Because porcini simply taste twice as good when you have found them yourself, food expert Sven Christ shows us the art of real outdoor cooking. Part 3: Mushroom polenta for the hiking break
There is a phase of the year when my food friends suddenly talk about dry periods after rain, or they mention in passing that they have to "go to the forest" tomorrow. But friend X doesn't have a dog, and friend Y usually avoids outdoor activities.
It's mushroom season.
Very little knowledge in Germany is still passed on from generation to generation exclusively orally. The knowledge of mushrooms is part of it. If you don't have parents or grandparents who went into the forest with you to explain when where mushrooms are, which variety grows on which tree, what is found at the edge of the forest, in the moss or on the meadow, you will have difficulties to become a good mushroom hunter. But it's not impossible.
I used to go to the forest with my uncle, he showed me chanterelles, red caps, chestnuts and porcini mushrooms. But that was so long ago that I wanted to refresh my knowledge. So I asked my buddy Toni to take me mushroom picking. I'll never forget the look on his face. It was like asking him on a date with his daughter. A resounding no.
Only two days and numerous phone calls later he softened up and took me with him into the forest outside the city gates. He would have liked best to put a jute bag over my head when I arrived, to keep the place secret. On site then the bad luck of the overzealous: no pickable mushroom far and wide. All gnawed and worm-eaten. So the next few weeks we try again and again: wait for a rainy phase and a few days of dryness - and then start very early.
One morning they stood there as if they were just waiting for us. Already at the edge of the forest the parasols stood like a promise, and deeper in the forest it really started: chestnuts, red caps and a few strong porcini mushrooms. The basket would be full, that was obvious.
Because mushroom pickers often hang around in remote places in the forest and scan the area with a trained eye, they often find the bodies of disappeared people
But because it was still very early in the morning, first a safety precaution: I put on a colorful cap and remembered the rule of my uncle: Under no circumstances wear muted tones, the more gaudy the better. In fact, mushroom season also means hunting season, and the statistics are clear: in France and Italy (giant porcini mushrooms!), about 200 people are shot by hunters every season because they are confused with wild boar or other game. Most on Sundays, by the way. Because mushroom pickers often hang around in remote places in the forest and scan the area with a trained eye, they also often find the bodies of disappeared people.
Mushroom hunting has relatively little to do with picturesque landscapes, because mushrooms do not necessarily grow where it is beautiful. Sometimes you have to walk for hours in the forest to find the one place.
The polenta gave me energy and warmth - it was the best thing that could happen to me at that moment
Because the way can be long and you usually can't pass a hut or an inn, I had packed a cooker, a small pot and a jar of polenta. Hot vegetable broth I had in a thermos flask, some herbs, butter, oil and cheese in a box.
All mushrooms that I found, I could assign one hundred percent (to be on the safe side, hobby collectors should always have their finds checked; there are mushroom identification offices in almost all cities). The porcini and red caps stayed in the basket, but I fried some chestnuts in oil, with herbs and some butter, poured some polenta on them and filled them up with vegetable broth. I let everything simmer for a few minutes while stirring it evenly and then added butter and grated cheese. The polenta gave me energy and warmth - it was the best thing that could happen to me at that moment. Finally I had an eye for the forest, and not only for the soil and the prey. A glass of red wine would have topped the whole thing, I thought as I made my way back. The remaining booty had to be cleaned.
For mushroom picking you need a basket in which the mushrooms can lie loose, a cloth to cover them is also not wrong. You also need a small brush and a small sharp knife to cut away bad spots immediately. The blade of the knife must never be longer than 12 centimeters, otherwise it is forbidden by the weapons law!
Cut the mushrooms and fry them with the herbs in some olive oil, salt lightly and add a teaspoon of butter. After 3 minutes, add the polenta and pour the vegetable stock over it. Bring to the boil and then simmer at reduced heat for 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Finally, stir in the cheese and the remaining butter.