Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Burčák, mushrooms and falling leaves

By this time of year, keen observers will notice two things have appeared in great quantities in the Czech Republic. One is the cloudy, bottled liquid for sale at markets and streetside stalls and the other is the wicker baskets that people seem to have decided to carry all at once.

The cloudy liquid is Burčák, the still fermenting young wine express delivered from the vineyards of South Moravia, and the baskets are for mushrooms.

Collecting mushrooms from the forest is such a popular pastime among Czechs that they are considered the world leaders. According to the Czech Agricultural University's 2006 report on the state of forests and forest economies, 70% of Czechs go mushrooming at least once a year and each household collects on average more than 8kg of mushrooms in a season.

For short term visitors to the country, keep an eye out for mushrooms on sale at street markets or as special offers on restaurant menus. They're a local delicacy as much as anything else you might like to try during your stay, and anything on sale publicly like this will be good. Some of the varieties are extremely poisonous, so if you do stumble across and decide to pick wild mushrooms by yourself, please, please, please ask somebody knowledgable to check them for you before you even think about going anywhere near the kitchen.

The muchomurka variety is one to be especially careful with. The pink muchomurka is an edible mushroom, but it's very, very similar in appearance to the red muchomurka, which is a strong psychotrope and the white, tiger and green muchomurky which are among the deadliest mushrooms in the world. It might sound simple enough just to eat the pink ones, but the colours of the mushrooms do not always correspond to their names and especially the tiger muchomurka can be tricky to distinguish from the edible pink variety.

For anyone who is around the country a bit longer, mushrooming is an activity you can probably take part in, even if you don't realise it. Keen mushroomers guard their favourite locations carefully, so nobody is going to tell you where to go, but if you let it be known that you can be ready early on the morning after a decent rain, you'll probably find that most of your Czech friends will be happy to take you along.

On a vow of secrecy of course.


Brett said...

nice story greg - will have to make it back to CR in Sept some day

Captain Oddsocks said...

Cheers Brett. September really is a good time to visit CR. Weather's good, castles and caves are all still open, theatres and music clubs have reopened after this summer break and in some places the autumn colours are astounding.