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    Posted August 10, 2014 by
    Vidzeme, Latvia
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Travel photo of the day

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    Foraging for Woodland Gems

    In late August 2012, my brother and I spent three weeks in the Baltics. Shortly after we arrived into Latvia, we spent a day in Gauja National Park, doing as many a Latvian does – foraging for mushrooms. We were staying in Riga and the park is located just a short drive outside the city limits.

    Mushroom picking is an extremely popular activity in all three of the Baltic states. From June to September, you can find people out in the woods, with basket and knives in hand, ready to find their mushroom bounty. Being complete novices at mushrooming, I had arranged (through our travel agent) for an experienced guide to take us on our foraging trip.

    It was a picture perfect late summer’s day when we set out early in the morning. We had a single basket between the three of us. I had no idea what we would find but my hope was we would fill it.

    Our guide, Andris, started us off with a quick lesson on mushrooms – what to pick and how to pick. Knowing what not to pick was of paramount importance so we would avoid the poisonous mushrooms like members of the Amanita genus. Andris also trained us to look for old and decaying mushrooms as well as ones that were worm ridden – these we did not put in our basket. For our safety, we made an agreement that nothing would go into the basket without approval from Andris.
    As for picking, it was important that we use the knives to cut the mushroom off at the base of the stem and not to pull it from the ground. This would ensure that the mycelium would continue to produce mushrooms – it all goes to making mushrooming, when done responsibly, a very sustainable practice.

    Andris has been picking mushrooms ever since he was a young boy so his eyes are well trained to finding the mushrooms hidden in and under fallen leaves and moss. It took my brother and I some time to get going but soon, we were spotting all sorts of fungi – some edible, some not. I was amazed at the sheer variety of shapes, sizes and colors of the fungi.

    In no time, we were finding the edible gems and our basket began filling up quickly. We were mainly focusing on chanterelles (my personal favorite for eating) and boletes (easily identified as they have no gills on the underside of their caps).

    At one point, Andris happened upon a local woman foraging. She had only been out for about an hour but already had two plastic bags filled with mushrooms. According to Andris, she was picking mushrooms for sale. Apparently, there are consolidators if you will who will buy mushrooms from independent foragers and then take them to the market for sale. She only gets a few lats (now euros) per kilo but given how much she can gather in an hour, it's not a bad way to make some pocket change and get some exercise in as well.
    Andris was thrilled when she offered to give us one of her prized finds - an Aspen bolete (Leccinum insigne); Apparently quite rare because you can only find it growing around the aspen trees. Indeed it was an unusual colored mushroom with its brown cap and white and black speckled stem - quite pretty in its own unique way.

    Between just enjoying a tranquil through the lovely woods of Guaja and bending down to snip a find, it's amazing how time flies when you're foraging for mushrooms. Before we knew it, we had filled our basket. We had so much fun but now it was time to reap the reward of our efforts. We headed to a nearby restaurant where we were treated to a small dish of our handpicked mushrooms, cooked in traditional Latvian style. They were absolutely delicious and my days of feasting on wild mushrooms were just beginning!

    Image #2. Black, club shaped fungi. These teeny, weeny fungi were a rare find for us.
    Image #3. Golden chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)
    Image #5. Aspen bolete (Leccinum insigne)
    Image #7. Bracket fungi
    Image #10. Amanita muscaria. Poisonous!
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