“Ask any Russian about mushrooming and you’ll hear their salivary glands activate, their voices gather breath as they expound on the beauty of the forest and the quiet thrill of the hunt in something akin to beat poetry," Julia Ioffe writes in Russia!'s Fall/Winter 2009 issue.
Ioffe’s essay offers a simple yet elegant snapshot of this enduring Russian custom, which she learned as child growing up outside Moscow. Ioffe narrates both the history of mushrooming and her introduction to its practice, illuminating an aspect of Russian life seldom seen by most Americans. Since “Shrooming” is not available online, here are some excerpts:
“It was a matter of great importance that I learn to forage for my own protein and so, almost as soon as I could walk, I was initiated into the cult of the mushroom.”
“Remarkably, respect for mushrooms in Russia is such that it transcends Russian disrespect for the environment. In a country where oil was left to pool on the ground and the Aral Sea was reduced to a salt plain, mushrooms were lovingly sliced down, not ripped out of the earth, to ensure future crops.”
She then explains the multitude of fungal varieties in loving detail, as “most Russians also moonlight as mycologists”, careful to delineate the edible from the poisonous by color and texture.
“One must know... that rotting birch is prime real estate for colonies of pale opyata (honey fungus) stacked atop one other like favela dwellings, though you should wait for autumn to gather them in earnest”
It all makes for highly engaging reading, emblematic of this unique new independent magazine, which devotes itself solely to Russian-related topics.