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A delectable quirk of mushroom – picking

When you wish to run away from hustle and bustle (hubbub), of political issues connected with spreading Coronavirus. If you are fed up with working or home duties, consider your visit to Polish forests. At the end of the summer, when one can smell the autumn coming in warm air, our woods are full of toothsome mushrooms, like boletus, porcini, or chanterelles.

As a foreigner arriving at the new place to settle down and anchor here, this habit grabs your attention. Even if you try to unveil the mysteries of mushrooms foraging, you merely scratch the nature of the subject. As a result, your colleagues from the office show off their baskets’ majority of Polish brown specimens on Facebook but you are still surprised or sometimes confused and wondering how it is possible to find relaxation and fun with walking between trees and picking up gifts of the forests. Frankly speaking, your amazement is justifiable. Why do most Polish people try to take part in the mushroom craze? I am going to put the light on this tradition.

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Back in the day generally believing that mushrooms were made by God. When The Lord was walking with Saint Peter through the world, they were eating the bread. The mushrooms were grown by crumbs of bread fallen down on the ground. In the Middle Ages, people existed taking advantage of nature.  It is not surprising that common practice was picking up mushrooms, too. As a result, Polish cuisine has plenty of dishes with mushrooms in the main role or in the background. We dry them, stew them, pickle them in vinegar, we put them inside of popular fillings for Polish “pierogi”. We can’t imagine Polish “bigos” without them.  A traditional Polish Christmas Eve soup is made with drying or frozen mushrooms – depends on the home.  And these conversations at the Christmas table when members of the family resemble the time spending in the forest during the last autumn.

A Polish tradition of mushroom picking is described also in our national epic “Pan Tadeusz” written by Adam Mickiewicz. Below there is a part of his outstanding masterpiece:

“How could the Count have guessed that these silent
creeping people were the Judge‘s guests?
 That after sumptuous breakfast they all went
to gather mushrooms—one of the ritual quests
 Still done in Lithuania. They were all
 respectable people who knew just how
to moderate speech and movement; they could recall
the stringent rules of etiquette, so now
they trailed the Judge, and likewise dressed
in his attire, donning canvas capes
to ward off the forest damp, and had expressed
delight when large straw hats of various shapes
were passed around. Thus it was no surprise
that they appeared like spirits from Purgatory,
since all but Telimena wore this disguise. 

The Count, confused by this ritual foray,
dashed off, convinced that it was wrong to stay.”

Translated by Leonard Kress

As you can also notice one of the characters in the epic encountered the problem with understanding this Polish autumn tradition. The Count was growing up out of borders so when he arrived here every Polish habit was discovered by him. Obviously, as a reader, you follow him and get to know more about Polish celebrations, holidays, traditions.  The uniqueness lies in the Polish way of thinking about mushroom picking. As Mickiewicz described: it was like a small holiday, celebrated by a group of people who were guests of the Judge. They were walking in the silence, taking a glance at the moss, looking for the best of the mushrooms: magnificent porcini or luscious milk caps. In a split of common opinion, it was not a boring way of spending time. Elder members of the family were organizing a competition who picked up the most of mushrooms or who found the biggest one. Apparently, there was an amazing possibility to integrate people with each other. Sometimes in the middle of the forest members of mushrooms picking took part in a small picnic and full of emotions they were coming back home with baskets plenty of mushrooms.

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Nowadays, it is also a day off, it doesn’t depend on weekdays. When we take part in it, we feel more relaxed. Lonely in a forest, admire the beauty of nature; contemplate the silence around us, and wonder how wonderful our world is. We have to focus on the activity because it is easy to make a mistake. Undoubtedly, great skill is required to ensure. Knowledge about kind of mushrooms is brought from the old generation to the young. Sometimes it is enough to put one bad of them inside the basket and it can cause a deadly accident. For this reason, I surmise this is the last tradition which can connect the elder and the young generation. The elder shares knowledge of mushrooms picking, the young can forget about the computer, mobile phones or work for a while. It is a beautiful possibility to meet both of the groups on the bridge connecting old traditions with nowadays life.

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