IT’S THE SEASON OF THE BOLET HUNTERS IN CATALONIA

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Mushrooms in a “sombre Catalan forest”: edible or lethal?

 

By Rose Maramba

Black and yellow Chanterelles

For christ sake, let’s forget about the Catalans’ pursuit of independence for a while! Catalonia has so many wonderful things to its name: architecture (Gaudi), paintings (Dalí, Miró, Tapies), Montserrat in Barcelona, world class restaurants (Lasarte, El Celler de Can Roca), MUSHROOMS!

Let’s talk about mushrooms.  It’s October and till the end of December it’s the traditional mushroom (bolet) picking season in the wannabe state that lies in the northeastern territory of Spain.

The Catalans have always been big on mushroom picking but in the last decade or so the popularity of the pastime has simply skyrocketed.

Autumn rain falls in Barcelona: time to hunt for the bolets in the forest

As soon as the rain falls, the bolets – well, they mushroom. And of course that’s the much awaited signal for the boletaires (mushroom hunters) to go trekking to the wet woodlands for the pleasurable and relaxing early morning forage. Unless they’ve all joined the huge flag-waving crowds chanting pro-/anti- independence slogans in city streets, they can’t and won’t ignore the call of the wild fungus.

Facsimile of a boletaire permit

Because mushroom hunting has become wildly popular, the Catalan government is forced to put some restrictions on the activity. To pick wild mushrooms in the Poblet Natural Park, for instance, you need to have an official permit. A one-day permit costs €3; €10 for the entire season. Whatever your permit is, it will allow you to pick a maximum of 6 kilos of mushrooms per day. More info.

The money generated from the issuance of the permits is used to spread information and carry out mycological research.

Sometimes the good old stick isn’t enough to locate a hidden mushroom. Some botaires are now using smartphones

The Catalans love to think they’re one of the savviest – if not the savviest – boletaires in the world. Why not? A stick in one hand to poke the undergrowth where the fungi are likely to have sprouted in secret – or a GPS enabled smartphone that leads the uninitiated boletaire to the bolet hotspots (oh modernity!)  – and a wicker basket to hold the prized haul in the other, and they’re in business.

Botifarra amb bolets (Botifarra with mushrooms). Botifarra is a very popular sausage dish in Catalan cuisine

Quite apart from the sense of adventure and the relaxation that mushroom-hunting  affords, mushrooms are key ingredients of Catalan cuisine. Thus their popularity.

That phenomenal popularity has given rise to profitable guided expeditions. Indomit epitomizes this development. But if you think on your own is more fun, you might still want to check out websites for guidance. On this score the website  of the Generalitat de Catalunya could prove invaluable.

 

So you want to join the boletaires?

The danger inherent to the hunt could only increase the thrill. Beware, though. The danger could be lethal. Even the babes in the woods – mind the pun – know that so many of the bolets are notoriously toxic.

Waxy Cap

Gencat.cat will tell you that the most common edible bolets found in Catalonia are the Waxy Cap, Yellow-footed Chanterelle, Bloody Milk Cap, Saffron Milk Cap, Grey Knight, and the Black Trumpet.

To familiarize yourself with each of these, click here .

Livid Agaric

Some of the most toxic, according to the Generalitat, are the Death Cap varieties (guilty of many fatal poisonings), Cortinarius, Snow Morel/Elfin Saddle, Fly and Livid  Agaric, Panther Cap, Jack O’Lantern, Tricholoma Pardinum, Inocybes, Clitocybes, Devil’s Bolete, Lepiotas, Galerina Marginata, Paxillus Involutus and the Livid Agaric.

They are described here individually.

“There are no general rules or tests to distinguish between toxic and edible mushrooms,” says gencat.cat. “The only way to be sure a mushroom is edible is through the correct identification of the species and this is only acquired through knowledge and expertise.

These cloves of garlic didn’t turn black because of poisonous mushrooms; they turned dark after several weeks of heating process, producing  “caramelized” garlic

“Popular tradition and folklore should be ignored in this case. Tests such as the blackening of garlic, potatoes or a silver spoon simply do not work.

“It is also untrue that mushrooms eaten by snails or other animals are not toxic. Mushrooms, like other plants, may be toxic for humans and not for snails or other animals.”

Now that you know where the danger lies, and could take all the necessary precautions, HAPPY HUNTING! (Unless you’d rather be out in the streets rooting for Catalan independence or for the legal and constitutional inviolability of the unity of Spain? Though there’s a season for everything, many things could overlap in one season. So you might do both and get away with it! Right?)

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Images
Featured image/Jordi Domrneci  of Villanova de Seu: “sombre forest,” his description
Basketful of black and yellow chanterelles/varmfront.se, CC BY2.0
Rain/Ajuntament Barcelona, CC BY-ND2.0
Permit, Fair Use

Hidden mushroom/Josep salvia i bote, CC BY-ND2.0
Botifarra with mushrooms/mpellegr, CC BY2.0
Waxy Cap/Martin Cooper CC BY2.0
Livid Agaric/presumably Archenzo, CC BY-SA3.0
Black garlic/Alexander Talbot, CC BY2.9
Mushroom picker/Vittorio Giovara, CC BY2.0