PHOTO: Rick Gush
Rick Gush
October 8, 2010

Gino shows off the huge Porcini mushroom he foraged this year.

It’s a good fall for collecting mushrooms this year. My wife and I drove up into the mountains this week to attend an agricultural festival, and the side of the road on the way up was dotted with the parked cars of mushroom hunters. We saw a lot of them carrying their harvest baskets filled with mushrooms, and we saw a fair number of wild-boar hunting parties, as well.

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The most coveted mushrooms are the huge Porcini. We stopped at a friend’s home on the way up and took a photograph of her neighbor, Gino, who had just returned from his morning of foraging. He had a kerchief full of mushrooms and was happy to pose with one of his prizes.

Porcini mushrooms are Boletus edulis and are appreciated because they are large, extremely tasty and, best of all, they can’t be confused with some other species that might be poisonous. I do a little bit of mushroom collecting myself, and one of the most frustrating situations is finding some wonderful looking mushrooms and then not being certain if they are an edible type or not.

One does not want to be daring when harvesting wild mushrooms. I have a half dozen mushroom-collecting field guides that I take with me, and I always spend more time looking at the books trying to identify my finds than I do actually foraging. I’m learning, and there are now a lot of different species I can recognize, but I always find even more fruits that I cannot identify. There are a few places in Rapallo where I can take my mushroom harvest to have them identified, but it’s sort of a hassle. I can understand how people make mistakes and assume that what they have found is an edible variety.

Unfortunately, the news tells stories every year of people who have poisoned themselves with wild mushrooms. There was a whole family that died last year, and the year before that, a bunch of nuns in killed themselves and their convent’s guests with a deadly mushroom dish served for dinner.  Obviously, the fact that Porcini are easy to identify correctly is a big plus for mushroom collectors.

Italian craft artists

Photo by Rick Gush

Italian craft artists showed me the lace crafts their grandmothers taught them.

The ag festival was a typical Italian affair, with a whole bunch of booths crowded together inside an exposition area, all selling various cheeses, salamis, breads, produce and ag-related handicrafts. We loaded up on cheese, corn bread cookies and a small salami made from wild boar meat.

My favorite part of these affairs is chatting up all the oldsters demonstrating their heritage crafts.  The women pictured right were making lace crafts and were quite happy to talk to me at length about how they had learned this craft from their own grandmothers. Plus, they showed me the fresh borage and bietole (beets) ravioli they had just made.

We went to a restaurant for lunch with our friend and enjoyed, among other dishes, a plate of polenta with Porcini. Polenta is like corn mush and really good with a bit of mushrooms and gravy.  I also had stinco di maiale, a big leg bone covered with tender meat, sort of like a monster barbecued rib. I enjoyed my lunch and took the leftover bone with me in a doggy bag. Later, while wandering through the town of Santo Stefano, I gave the bone to a very appreciative dog.

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