Mushroom hunting in Algarve

After the winter showers, when the scent of damp soil is at its strongest, Célia Celestino walks through the forests holding a wicker basket and a mission: to bring a “mushroom snack” for her family.

Célia lives in Lagos but whenever she has time off from her work and home duties, she heads to where she grew up – Rogil. The grounds, the secret places and foliage are well known, and she has already marked the places where the mushrooms grow.

Mushrooms are used to prepare delicious appetisers and side dishes. “Mushrooms are sliced and fried with onions, or they are seasoned with aromatic herbs to accompany pork in the oven,” she says.

In our country, mushrooms can be picked all year round, but it is between November and February that most of the edible species grow: chanterelles, boletus, pine mushrooms, among others.

According to the book “Código de Conduta do Apanhador de Cogumelos” by A Pantorra, there are several tips and recommendations to take into account if you don’t have experience in hunting for wild mushrooms.

It can be a lot of fun to go to the forest and gather mushrooms but beware when it comes to harvesting, preparing and cooking them as there are several non-edibles, toxic and even deadly species! Safe mushroom picking comes from experience and not just from free initiative or with the help of books.

In Célia’s case, this art was learned from her father who always advised her to just catch the ones she knows well. So, she explains that she picks “Amanita ponderosa1 growing close to cork oaks or where there is livestock”; hunts for “Cantharellus cibarius2 in the Arrifana shrubs; and for “Hydnum repandum3 on tree trunks in Serra de Espinhaço de Cão”.

Célia admits that there is technique even in the way mushrooms are picked: “Some you cut the stump with a razor and leave it to grow for the following year; then others are plucked up by the roots.”

She even gives us a tip to prepare this delicious fungus of nature: “It is best to boil three times in different waters until the water becomes translucent and all impurities have disappeared.”

To the curious mushroom lover, we warn that it is best not to fall for myths! Some say that there are “tricks” to understanding whether the mushroom is edible or not, like “if the mushroom has a ring round its stem or if a silver ring or stainless-steel spoon do not oxidise when boiled alongside the mushrooms.”

It is best to take no chances and leave the mushroom picking to specialists.

Article submitted by Mar d’Estórias, “an innovative place that values everything Portuguese, with special emphasis on the Algarve”. It includes a restaurant, terrace bar, grocer’s, shop and cultural space.