Foragers agree: it’s been a standout year for mushrooms in Berlin-Brandenburg. There are more than enough to go around, so even late-rising foragers like myself can find pretty little specimens that are still young and snappy, like these Hexenpilze, dotted-stem boletes…
…or this tiny birch bolete, which I actually saw grow from a tiny brown button on the ground to this size over the course of an afternoon.
I only started learning my mushrooms about 7 years ago, when I moved to Germany, where the practice is much more popular than among Americans, more of whom seem to have a fear of wild mushrooms. But because my partner and his family are passionate mushroom hunters, I learned quickly. Now I can’t think of a better way to spend a late summer or autumn weekend than heading into the mossy woods with a couple baskets and our favorite mushroom knives (one of which even has a brush on one end for removing dirt, sand and moss).
Now that I think about it, mushrooms combine many of my interests. They are visually beautiful, and hunting for them is a satisfying combination of working with your hands and with your brain — learning some mushroom biology so you can identify your favorites and avoid poisonous doppelgänger. Can you spot the porcini among the other edible mushrooms in the picture below?
On a more instinctive level, foraging seems to activate some primitive reward center in the brain, something leftover from our the hunter-and-gatherer era, because it’s really addictive. I’ve seen this happen to many a friend — once your eyes get adjusted and you start spotting more and more mushrooms, it’s hard to stop.
And of course, at the end, you get to cook and eat them! Grilled in foil, in cream sauce on pasta, simply sautéed with onions and butter and served on toast… and whatever you can’t eat fresh, you can slice thinly, dry and stow away in glass jars, to tide you over until the next mushroom season.