This year has been very dry with no rainfall for 3 months, a very hot summer and only 2 days rain since October. Winter came early and we had 2 days of snow in mid-October but they were just brief and it warmed up again but it still hasn’t rained. Luckily the morning dew has been enough for the woodland fungi and no chemicals are used in these forests so all mushrooms are organic and very tasty. Every time I head off for a walk, I arm myself with suitable carriers because I’ve learnt these Rhodope Mountain tracks are brimming with mushrooms and I pick over 4kg in just half an hour. There are plenty of mushrooms I recognize, like Puffball and Parasol, but also new types which I take straight to our village expert. He’s been picking wild mushrooms in these mountains for over 50 years so I trust his judgement!
Last month, I discovered a new one I’d not seen before and nearly missed them. They grow at the edge of woodland, mainly around young self-seeded pine trees and almost hidden by the long grass. They have brown caps so don’t stand out against the dry undergrowth but once I’d got the OK I knew what to look for and they are easily picked, stem included. To make sure they grow again next year, you should cut the last ¼ from the stem and put back on the ground and their name is Slippery Jack.
They were named as such for a very good reason – their cap is very slimy and needs to be peeled off before cooking. It’s messy but the best method I’ve found is hold the mushroom in one hand by its thick stem, and using the other hand, peel back the cap skin towards the centre. Some peel easier than others and you can rinse your fingers under the tap if they become too sticky. When the brown skin is removed you should have pure white dense flesh with a bright yellow spongy layer underneath. The flesh of older specimens is more translucent brown/grey and the spongy layer is browner and should be removed as it can irritate the stomach. This layer is like a honeycomb and the older the mushroom is the easier it parts from the flesh (see photo below). Don’t eat these mushrooms raw though, I cook mine and make them into soup. They are at their best when young, 5-6 cm diameter.
Lastly 2 tips
1. When picking mushrooms its best to get them early in the morning when they are full of moisture and put them in a paper bag otherwise plastic makes them sweat. Also it’s a good idea the have the paper bag inside a plastic bag as if the mushrooms are wet the paper bag will not hold together for long! I also take a rucksack because these mountains are quite steep and it’s a good idea to have both hands free.
2. Get your mushrooms verified by an expert or use a good book as mushrooms are not worth taking a risk over!