Russian mushroom hunting

With snow still on the ground of course we’re dreaming of Spring weather. That will lead to summer and the most important activity of summer, mushroom hunting!

I don’t know why mushrooms hold such a place of importance in Russian life. Perhaps it is akin to my love affair with books. I can hike all over a giant bookstore, especially those stores with second hand books. Were it not for Mrs. Mendeleyeva’s gentle pleading, I could easily spend a day in a large bookstore. Why, there may be an interesting book hidden under that pile. Or maybe that pile over there.

Whichever Russian said “a fish in the belly and vodka in the glass makes for a happy life” apparently hadn’t considered the mushrooms his countrymen so covet. Yes, a Russian, or Ukrainian for that matter, will spend all day in the forest, emerging either happy or sad many hours later depending on whether the foraging for mushrooms was a success.

What good is a forest if it produces no mushrooms?! My point exactly.

To be sure, some families use mushrooms as a meat substitute during the strict Easter and Nativity (Christmas) fasting periods. But mushroom hunting is a tradition that most Russians take seriously, very seriously.

Last summer I discovered a mushroom growing in the back yard of our Moscow region dacha. Was I allowed to “harvest” it myself? Heck no, the adult ladies called the children over and little nieces and nephews squealed with delight as they “discovered” what I had already found.

Mushroom hunting in the forest on a weekend is almost a religion and personally I think that the Russian Orthodox Church should be concerned about the competition. The only problem is that your average forest is also teaming with monks and nuns trying to sniff out the same mushrooms you seek.

I can’t immediately think of an activity in the West that matches the pure gusto and delight that brings a family together in the same way that mushroom hunting does for the typical Russian brood. Can you?