Monday, January 04, 2010

Mushroom Foraging in the Judean Hills

Two days into 2010 and I found myself headed out into the forests surrounding Jerusalem on a cool, crisp morning with a couple of mushroom-obsessed Russians. Our guide was Boris: forest ranger, Sea of Galilee fisherman and a St. Petersburg botanist in his former Soviet life. He moved to Israel 25 years ago and quickly set about getting to know every inch of the country's national park system.
Our mission: to hunt bucketfuls of wild fungi.

We learned some fun facts about Israel's green canopy that morning. Israel is the only country in the world with more trees today then when it was established 60 years ago. That's because it had practically no trees back in the day (if left alone, the land is essentially a desert). Almost all the greenery has been planted by JNF (some of you out there may even have a few Bar and Bat Mitzvah trees named in your honor!). The soil is rocky and laced with lava (good for grape growing) and the best time to search for mushrooms is after a spell of rain. It never rains in the summer so the winter months are the best time to forage.

What does mushroom hunting entail? A morning swig of vodka. Kidding! But I think Boris had something special in his canteen. Those wacky Russians. Seriously, mushrooms are tricky little suckers to find since they look almost like rocks - pale, sand-colored, camoflauged.
And the 50-year-old couple who joined us on this excurision were super competitive at this game, popping up from the brush every few minutes with a "found one" and proudly brandishing the rust-colored caps. On this patch of land we found mostly "gingies" named for the Hebrew word for redheads due to their gorgeous orange hue. After about an hour our eyes adjusted to the terrain and we were able to suss out a few thick-stemmed beauties. Our haul for the day was probably around 5 kilos, not too bad for a few amateur hunters.


ChadC said...

Great post and fantastic pictures. What did you end up doing with the mushrooms? How did you eat?

Great series from Tel Aviv by the way.

sara said...

Boris took the haul back home to wifey and cooked them in a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They were quite delicious and very similar to portobellos.

And I've been digging your posts from Colombia - makes me want to hop on over there.