-the world as I see it
” It’s 8 am on a Sunday and I am up. This had better be worth it ” I grumbled to my friend, while rubbing my sleepy eyes for the umpteenth time. Before I go on, let me tell you why that particular Sunday of mine had begun so early. A couple of weekends ago, this same friend had sent me an invitation to a mushroom picking event via facebook. I didn’t so much as glance at the elaborate event description in Portuguese because the title itself had won me over- mushroom picking in Geres (added bonus: the price of the trip). Geres is the only national park in Portugal and is supposed to be quite the paradise for nature lovers. I had never been to Geres before nor had I any experience in mushroom hunting. I briefly looked over the list of people that had signed up for the trip, but they were all total strangers. I wasn’t too bothered by this because I had my friend for company and I was looking forward to exploring the place rather than socializing.
So there we were, waiting at the side of the highway for the bus that would be taking us to Lamas de Mouro, the place in Geres where we would be picking up mushrooms. Twenty minutes later, the bus arrived and we hopped on after exchanging introductory greetings with the event organiser.The people on board the bus seemed like quite a motley crew – four kids, their mums, rastafarians, hippies, permaculture enthusiasts and a few college-going students. I would say that for the most part, the adults here were either in search of psychedelic mushrooms or they were here out of pure love for mycology. I fit into neither category. I am not a mycophile nor am I someone who is enchanted by magical mushrooms, but I was quite excited to see what the fuss about foraging for mushrooms was all about. My friend had told me that he would take care of the mushroom collecting equipment and our picnic lunch so my bag only contained a few snacks (mostly fruits) and a book, which I planned to read, in case I found a suitable spot in the forest.
The landscape en route to Lamas de Mouro is very pretty, at least the parts that I saw each time that I woke up either from the impact of a violent head sway or when the kid seated behind me asked his mum what the time was, which happened every ten minutes or so. We reached at 10:21 am (I know the exact time thanks to the time obsessed kid) and alighted from the bus. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who was in need of caffeine as I watched people make a beeline for the sole cafe at the entrance to the park. Once everyone had freshened up, we gathered outside and listened as one of the ladies in charge briefly explained about the common mushrooms found in the area, none of which I had heard of previously. My knowledge on mushrooms is only limited to button mushrooms, portobello, shiitake and porcini and the only aspect that I am an authority on is how I like them cooked. Since the guide was conversing in Portuguese, I drifted off after a bit, confident that my friend, who seemed to be taking in everything she said, would tell me the essential stuff ( read poisonous mushroom alert) later on.
Ten minutes later, we began walking in the direction of the forest and the group started to spread out, looking for mushrooms. Everyone was armed with a wicker basket in one hand and a mushroom harvesting knife in the other. My friend had brought along a guide book to identify mushrooms typically found in Portugal, which we found to be very useful as the mycologists were in their own world, discussing animatedly about the different types of mushrooms they encountered.
The forests of Lamas de Mouro mostly have pine and birch trees, which are ideal substrates for a lot of mushroom species. Let me summarize the few things that I learned on the trip
1. How to collect a mushroom from the soil for the purpose of identification-
Inspect the ground around the mushroom and roughly determine its point of origin in the soil. Position the knife such that you scoop out the soil from beneath so that you can obtain the mushroom in its entirety. After that, smoothen out the soil so that the growth of future mushrooms isn’t impeded.
2. Those delicious-looking red mushrooms with white dots that I loved to draw as a kid are not edible. The scientific name of these toadstools is Amanita muscaria and they are hallucinogenic. These mushrooms are commonly know as Fly Agaric because of their insecticidal properties.
3. Purple mushrooms need not necessarily be poisonous. The violet coloured Laccaria amethystina mushroom, also known as the amethyst deceiver is completely safe to eat .
4. Most mushrooms that grow on the bark of trees have a tough and rubbery texture. The Piptoporus betulinus mushrooms are edible and are known to possess anti-inflammatory properties.
5. There’s a mushroom called the wolf fart puffball! It gets its interesting name from the puff of brown cloud formed when it releases all its spores if you press the pileus or stamp it. In case the wolf fart puffballs are damp from the rain, they squirt a brown liquid. They are quite gross little things.
6. It is very difficult to recognize the species of a mushroom just by looking at a picture in a book. Sometimes the difference between some poisonous and edible mushrooms lies in very minute details, that are easy to miss. So if it is your first time foraging for mushrooms, go along with a mycology expert.
That’s the basket of mushrooms that I gathered and almost none of the mushrooms in there are edible. Even if they are, I didn’t bother cooking them because they were in contact with the poisonous and hallucinogenic ones.
Well, that’s about what I learnt on my first attempt at mushroom picking. All in all, it was a good experience, although there were times when I got a little bored. Lamas de Mouro is a picturesque place and if not for mushrooms, you can always pick up some pine cones to use in your Christmas decorations. Here are some of the other pictures that I took there.