Sunday, October 11, 2020


As a kid I LOVED fall. It was my favorite season for a lot of reasons: going back to school and seeing my friends every day, the smell of leaves, cooler weather, puddle jumping excursions, and of course my birthday. Autumn was also the gateway to winter- ski season! My first bout of seasonal depression was in 8th grade when we moved from Germany to New Mexico. Depression is an exaggeration, and typically when people talk about seasonal depression it's due to a lack of sunshine, but I was so disappointed that New Mexican September, and even October, did not feel like fall. It just was just a slightly cooler version of summer. There's no concern about limited sun exposure when you live at 32 degrees latitude! That first year I remember Dad driving us to Cloudcroft for the first time and I made such a fuss about how much of relief it was to see the changing leaves and smell the smells of fall that were missing in the more deserty Las Cruces.

I got over my initial distaste of the the desert, but I did move to Bellingham, WA for college, which regularly ranks as the US city with the least amount of sunshine in the year. Twilight was based in the Pacific Northwest for a reason! In Bellingham I was introduced to the medical condition S.A.D.- seasonal affect disorder. When others complained about the rain and gloom, I cheekily claimed that I had eagerly elected 300 days of rain over 300 days of sun each year. I should say that those numbers are not at all supported by a quick Google search.  

It was only in my final year at WWU that the persistent gray started to sink into my psyche. I remember walking across campus through another day of fine mist and thinking "I can see why this might bother people." Every year since then, it's gotten a little worse, and about two years ago I started to admit to myself that maybe I do suffer from S.A.D. Surely the public accounting busy season schedule doesn't help; it's a real bummer to arrive at the office before the sun rises and then leave after it has already set. Because of the long working hours (including on the weekends) I don't even get the chance to fully appreciate the joys of fall and winter.

Despite now living in sunnier Krakow, this year my winter woes hit an all-time high. Somewhere around early May I started to get concerned that we were approaching the summer solstice, which meant that the days would start to get shorter. Clearly future-tripping about the forecasts seven months in the future is a problem. Surely there was some fear about missing out on summer because of Coronavirus restrictions; although I was working shorter work days at that time I wasn't able to leave the house and enjoy those extra hours. As I've written before, Cameron and I did a pretty good job of making the most of our summer, yet I've been lamenting the onset of fall just the same. 

There is, however, one very special thing to look forward to in the fall (besides my birthday, of course). In both Washington and Poland, autumn is mushrooming season! 

For a long time, I didn't even like the taste of mushrooms but I think my love for foraging helped me to develop a keen appreciation for finding wild fungi. It probably started when I took an ecogastronomy class in college, then Cameron got a mushrooming book, and now I am the proud owner of a mushrooming knife. While mushrooming is a wonderful pastime among the granola community in Washington, it is a far more wide spread and serious activity in Poland. 

In the months of September and October, millions of people head to the woods in search of edible mushrooms. There are many varieties that can be found in Poland, but there are also a fair share of poisonous look-alikes so novice mushroomers are encouraged to buddy up with a more experienced guide. If you are a novice mushroomer, it's also pretty unlikely that you will happen across an edible patch anyways since those who are serious about the search are likely to scope out their patch very early in the morning and by no means will anyone share the location of their favorite mycelium purely out of the kindness of their heart. Many families have been passing down mushroom spots for generations- longer than the US has even been a country. 

As I'm sure is the case anywhere, there are a few hundred poisonings and a few dozen mushroom-related deaths every year. After all, there is a species called "death cap" that is common in the Polish woods. To preemptively avoid mushroom-related admissions, I've read that many medical centers will review your foraging hordes for inedible varieties. Vendors must also have their goods checked before they can sell them to the public. 

The mushroom species are pretty similar between Washington and Poland, and there are a few that I would confidently eat if I came across them (boletes, chanterelles, lobsters). That being said, I am happy to rely on the work of others. During these early autumn months produce markets are filled with mushroom booths. Dozens of varieties are available and make up a lovely collage of brown, white, yellow, and orange. The rest of the year there are still vendors selling farmed varieties, and you can often also find dried or pickled options from the previous year's harvest. Last weekend we got a few large handfuls of a small pretty orange mushroom for 15 złoty (~$4 USD) which made a really tasty vegetarian stroganoff. No, stroganoff is not a traditional Polish meal but you can have local mushrooms in traditional Polish pierogis, bigos, sauces, and soups. 

When I go out to the forest, I have no expectations to find edible mushrooms. Instead I seek out interesting mediums that I can incorporate into my foraged art projects. Even with a broader search interest, due to popularity of mushroom hunting and the mysterious nature of mycelium, no one is guaranteed to find mushrooms when they go out searching. Even those who are willing to wake up at 4am and go to a remote woods can't guarantee they'll find anything, so those who are out on the hunt need to prepare themselves to be satisfied with a nice forest walk as a consolation prize. 

The joys of mushrooming only lasts for a few weeks. At best it expands from September to early November, so it can't be the permanent cure to season-changing woes, but I do think that going outside and getting intimate with nature helps delay the S.A.D. I'm able to re-appreciate fall knowing that the cooler, moister weather is bringing these tasty and surprisingly beautiful fun guys (get it, fungi?). 

Mushrooms are so beautiful and varied. I love the colors and textures. 

Stary Kleparz is the place to go for any fresh local produce. 

Fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms are available right now. 

Turkey tail! 

More mushroom art. I love the big shelf fungi but I need to figure out better ways to use them in my art. 

Mushroom stroganoff. It tasted better than it looks!

Once you start looking mushrooms are everywhere!

These little pokers looked so cute!

Some finds from one of the produce stands today. 

No comments:

Post a Comment