Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Mushroom fever

Just like cats and dogs, many donkeys are left on their own in the winter. They are free to roam wild and find their own food. The stubborn four-legged animals which you take rides on in the summer, spend the winter in the mountains, where they find plenty of food. Sometimes this gives rise to Wild West scenes because many a night or early morning we have to get out of bed in order to chase the donkeys, like cowboys driving their cattle out of our garden. Of course these donkeys don't know about lassos, but they hate the sound of saucepan lids being banged together. The refugees, still coming in in droves, must be wondering what the hell all the noise is...

The countryside is now not only full of donkey food, but also wild vegetables and mushrooms for humans. The tourist industry has announced that staying in Greece and Spain next year will be much more expensive, while in Turkey it will be cheaper. That also means that prices will rise for us, even though life here is already pretty expensive. I sometimes wonder how the Greeks manage, because most of them have a pretty poor income. Maybe that's why these days you see more and more chorta groups (people looking for wild vegetables) and more and more people looking for mushrooms.

In the chestnut woods around Agiasos a few weeks ago we found some huge bolets comestibles and many others that we could not identify. One of them we think is the Ceasar's mushroom, one of the most delicious mushrooms. It is a red amanite from a mushroom family known for inedible varieties. So we left this Ceasar's mushroom in peace; you never know with these local mushrooms.

At the beginning of the month many people visited the Chestnut Festival in Agiasos. On every street corner huge amounts of chestnuts were roasted. There was music, dancing and alcohol everywhere and the streets were full of people.

A lot of people not only visited the festival, but also went to look for peperites, a kind of big white chantharelles (20 cm) with a kind of peppery taste (it might also be a Lactarius pergamenus). At this time of year the island is full of them. They mostly grow under fir trees and are easy to recognize. To prepare them is very simple: you roll them in breadcrumbs and then fry them.

Thanks to the good autumn weather, every weekend the woods around Klapados are full of people looking for mushrooms and the road from Achladeri to way above Agiasos (and other wood parts of the island) is full of parked cars, whose occupants disappear into the pine woods which cover the centre of the island. It is not often that you see Greeks going for a walk. But Greeks are hearing more and more from their doctors that they should walk more. Even with a 4-wheel drive you cannot tear through the woods. There is no other way than to take strolls between the trees in order to find peperites.

Unpopular with the Greeks are the Parasols (macrolepiota procera), because like the bolets, they do not know them. They are wrong. These mushrooms whose caps resemble pancakes can get as big as 40 centimetres. It is like finding a treasure, because you bake a parasol in butter, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and it tastes like a first class steak. They are far more delicious than the peperites.

And then there are the various Field Mushrooms that grow on the bare parts of the fields. When we picked some yesterday to make 'Champignons à la Grecque' we even found the first anemone! It was like spring was already in the air, although winter has not even started.

Forced by economic reasons or not, the Greeks are going into the countryside more and more to look for food, just like they did when there was a famine on the island (last time was in the sixties). There are many different wild vegetables. I only know wild spinach, the horse flower and wild chicory. I now know even more mushrooms. But it won't take long before I will get so bored of these mushrooms. Every day preparing mushroom soup, mushroom ragout, mushroom appetizers and parasol steaks might be overdoing it.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

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