mushrooming.pl – bay boletes
Mushroom hunting is very dear to the hearts of Polish people.
Referred to as “grzybobranie” (fungi picking) or just “na grzyby” (go for mushrooms), it is often called a “national sport” in local media.
Each family may have their own favorite woods where they head to every year. There are also websites were people share their finds, creating live fungi frequency maps.
September and October are when the craze is at its peak. Dozens of edible fungi species are picked, but the most common in this autumn season is likely the bay bolete, podgrzybek brunatny. Some sought-after kinds appear outside of this time span and therefore some mushroomers head to forests earlier, for example to pick chanterelles, available from June to October.
Friends took me to a forest in Zapust near Ostroróg in Szamotuły County, Western Poland. There were no other foragers around so the woods were basically in our hands. With few exceptions, we found almost exclusively bay boletes. Only them but aplenty.
Its Latin name is Imleria badia, althought is was previously also known as Boletus badius and Xerocomus badius. The full Polish name, podgrzybek brunatny, should be actually spelled as podgrzyb brunatny since the last taxonomical change. Either way, people refer to them simply as podgrzybek (plural: podgrzybki).
The species is related to the much less frequent and arguably tasier cep or king bolete (Boletus edulis). The porcini, as ceps are referred to in culinary context, are much more in-demand and, simply put, famous. Bay boletes have consequenlty got a reputation of its inferior cousin – perhaps unfairly so, as they are also quite flavorsome. The two are rather similar to each other and the uninitiated (some would prefer to say: the undemanding) may not notice the difference both in the basket and on the plate. The Polish names for the cep / porcino are borowik szlachetny or prawdziwek.
Foraging is popular all around Europe, but Central and Eastern nations are particularly passionate about it. According to statistics Latvians, Lithuanians, Finns and Czechs pick even more often than Poles. In Latvia as much as 60% of families engage in the activity.
Quantity limits, forest restrictions and licensing are the reasons for which the Western part of the continent is less prone to casual fungi hunting. Still, even if less mushrooms are picked and less families set off to forests, the total worth of the harvest in countries like France and Germany is much higher. It’s due to their size (larger populations and territory), but also economy (higher prices) and prestige (“things West” are worth more). Warmer climates have more biodiversity too (think Italy and truffles).
In this gallery/article I focused on boletes, but I would love to photograph and write more about other species in the future. Before I collect better footage, let me mention this one more mushroom we encountered that day.
It’s cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa). It has many names in Polish, including kozia broda (literally ‘goat beard’), szmaciak (‘rag’ or ‘raggy’ mushroom) or siedzuń (probably from ‘siedzieć’ – ‘to sit’). All these monikers embody its looks: it’s like a cauliflower or a ragged cloth ‘sitting’ in the forest litter. I would also add a comparison to lettuce or sponge. In Poland, it is dried, fried while fresh or pickled. The young fungus is appreciated for its nutty zing. When old, it gets tough and loses flavor. It can grow to really considerable sizes: up to 1m in diameter and above 10 kg! We found just small-to-medium ones – see the pictures above and below.
The species was considered endangered until 2014 but can bee freely picked now. Unlike in some other countries where it is still under protection – so if you want to try it, consider visiting Poland.
Cut into pieces, string on a thread, leave to dry. You can do it yourself, but why not with grandma? Grannies know best.
After the outdoor photo session let’s proceed to the indoor one. Some shrooms go straight to the pot while still fresh. With some butter, chopped onions and a bit of cream added, we ate them that very evening (pictured). A similar fate awaited the cauliflower fungus (not pictured). Yummy.
The rest of boletes were strung on threads and left to dry. The grandma’s way! Behind the window is the Golden Polish Autumn (Złota Polska Jesień) – which is how the Poles describe the beauty of the fall season, a term somewhat akin to “Indian summer” in English.
I returned some days later to photograph the already dried boletes. The ‘necklaces’ were hanging on heaters. You see, in Poland many apartments, especially those in housing estates built during the communist times, still have old school ribbed radiators. Looks funky, don’t you think? But wait! Meow! Orkan the Cat has definitely stolen the show.