A few weekends ago, the temperatures were projected to climb to the 90’s… and rather than sit around in the stifling heat, we climbed up to the mountains instead. It was a great weekend to get away with some friends… and, we also had another motive for running for the hills – it was a prime hunting weekend for Porcini mushrooms!
We were in for a special treat as we made our way up the winding mountain roads. A small cattle drive! Around this time of the year, the cows are escorted down the mountain… and, of course, it’s with great fan fare and festivity. The locals celebrate their safe return after a summer grazing and lounging away on the mountain pastures.
“Over 2,100 alpine farms nestled amidst the Arlberg and Kaiser Mountains, Karwendel and Lienz Dolomites accommodate around 110,000 heads of cattle, 70,000 sheep. 5,500 goats and 2,000 horses for summer grazing. When the cattle are herded back down to the valley after around four months, local people with the holidaymakers celebrate their safe homecoming in spectacular style. The animals are decked out in magnificent headdresses, garlands of flowers and ribbons, with bells attached to their heavy leather collars in thanks for an accident free summer on the alpine pastures. This occasion is known as Almabtrieb in German.” – tyrol.com
I always get the warm fuzzies when I see the cows lying out in the sun, munching on grass and flowers. They seem like truly ‘happy cows’. But, they definitely leave a mark on the landscape… and the mountains can be dangerous for these wandering cows. Switzerland has similar experiences.
1. Happy Cow 2. Young Shaggy Ink Caps 3. Fresh Catch 4. Cleaned and Trimmed 5. Pool Party
Finally, up at the hut, there was some fun, some splashing… but, don’t forget, the mission was MUSHROOMS! Auntie Phia gave us a crash course on finding Porcini mushrooms, a knife, and a cotton bag and we were off!
I’m not even going to start writing about the Porcini mushroom… I’ll be here forever and open a can of worms that I’ll never be able to close. But, I’ll just ramble off a few fun facts and/or tips I learned this weekend:
1. Don’t wear sneakers while mushroom hunting. Remember the marks left behind by cows? Well, those would be huge holes left by their hooves… that are usually filled with wet mud! Mmmm… Our poor Coco walked into one of these holes and was stuck belly deep in the mud! Water-proof hiking boots all the way! Besides, as Mikel says, if you’re busy watching your step, you won’t be able to really look for mushrooms!
2. Be happy to find the poisonous toadstool, Amanita Muscaria. When you find one of these, then the conditions are also optimal for the Porcini mushroom!
3. These mushrooms live symbiotically (aka mycorrhizal) with certain trees – pine, birch, spruce, helmlock, and fir, to name a few. Lift up the lower branches that touch the ground – mushrooms can hide there!
1. Beautiful Sunset 2. Shaggy Ink Caps 3. Sliced Porcini 4. Porcini 5. The Return
4. Look for the spongy underside of the mushroom cap – don’t harvest anything with gills! Or anything like the evil-looking shaggy ink cap mushroom! We encountered a group of interesting tall mushrooms that in the next day opened up to look like they had been dipped in black tar – super cool and super scary at the same time. But don’t listen to me, I’m judging this book by its cover… apparently, you can eat these mushrooms… IF you know when and how to prepare them.
5. Don’t hang your new sunglasses in the crook of your shirt – as they will fall off silently into a giant mud puddle… and no matter how many times you back track, every muddy hole looks like the other one… and so on and so forth. Besides, what are you thinking bringing sunnies when you’ll be so focused on looking at the ground anyway?
6. Bring a thermos of water and some fruit or a hard-boiled egg – helps keep the energy (and the moods) up!
7. Clean your mushrooms, slice off any slug eaten bits (be ready to fight with these slugs, as they love Porcini just as much as we do!)… and don’t cringe when all of the fly maggots come out to say hello! We let them just crawl out as we sliced the mushrooms. They’ll die in the drying process.
8. Bring a yummy dessert to share with your mushroom hunting party… It’ll be a nice end to a very fun day!!!