When my sister sent me this picture of a boleta mushroom she knew it would make me smile. She knew I would immediately remember those days when our mother sent us with a basket or a lard bucket to hunt for mushrooms on Firewood Heights.
Firewood Heights was not the steepest hill on our place called Pinedale. But it was a big hill, a thickly wooded hill, a good place for cutting sturdy oak saplings for the den fire and the kitchen stove. And it was a good place, after a long soaking rain, to find mushrooms.
Dad had taught us all how to distinguish the good mushrooms from the bad. I never saw a book around our house on how to tell which mushrooms were edible. I don’t know exactly how he knew so well which ones to look for. He said he had tested them, breaking the caps open to see if they changed color (those that turn blue are very, very bad), even putting his tongue briefly to a broken stem to taste if it were bitter, another bad sign. He showed us the elegant Caesars with their rusty red rooftops as well as others that looked like Caesars but were poisonous instead. He showed us the perky Boletas with their puffy rounded tops the color of red clay and also other mushrooms which looked similar but were very bad. There were certain puffballs that grew in the pasture that were safe and delicious, and an odd ear-like lichen growing on rotting logs. But our favorites were the boletas.
Mamma, too, knew her mushrooms and had taught us well. So when we went to hunt for mushrooms on Firewood Heights we knew what to look for. She knew just the kind of day that might be good for mushrooms so usually we were successful.
Mushrooming was one of our favorite jobs. We loved tramping around in the woods anyway, and there was something very invigorating about having a goal, enough mushrooms for supper. We learned how to hunt along fallen logs, yet also to have sharp eyes for open leafy areas where boletas could be found standing like fairy gazebos just waiting for us to spy them or sometimes in friendly groups of three or four. It was a game to see who could find the most or the prettiest ones just popped up that very morning from the sodden leaves, or the biggest ones, Caesars with their wider rooftops that might have been there the day before.
Anyone who has had the joy of hunting Easter eggs amongst the lilies would know how much fun it could be to find a small stand of youthful boletas or a Caesar hiding behind a tree. The rush of excitement is similar to when one pulls branches apart to reveal a robin’s nest of three perfect blue eggs. Sometimes we shouted with glee when we found the mushrooms. Other times, if our own basket were almost empty, we might pluck the mushrooms up hurriedly before making any announcement.
We loved walking in the back door with our baskets or buckets well laden. Mamma would smile in delight. She, and sometimes Dad, would carefully inspect the contents of our baskets to be sure we’d harvested good mushrooms, not poisonous ones. And that night for supper, along with other things, Mamma would fry the mushrooms in an iron skillet. Nothing ever tasted better.
Mamma and Dad taught us about mushrooms and about a lot of other things. It was important to them that we know the good from the bad, not just concerning mushrooms, but about so much more.
So, yes, Suzanne, I did smile when I saw your picture of that perky boleta standing so erectly amongst the leaves like a lone soldier on guard.
4 responses to “Hunting Mushrooms”
I too smiled; Orman and I spent lots of time hunting Boletas. By our creek was a great place. Sw
How interesting! I did’t know you did that.
Memories-aren’t they precious?
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It was fun, wasn’t it!