated and salted. More suited for simple dishes to keep the splendid aroma. Goes well with fowl and eggs.
Oyster Mushroom (Veshenka): Found on tree trunks and stubs. Ideal for stir-fry, and is cooked in about 3 minutes. Sold in supermarkets all year round.
Porcini (Beliy Grib): Found in pine, spruce and mixed forests. Mainly used dried, as it accumulates a rich flavour; because of this only a small amount is required for cooking.
Yellow Boletus (Maslyata): Found on forest edges, mainly pine woods, usually grows in batches and is among the first to appear at the start of the season. Contains only 0.3% of fat.
Orange Milk Mushroom (Ryzhik): Found in pine forests. An Autumn mushroom; but appears also in large quantities during summer as well.
Aspen Mushroom (Podosinovik): Good when boiled, fried, marinated and dried.
Rough Boletus (Podberyozovik): Found in birch woods. Ideal for drying and marinating. The young mushroom is good for boiling.
Russule (Syroezhka): Found in any kind of forest. There are 27 kinds. Soak in cold water before cooking. Can be boiled, fried, marinated and salted.
Honey Agaric (Opyata): Found on stubs at tree felling sites.
Milk Mushroom (Gruzd): Salted milk mushroom is the most common mushroom zakuska eaten as an accompaniment with vodka in Russia.
Mushroom Soup with Potatoes:
500 g of fresh mushrooms, 600 g of potatoes, 100 g of carrots, 2 tablespoons of oil, half a glass of sour cream, laurel leaf, parsley, pepper and salt to taste.
Cut the fresh mushrooms, put into 2 litres of boiling water and cook for 20 minutes. Add the onions and carrots fried in sunflower oil. Cut the potatoes and boil in the mix until ready. Ten minutes before the potatoes are ready add pepper, salt and laurel leaf. Add parsley and sour cream when served.