Tuesday, 11 December 2012

December 9 – Rain, mushrooms and a Christmas menu

(Saffron Milkcap)

In the Wild Hunt for Saint Nicholas last week I mentioned that many thunderstorms had passed over the island, causing great lightshows. A reader mailed me, asking why I had written about the bad weather without mentioning how much damage it caused on some parts of the island.

It’s a big island; it can happen that such news does not reach you very quickly. When you don’t follow the national news regularly on television, it can also happen that, especially if you live in the countryside and you’re not regularly connected to the social gossip of a village, you may not be up to date with the news. So I have only just heard what damage these floods and thunderstorms caused in the centre of the island and in Mytilini. Mytilini, Agiasos and Ambeliko had so much rain, that roads flooded in Mytilini, mudslides came off the mountains damaging houses, parts of roads were destroyed in Ampeliko, churches (and other buildings) got flooded and a rapid fall  of water went straight through the theatre of Agiasos, see films on YouTube {the first 5}.

The colossal rains caused lots of damage on the island, but all that water also did some good: mushrooms are shooting out of the earth and even though the weather remains rainy and unpredictable, lots of people are going to the mountains and woods to collect mushrooms.

The ancient Greeks were familiar with all kind of mushrooms. But somewhere in history this knowledge got lost and modern Greece has just recently (since 20 years) regained interest in mushrooms. It was mushroom specialist George Konstantinidis, who started publishing papers and later books in Greek about the mushrooms of Greece and since then more and more people have been infected with mushroom fever.

It’s a similar story here on Lesvos. Some ten years ago most people only knew the pèperites (peppered Milkcap, Lactarius piperatus), that grow in the pine forests and some people were familiar with the meadow mushrooms. But when you showed them a mushroom that they did not recognise, the advice was always the same: “Don’t touch them, they are poisonous, throw them away!” Nowadays plenty of people, gathered in groups, roam over the island on mushroom hunts and even visit their fellow mushroom hunters in Turkey. And slowly the people of the island are learning that there are a lot more tasty mushrooms that can be turned into a meal when the rains finally transform the dry landscape into fertile grounds from which lots of delicacies grow.

Because of the wet weather and the muddy roads I have not ventured too far – for example to Agiasos or Klapados where I know there are ceps growing. I stayed close to home at a spot where plenty of the tasty sister of the peppered Milkcaps can be found: the saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus). Because these Milkcaps love to grow under earth and branches they are quite dirty and the easiest way (yes, I do know that you should not clean mushrooms with water) to clean them is wiping all the dirt off the upper cap under some streaming water. And because between the gills there is often some dirt, I loosen it with a knife, as I also did with the smudgy borders of the cap. This way you get very clean mushrooms to use for delicious dishes. Yesterday I cut them in small pieces and fried them in some butter. The orangey juice of the mushroom mixed with the butter into a delicate sauce, which I kept on boiling in order to reduce and then seasoned it with cream, salt and pepper. I then mixed this saffron Milkcap ragout with boiled red cabbage, which is an excellent combination.

Of course lots of other mushrooms grow around here, although I do not know them all and leave them, like the beautiful bright orange mushrooms that grow under the olive trees, and the small yellow ones with a crenate bordered cap or those parasol-like chocolate coloured mushrooms, who stand up straight out of the grass. The light brown boletus I do know, but since they are not so tasty I leave them and the time for the meadow mushrooms just has yet to start.

I my cookbook Almost Greek you can find the recipe for ‘Peppery Milkcap Fries’, easily to make with the peperites; because they are so big and sturdy they are easily cut into long sticks. You will also find a recipe for how to make a mushroom ragout or how to turn young meadow mushrooms into peppery snacks (‘Spicy Mushrooms’). This month I will remain in culinary mood and in the coming week I will experiment some more with the mushrooms and with the young Maria thistles, which, just like the mushrooms, spurt in big numbers out of the ground. I was surprised even to find some wild asparagus, normally to be found in March or April, which means that indeed nature is somewhat troubled these days.

For Christmas I will make some suggestions for three Christmas menus - vegetarian, meat and fish - composed of recipes out of the book Almost Greek. Here is the first one:

Almost Greek vegetarian Christmas menu

Greek croquettes
Spicy mushrooms
Filled eggs with asparagus cream
fig fingers

In between
Courgettetagliatelle with feta and mint sauce

Main course
Pancakes with mushroom ragout
wild spinach with orange juice


Finishing with

* The cookbook Almost Greek is available through the website Smitaki (in Dutch, English and German), in the shop 1912 (Lisa) in Molyvos (Lesvos, Greece), at the bookstore ΜΟΥΤΑΦΗΣ at Ermou 11 in Mytilini (in English), the book can be paged through at Cafe Joke at Omirou 13, Athens and the Dutch edition is for sale in different book- and cookshops in Holland


  1. This sounds fantastic! I love mushrooms but have never tried baking them by themselves like this. Will have to give this a try sometime!

    magic mushroom kits

  2. Hello there! I am really curious about one thing, of course if I'm not asking too much could you be so kind and please tell us where you grew up?