Autumn Season in Prague has started and many Czechs set out for their favourite Fall activity: Mushroom Foraging! Picking nature’s pearls in the forests of Czech Republic is both a hobby and a preparation for the winter months to come. But before you set out unprepared and unknowing, be sure to check out this guide to return successfully from your hunt.
The Ultimate Guide to Mushroom Picking in Prague
September has reached Prague after a couple of – wet – summer months. All those rained on lake days are now paying off, though: The more rain Czech Republic gets in summer, the more fungi sprout to the surface, glistening in the autumn sun, a few dewdrops rolling from their pretty hats. But beware: Not all mushrooms are edible and not every spot is meant to be picked over.
About the Tradition
Everybody knows: Czechs love mushroom foraging. Over 8 kilos of mushrooms per family are picked every year! It is nowadays a beloved free-time activity, to enjoy the time out in nature and pair it with something useful.
A little further back in time, wild mushrooms were an important meal source. Called ‘the meat of the poor’, mushrooms were affordable to absolutely everyone and besides that, full of vitamins, enzymes and more – of which even the pharma industry makes use of.
Today, mushroom hunting is somewhat a national sport and the season for fungi fans starts in May, peaking in September.
Know your Mushrooms
Obviously, you need to know your bounty before setting out to pick. Getting a little forager’s guide like this one that will tell you which mushrooms are edible and which not is a must. There are over 14’000 species of mushrooms known to the world – chances of it being the edible one you think you once saw in a book 10 years ago are rather low. You don’t want to be picking poisonous ones and ruin dinner for everybody.
An indicator that a mushroom is poisonous are white gills and a ring around the stem. If you notice any of those features, walk away and leave the mushroom alone. Of course, those are not the only two characteristics of poisonous mushrooms, which is why it is important to study your goods and if in doubt ask a professional for help. In any case: make sure to look up the mushrooms you are unsure about and do not eat them if you can’t safely confirm that they are meant to be eaten.
The Mushroom is probably poisonous if:
- It’s perfectly untouched (insects and other critters don’t eat poisonous mushrooms)
- The mushroom tastes bad
- Your bounty has bright, vivid colors (think the red of a fly agaric)
- The mushroom has a pointed cap
- The fungi has white gills and/or a ring around the stem
If in doubt, avoid anything you do not recognize. And we can’t stress enough: Always consult a professional before setting out to your mushroom hunt.
Common Edible Mushrooms in Czech Republic
After getting to know what not to collect, let’s have a look at some of the many edible mushrooms that inhabit Czech Republic’s forests.
Porchini Mushrooms / Boletus Edulis / Hribek
Known for their thick stem and their characteristic brownish color, Porcini (Piglet in Italian) mushrooms are a well-known delicacy around the world. A risotto with fresh Porcinis and a dash of Parmesan on top – sign us up! As many of its kind, the Porchini mushroom enters a symbiotic relationship – also called Mycorrhiza – with pine trees in order to get more water and their thick stems are not hollow. Porcinis are thus a fleshy and heavy delicacy to carry home.
Gypsy Mushroom / Rozites Caperata / Sluka Svarskala
With their shiny brown cap and their fleshy, white bodies, Gypsy Mushrooms are easily spotted in the forest. Especially distinctive are the wrinkly bottoms of the cap. The mild, tasty pearls love sprouting close to pines and prefer coniferous forests in general.
Morels / Morchella Esculenta / Smrz Obecny
Morchellas, with their honeycomb-like appearance, are some of the most wanted wild mushrooms in the world. What makes them different to other mushrooms is their texture. Instead of the soft, sometimes slimy texture, morels have a meaty body and nutty flavour. Morels are hard to find, which is why they are expensive to buy and a big find on your mushroom hunt!
- 2 Baskets: Do it like Cinderella; the ones that you are positive can be eaten go into one basket, the ones that you are unsure of into the other
- Good walking shoes; hunting for the perfect mushrooms involves a lot of walking
- Mushroom Guide
Places to Pick
The choice of places to hunt for mushrooms are vast in the Republic. When staying in Prague, try Ďáblice forest or Obora Hvězda. Reports of mushroom hunters having made bounty in Stromovka, Strahov and Divoka Šárka, make these three places worth checking out, too. Klanovice Forest is a little further out but one of the most promising places in the capital.
If you are willing to travel for your mushrooms a little bit, Kunratice Forest, the Brdy ridge and the (breathtakingly beautiful) Vysočina Region are said to house lots of fragrant, tasty mushrooms.
Before starting to randomly pick fungi, make sure they are a) edible and b) you are not on a private property or a protected area where foraging is strictly forbidden.
Do’s and Don’ts
Now you know what to pick and not to put in your basket, what to take with you and where to set out to. Before you sprint off, though, hear us out! There are a few (unwritten) rules when mushroom hunting.
First of all – against all instinct – you should pick on cloudy days rather than sunny ones. This is, because mushrooms tend to be meatier and in better shape when it’s not boiling hot outside. When foraging for mushrooms, try to go to coniferous forests, as they hold more mushrooms than deciduous ones.
Upon arrival, scan the area for the desired good. Foraging is a lot of walking up and down, finding the perfect spots and mushrooms to pick. To make things easier, try finding a point that lies higher up, so you can overlook the area.
While cutting mushrooms loose, make sure you leave some of the fungi for wild life. They depend on food from the local forests and the mother stems need time to produce more of them.
When you found what you were looking for, make sure to not keep your pearls from the forest in a plastic bag; it makes them sweat and lose flavour and shape. Use a paper back or basket instead.
If on your way back (or there), you spot a boar, keep away – they are merciless and pretty strong. Try to avoid getting into their hunting ground.
Most importantly, stick to the golden rule when unsure about a mushroom: If in doubt, throw it out!
How to Pick Mushrooms
- Scan area for mushrooms (uphill is better)
- Make sure you are not on a private property or protected reserve
- Make sure the mushrooms you have found are edible
- Only collect mushrooms that have outgrown their button stage; only pick mushrooms with an opened cap
- Do not damage the base of the stalk, so new mushrooms can grow; do not pull on the mushroom or dig it up – use your knife and cut the mushroom off about 5 centimeters from the ground.
- Only pick fleshy mushrooms with no diseases
- Store your mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge or dry them, if you prefer
Traditional Mushroom Dishes
You’ve returned from the forest with your bounty and wonder what to make out of it? Traditionally, Czechs separate their mushrooms into different uses. Before separating them, make sure to brush off the pearls of the forest with a brush or towel and cut off any chewed on bits. Avoid using water, as this may result in mold.
The mushrooms that get sticky, when out of the grown (also called clozsky) are up first. Throw them straight into a hearty mushroom soup to simmer and enjoy within 30 minutes. Then pick out the smaller fungi, as they make a great side dish with eggs. The large mushrooms are then cut into pieces, dried and stored for the upcoming winter season. Make sure you place them in a dark and dry place, let them dry in a sunny spot with low humidity for about two days (or dry them in the oven for several hours) and then store them in jars.
If you’re keen on trying more mushroom inspired Czech dishes, you should try ‘Smaženice‘. Simply fry up your mushrooms, add some onions and eggs and give it all a good old stir. Then serve it on toast or bread. And for all vegetarians that love the thought of Schnitzel, yet want to stick to their promise; why not try making Houbove Rizky? Instead of the meat, bread whole mushrooms and fry them up!
The classic autumn dish made out of mushrooms are noodles with mushrooms, onion and cream, topped with some parsley – and so comforting after a day out in the forest!
Mushroom foraging involves a lot of knowledge, patience and an eye for detail. The hours spent in the forest, walking around and studying fungi pays off, though. If you are unsure which mushrooms are edible, make sure you have an expert on hand to guide you and most of all, enjoy the walk through the forest kissed by Autumn’s colors! Happy Mushroom season!
Have you gone mushroom picking before? What are your tips? Which is your favourite place to find the perfect mushrooms? We want to hear all about it in the comments!
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