Foraging 101

6am is the designated time of departure into the dense forested area close to the Novak lodge. Mushrooms are on the menu today and they have to be hunted down, not in a supermarket, but in the dark, damp earth. I manage to miss the outing (thank God this isn’t a real job, or I’d be fired on my first day), as well as all the morning activity in the lodge. I tell my affable hosts that it’s the jet lag, but in truth, I don’t believe in doing anything at 6am, except sleeping. Luckily, for my benefit, there’s a second excursion planned.

As a first time forager I’m quite pleased with myself, since I manage to fill my simple, round woven basket to the rim with large, cream-colored mushrooms within only a half hour. This isn’t so hard, I tell myself, why all the fuss about getting up early to start the prolonged, rugged search.

I’m soon discouraged, though, when Miriam points out that all my pristine, perfectly shaped mushrooms are poisonous and have to be discarded. She assumed I could easily handle my first task, but discovers instead that I will need close supervision. As a city girl, born and raised in Houston, Texas, in the time of mega-supermarkets, I just failed Foraging 101.

Mushroom Hunting with Miriam

Mushrooming is a time-consuming activity and on this damp summer morning, I would soon discover a new appreciation for fungus. First of all, you have to know which ones to pick, since the majority are inedible and some, even deadly. Secondly, you have to scourer the ground, poking under leaves to find only a handful. Then they are carefully cut, without pulling at the roots, before gently covering the ground again with foliage. This enables the cycle to continue. Guarding the best mushroom spots with a veil of secrecy is also very important; hence the early morning start. It’s all about getting to the gold first, before your neighbors get out of bed. It all makes sense now, however, I feel blessed that I don’t have to scour fungus for a living, though, from time to time, a jaunt in the forest is not a bad thing.

Mushrooms from Kocevje Forest

Two hours later, coated in mud, we manage to gather a full basket of mushrooms between the two of us, as well as a number of tiny, sweet strawberries from thick green vines growing next to the forest road. The mushrooms–porcini and yellow chanterelle–are incredible. We grill them to accompany the beef filet at dinner, saving some for our own lunch—porcini and cream mixed with fresh pasta. I’m allowed to puree the strawberries  into a lovely dessert sauce for drizzling on fried elderberries, which I cut from a tree beside the barn.  Dusted with powdered sugar, they are served hot. Miriam explains to me that this is a old-time dessert made by grandmothers.

Frying Elderberry Flowers

I’m exhausted after my first day of work, but it’s also very satisfying . Was it worth it? Definitely.

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