Several weeks ago, a few of our friends informed us that mushroom hunting is nothing short of a national pastime in the Czech Republic. So, when we were given the opportunity to join them in a hunt, we jumped at the chance. The following is a guide of sorts with my best advice for those wishing to follow in our footsteps.
Hunting Knife. After all, this is a hunt. We aren’t going to dance in the tulips or any such nonsense. If you don’t bring the right weapon for the job, well just let me know how the killing part of the enterprise goes. Because, as in every hunt, something is going to die here. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, it could be you.
I say this in jest, but I’m actually kind of serious. Although mushroom attacks are very rare (it’s not often a mushroom leaps to your throat and wrestles you to the ground), picking and eating the wrong one can and will kill you.
So, bring a knife. That way the buggers will know you are serious. Also, you can use it to cut the roots off of them once they are picked.
Mushroom Containment Chamber. To the untrained eye, this looks like a basket. To the trained eye, it is a basket. Don’t be fooled though, we’re not collecting tulips or any such nonsense. We’re carrying potentially deadly-poisonous fungi in this thing. So, consider this the most hardcore basket you’ll ever use.
I’m told your containment chamber should be something large enough to carry the forest’s bounty without much squishing. You don’t want your mushrooms all crushed to pieces before you get home for the cleaning (that makes it harder to spot the errant deadly mushroom that someone may have accidentally picked). So, don’t use plastic bags if you can avoid it.
Not convinced your mushrooms need ‘containment?’ Just read what wikipedia has to say about Chernobyl nuclear fall out, radiation, and European mushrooms. Yeah – go ahead and line that basket with lead, I guess.
Maminka’s Book of Czech Fairy Tales and Proverbs. This is critical if you are bringing children or the uninitiated. Because, inevitably the questions and comments will begin at some point:
“Where do mushrooms come from?”
“How do you spot the right kind of mushroom?”
“Is THIS a good one?”
Your “Book of Czech Fairy Tales and Proverbs” will be essential to shutting these people up and/or having more fun. For instance:
- Where do mushrooms come from?
- They magically pop up from the ground overnight (pg. 23)!
- What to do when the children are being loud and obnoxious?
- Warn them that the mushrooms will hear them and hide (pg. 11)!
- How do you help the hopeless American tourist see the nearly invisible good mushrooms?
- Loudly announce that you smell mushrooms whenever some are close (pg. 1, 24-85)!
Czech Friend. In my view, this is the most essential thing you can bring along. Your friend/guide will likely bring all of the above essential items, as well as a few extras. Hopefully they will instruct you in the basics of finding the correct mushrooms.
It should be noted that there likely exists a ‘Guide to Mushroom Hunting for Czechs’ that reverses my logic and lists bringing Children, American Expats, or American Tourists as an essential piece of equipment.
“Their fascination with the magic and tales you tell from Maminka’s book will inspire at least an hour or two of hard work that will speed up the process for you as you complete this chore.”
What can I say – it’s a symbiotic relationship. Just like the mushrooms and the gnomes who grow and care for them.
Ideally, you want to start hunting very EARLY in the morning. Maminka’s stories say that the mushrooms are easier to find when they are sleeping. The reality is that most of the forest will be cleared out by more ambitious people if you go any later in the day.
If you spot a mushroom immediately because it is pretty, a bright color, or large and dancing and pointing at itself, then it is poison and will kill you. In the case of the latter, you’ve already ingested a bad mushroom and are in some stage of delusion.
The “mushroom color wheel of good and nutritious” is a stripe of various shades of browns and light browns that match most everything else on the forest floor. Good luck spotting anything for awhile.
Contrary to many a fairy tale, the antidote to ingesting a poisonous mushroom is mostly likely NOT eating a different, neutralizing mushroom.
Now then, to the forest!
Luckily, our guide was fantastic. Here are just a few tips we gathered from the field:
We had a blast mushroom hunting, and we’ll let you know how we like the result of our hard work once the mushrooms we picked are processed, pickled, de-clawed, or whatever else happens to them before you eat them.
In the mean time, here are some of our favorite pictures from the excursion: