Americans tend to be inexperienced mushroom hunters. The Russians, in addition to collectively being the world’s most fanatical chess players, were also the world’s most devout mushroom hunters.

A Russian mushroom hunter took me on a mid-July mushroom hunt during one rainy summer after the rain had caused the mushrooms to grow, and he showed me how to stalk the “krasnaya golovka” or “red cap.” These are varieties of vaccinium mushrooms which have six-inch-wide, bright reddish-brown caps. They grow widely scattered among lodgepole thickets and beargrass on ridges. It takes lots of walking to find them.

We got into a much more abundant, smaller mushroom, which he called the “maslanka” — a bright orange and yellow mushroom called the “velvet bolete” in English. These are also tasty, especially when dried.

The important fact I learned was that my friend carried a hunting knife and he always sliced the stalks of his ‘shrooms off at the ground, leaving the roots (mycelium), before dropping them into this homemade willow basket. If you rip out the roots, you kill the mushroom patch. I’ve ruined a morel patch by naively ripping up the roots.

Lee Onishuk,


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