Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mushroom weather

(picture: a cep from Agiasos)

If the forecast is good, get on a plane and experience the most beautiful weather we are having here right now on Lesvos. Maybe beach lovers will find it a bit chilly, but for people who love walking this is the best time of year.

To be honest, I don’t want the island to attract too many large groups of tourists. The main attraction when the weather is beautiful at this time of year is that the island is quiet. The occasional car passes by and the only other busy sound you hear comes from the people harvesting olives, — the ricky-tickety-tick of their sticks battering the branches to bring down the fruit. A sound you would have heard down the ages, a peaceful sound that calms you down after all the hustle of a busy summer.

We often talk to our friends about tourism in winter here. On many days the winter sun can be like the middle of summer. However, it really does depend on good weather. I do remember other November months that were grey and very wet. And you wouldn’t enjoy sitting alone in a cold hotel room.

During winter most restaurants are closed, and in bad weather the villages look deserted as everybody retreats inside their houses and with everywhere damp and cold no amount of Metaxa will warm you up again.

But now, the few tourists who are here must be enjoying the island a lot, very lucky that we have this incredible burst of sunny days. When the sun has decided to party like now the island is magnificent with autumn colours, the sweet perfume of the saffron crocus, the pink cyclamen, the strawberry trees full with bright red fruit, looking like Christmas trees — and the busily growing mushrooms.

Even the Greeks come out of their lazy chairs in this weather, and they do so because they like going to the woods looking for mushrooms. Hunting for the pefkites under the pine trees is a favourite pleasure, like looking for red amanita it is getting more and more popular.

The chestnuts and other trees dropping their leaves up around Agiasos usually have a more varied offering of mushrooms. But only a few Greeks know that, because they tend to eat what they are used to – traditional food if you like. Near Agiasos for example you can find plenty of the most delicious boletus, porcini (or ceps) which no Greek will ever touch or eat, although this year we haven’t found so many because the centre and south of the island and the south are still too dry — it’s different here in the north.

On a spot not far from our house we found peppery milk-caps, red musola’s, field mushrooms, bright orange mushrooms under olive trees (we don’t kow what it is) and, hidden under the leaves beneath an old oak tree, we found a fat boletus erythopus (in Dutch the witch boletus).

So we have not needed to go all the way to Agiasos to find mushrooms. Although up there, the chestnut forests are now at their best with bright golden leaves, misty sun rays filtering through the branches and between the trees you see incredible views over the Bay of Yera.

This time we passed the woods and continued our way by car to Karionas, from where we walked towards Milies. At the side of the road we found plenty of boletus. They were not the best ones to eat (they were probably ‘cow’ mushrooms) and the Greek walking here before us must have thought the same. He picked up all the mushrooms he laid eyes on, then decided they were not tasty enough and threw them away.

Like Hansel and Gretel we followed this guy’s trail of mushrooms, but we never found the culprit. But we did not get lost. We ended our walk (at our departure point) at the most idyllic and highest taverna on the island with a superb view deep into Turkey and round towards Olympos mountain. The kitchen at the Karionas taverna surprised us that afternoon with a very tasty manitaropita (a kind of mushroom quiche).

This week in the paper there was a call from the Mushroom Club of Lesvos (Yes, there is a mushroom club here on the island which is active all year round, and goes around finding the most amazing mushrooms) telling us not to rake up the woods when we go out mushrooming. The pefkites especially hide under the pine needles and some people will rummage with rakes through the woods, tearing them up and filling bags full of them, in huge amounts they will never be able to eat. So they are kindly asked by the Mushroom Club to retrieve mushrooms from the earth with a knife, not a rake, take no more then that they are going to eat and leave the ground like they found it. Yeah, those Greeks!

During a surprisingly beautiful walk around Pterounda, Chidera and Vatoussa and a walk near Polychnitos we did not see many mushrooms at all. But before you know it, you can turn a corner and suddenly be in mushroom paradise. On Lesvos you never know, but for sure nature here is always full of welcome surprises.

(With thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2009

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