We call it Złota Polska Jesień, the Golden Polish Fall. The weather in September and October is usually pleasant and the trees amaze with all their reds, oranges, yellows and browns, which altogether makes one just want to get lost somewhere in the middle of the woods and give oneself over to nearly every Pole’s favorite fall pastime. What’s the secret of the Polish woods that attracts whole families and makes them take long walks, enjoying the fall nature? And why do people walk around carrying baskets and knives?
Believe it or not, it’s because of… mushrooms!
If it were a sport, it’d definitely be our national sport. If you’re Polish, you’ve most probably tried mushroom picking at least once in your lifetime.
It often turns into a real competition between family members. Whose basket will be the heaviest? Who will have the biggest specimen among their mushrooms? Whose mushrooms will turn out to be the most beautiful? Some of the mushrooms in your basket are “worth” more than other, so if you have a basket full of penny buns or orange birch boletes, you can still feel like the winner, even if the rest of the family have two baskets full of bay boletes or suede boletes.
You may wonder whether it’s safe to pick wild mushrooms. After all, there are many toxic kinds. How do people tell them apart from edible ones? The easiest way of staying on the safe side is looking under the cap, where you will either find a lamella (stripes) or tubes (like a sponge). Generally, in Poland mushrooms with tubes are safe to pick, they aren’t toxic. The most tragic thing that can happen is mistaking a penny bun or a birch bolete with a bitter bolete, which will ruin every dish with its bitter taste. But be careful when mushroom picking in other countries, as not all kinds of mushrooms with tubes are edible - beware for example of the devil’s bolete!
More advanced mushroom pickers also pick some kinds of mushrooms with a lamella, such as chanterelles or parasol mushrooms. The most advanced will also put russelas, saffron milk caps, honey fungi or yellow knights in their baskets, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that, as they can be easily mistaken with deadly poisonous mushrooms. such as death caps.
To go mushroom picking, first you need to dress correctly. You’ll need a pair of wellies, a jacket and maybe a hat to protect yourself from ticks. You’ll also need a basket and a knife. Why a knife? In order not to destroy the thallus, it’s better to cut the stem close to the ground instead of pulling the whole mushroom out. This way new mushrooms will be able to grow in the same place.
Once mushroom pickers bring their treasures home, the air soon fills with an unforgettable mixture of smells: the forest, mushrooms and tasty food. They clean their mushrooms and either dry them, pickle them or cook delicious dishes. Oh, how much we Poles love mushroom dishes! Mushroom soups and mushroom sauces (both made from fresh or dried mushrooms), pickled mushrooms, scrambled eggs with chanterelles, potato pancakes with mushroom sauce, bigos, pierogi… Yum! Mushroom soup and pickled mushrooms are even traditionally served on the Christmas table, which only proves how dear we hold this amazing treasure of the woods.
When you come to Poland, don’t forget to try one of the amazing dishes with mushrooms. And if you happen to come in fall, how about going mushroom picking and enjoying the Polish Golden Fall to the fullest?