For most people, living on our planet, mushrooms are either champignon or shiitake mushrooms and both are sold in a grocery store. For Russians – mushrooms are creatures that live in the forest and you have to hunt for them. Mushroom picking is one of our favorite activities in Summer.
It is probably a first time, when I had to google translate dozens of words when writing a post. Белые (porcini), подберезовики (birch bolete), подосиновики (red-capped bolete), маслята (slippery jack), лисички (chanterelle), рыжики (saffron milk cap), опята (honey mushroom), грузди (milk mushrooms), cыроежки (russule) etc. And I am not sure whether I selected correct translations – I never saw most of these mushrooms in grocery stores abroad and my foreign friends do not gather mushrooms.
But for Russians – mushroom picking is a skill that we master since childhood and one of the favorite activities at the countryside. Any Russian can distinguish at least 15 edible mushrooms in the forest and, what is even more important – not collect the poisoned ones, such as мухомор (toadstool) or бледная поганка (death angel). As a precaution though we usually add a whole peeled onion when making mushroom bouillon – if it turns blue, that means that one of the mushrooms was not edible.
Forest mushrooms have always been part of the Russian diet for several reasons. There are hundreds of edible mushroom species in our forests, mushrooms are nutritious, tasty and one can preserve them for winter either by drying or by marinating or salting. During lent mushrooms replace meat in traditional dishes, at all other times they are a tasty addition to any meal. So, at first picking mushrooms was a necessity and a practical thing to do.
Now we do not have to pick mushrooms to survive the winter, but we still like that activity a lot. Picking mushrooms is akin to a scavenger hunt. You have to be really alert to see mushrooms in the forest – a lot of times they are covered with leaves or grass or hide from you in a shady places. Mushroom picking gives a purpose for a walk in the forest and you can easily spend several hours walking and enjoying the nature. Finally, nothing is better than a hot mushroom soup after spending a day outside.
There are multiple ways to cook mushrooms. Start with looking at the type of mushrooms that you collected. Some mushrooms are better for soups, some for frying, some for preserves. The king of mushrooms – porcini is great for any method of cooking.
The soup, made of forest mushrooms is a fantastic dish! We do not cook cream soups if we take the traditional recipes – we peel the mushrooms, make a bouillon, add potatoes or pasta and the soup is ready. Of course, make sure you add the sour cream before serving the soup – otherwise the experience will be incomplete!
We also love fried mushrooms. For many mushrooms the first step before frying is boiling them in water for 5-10 min. Then you can fry chanterelle with potatoes and add sour cream in the end. Or you can serve fried mushrooms with meat or chicken as a garnish or sauce. The main approach to cooking mushrooms in Russian cuisine – not to add many spices, since mushrooms have their own distinct flavor.
If you want to learn more about mushroom picking in Russia – here is an interesting NYTimes article, written by foreigners, who went mushroom picking with locals.
Let me know if you also like to pick mushrooms. What kind of mushrooms? How do you cook them?
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.