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Into the Woods

I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I first encountered this quote from Henry Thoreau’s Walden in Dead Poets Society, one of my favourite films during my formative years. It struck a chord with me at the time and perhaps planted the seed that has led me to the life I live today.

The book chronicles Thoreau’s quest for a simple life of self-sufficiency in a small wood near Massachusetts. I understand the sentiment completely – it is exactly what Arūnas and I are trying to do here in the Lithuanian countryside. What’s most fascinating to me is that Thoreau wrote Walden in 1854, before the advent of telecommunications and our ridiculously fast-paced modern society. If Thoreau were alive today he might have stayed in the woods a little longer.

Mushroom Picking, Lithuania | www.myfoododyssey.com

Lithuania is famous for its forests. Over one third of the country is covered in woodland, often as small pockets surrounded by flat, open pastures. The woods are home to a vast array of wildlife and in early autumn, when the weather is still warm but rain is becoming a little more frequent, the forest floors are blanketed with mushrooms. Lithuanians are expert mushroomers and most country dwellers can easily tell their oak boletes from their bay boletes with ease. During late August and early September the roads are lined with mushroom sellers, each with their buckets crammed with freshly picked mushroomy delights.

Mushroom Picking, Lithuania | www.myfoododyssey.com

While it was tempting to buy a bucket of mushrooms ready-picked, I really wanted to experience this truly Lithuanian activity for myself. Foraging for delicious wild mushrooms is as self-sufficient as it gets. The mushroom season is quite short so, with Arūnas as my guide, I went into the woods.

Foraging for mushrooms is a slow business – you may be lucky and find a few together, but often the really good mushrooms are few and far between. Arūnas taught me how to distinguish the edible from the inedible. As a rough rule of thumb, the more attractive the mushroom, the more dangerous it is likely to be. If it is red and highly decorative it is probably poisonous. If it is brown and camouflaged amongst the leaf litter it is probably ok.*

Mushrooms & Zucchini | www.myfoododyssey.com

On our first day we were incredibly lucky and found over two kilos of high-end mushrooms – mostly various species of boletes, including the highly prized cep. These mushrooms provided us with a number of delicious dinners – mushroom risotto, mushroom and bacon quiche and lots of mushroom omelettes. Mushrooms and eggs make a great pairing and, as our girls have been laying well recently, we had a number of “free” meals.

I found the slow process of tramping about the forest, surrounded by the sounds of the birds in the trees and the crackling of falling leaves, quite therapeutic so I have taken to the woods a number of times since, with my walking companion Jackas (the dog) along for company. While the boletes are now infrequent they have been replaced by large numbers of Honey Fungus mushrooms so there are still plenty of mushrooms to be found.

Mushroom Picking, Lithuania | www.myfoododyssey.com

I often think of Thoreau’s words when I am in the forest. Arūnas and I have experienced so many new and exciting things over the past year and I really believe we are sucking the marrow from every day of our lives. I am hoping that this simple life will keep us healthy and that we will live long and happy lives, but when our time eventually comes I hope that we can look back at our lives and say that truly, we have lived.

*A word to the wise: there are hundreds of species of mushrooms and many are inedible and highly dangerous. Please do not pick and eat wild mushrooms unless you are accompanied by a mushroom expert or are an experienced mushroom picker.

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Mushroom Picking, Lithuania | www.myfoododyssey.com

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. “As a rough rule of thumb, the more attractive the mushroom, the more dangerous it is likely to be. If it is red and highly decorative it is probably poisonous. If it is brown and camouflaged amongst the leaf litter it is probably ok.”

    This is DANGEROUS NONSENSE. It’s not even a little bit true. It’s plain WRONG. Almost without exception, the really dangerous fungi are dull and drab.

    I’m a professional mushroom foraging instructor, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 30, 2015
    • Thanks Geoff. I am in no way an expert – I’m really quite new to mushroom foraging. This “rough” rule was one that was given to me while we were foraging and, certainly for the limited number of species we encountered in our locality, it seemed to hold true. The dangerous mushrooms had vented undersides, frilly skirts, large spots and various other adornments while the edible mushrooms were very plain. I totally accept that it may not be true across the board and I did include a footnote that foraging for mushrooms is dangerous and should only be done in the company of an expert such as yourself.

      Like

      November 30, 2015
  2. That’s why I don’t look for mushrooms. We have plenty of what I think are toadstools growing around our horse pens and paddock. They are big and white and sometimes kind of pretty. I know you can’t eat those for sure. Nice post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 12, 2014
    • You definitely need to know what you’re doing or you could make yourself quite sick. I’m so lucky that Arūnas has been picking mushrooms here all his life and is a real expert. I’ll learn what’s what slowly over time. In the meantime I just pick what he recommends.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 12, 2014
  3. Growing up in the country in Australia, we regularly picked and ate local mushrooms. Sadly, after being an urban dweller for decades and eating commercial mushrooms, I have had to re-accustom myself to the taste of the wild- they are so full of flavor!! I love the memory of going out with my Dad and coming home with buckets of mushrooms- a fall of good rain, and off we’d go!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 12, 2014
    • Yeh, I think I like the process as much as I like the mushrooms, Kate. The wild mushrooms do have quite a distinct flavour, especially when compared to commercial mushrooms grown in tunnels, but I just love them!

      Like

      September 12, 2014
  4. I LOVE “mushrooming”. Used to go with my dad every year. Oh, how delicious they are just sauteed in butter. And when you didn’t quite find enough to make a good meal, you can “stretch” them with an egg or two 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    September 10, 2014
    • Yeh, you can’t beat a good chunky mushroom cooked in butter – simply heaven. We’ve had so many over the last few weeks. I know the window for finding them is quite short so I’m happy to gorge while they’re available. Are there no mushrooms in Spain?

      Like

      September 10, 2014
      • Yes, there are. But I live in a part of Spain that’s really arid, which is not conducive to their proliferation 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        September 11, 2014
  5. My Lithuanian wife took me mushrooming this weekend here in Germany and we found a few but not nearly as many as you have in Lithuania. It’s good that you like them.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 10, 2014
    • Yeh, we love them – can’t get enough! Did you eat what you found and were they any good?

      Like

      September 10, 2014

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