Food & Wine

the mushroom hunter. josep maria salvatella

Autumn time is mushroom time

Many years ago, wandering through the woods of Maçanet de Cabrenys, I spent a whole morning hunting wild mushrooms – we hunt them here, you know? – and yet I had only found seven or eight. Disappointed, I sat down on a verge and, putting my hand to the ground, I noticed something I hadn’t expected. When I looked, I saw that it was a huge porcini mushroom, which alone would fill more than half my basket. These types of things don’t happen every day. On another occasion, I came across a bunch of more than 70 pinkmottle woodwaxes, or false russulas as they are also known. These are the memories that stay with the mushroom hunter forever.

Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric, is a completely hallucinogenic mushroom. I know of a man in Llançà who ate some and then ran around shouting: “I am God!” Meanwhile, great care is needed to avoid Amanita phalloides, or death cap, which can be easily confused with Amanita caesarea, commonly known as Caesar’s mushroom. This mushroom gets its name from the Roman Caesar Claudius, whose second wife was his niece Agrippina. She wanted her son from a previous marriage, Nero, to become the emperor’s successor instead of Claudius’ son Britannicus. The emperor’s favourite mushroom was porcini, and at a party his wife mixed in death caps. Needless to say, poor Claudius did not get up the next morning.

At this time of year, I would put porcini at the top of the list because of its quality. Resembling a cava cork to my mind, it can be dried and stored for later consumption. On the other hand, another two much appreciated wild mushrooms found all over the country are the bloody milk cap and the saffron milk cap.

Meanwhile, the woodlands of Catalonia also boast golden chanterelle, yellow foot, charcoal burner, wood blewit, hygrophorus latitabundus, fairy ring, grey knight, true morel, shaggy parasol, common puffball, field and coral mushrooms.

Certainly no shortage of wild mushrooms here. As a result, I imagine there are few places with such a fondness for wild mushrooms as in Catalonia.

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