Pick-up artist: the man who knows all about the art of picking mushrooms
When the nights get dark early and the temperature drops, Poles love to gather in the forest for one their favourite autumnal pastimes, mushroom picking. The idea of waking up before dawn and trudging off into the middle of dew-covered woods might sound absurd to those from other countries but for many Poles it is the natural thing to do.
Marek Snowarski is one of the many. A mushroom lover he has thousands of photos and a website, grzyby.pl, detailing where to find each variety of fungus around Poland.
The 51-year-old Wrocław native says he’s been mushrooming from a young age.
“I started very early,” he said. “I remember a trip to the woods at the age of five or six. In my grandfather’s old car, I remember the sound of the motor, the smell of the exhaust fumes and then the forest. A place called Forester's Lodge, where there was no forester's lodge. Yellow chanterelles in the moss and sweet blackberries. Fatigue and satisfaction after mushrooming.”
Adam Mickiewicz’s ‘Pan Tadeusz’, written in 1834, contains a famous mushroom picking scene but the practice stretches further back into history than that. Millions of Poles go off in search of the close to 50 edible varieties of mushrooms that inhabit the forests. The hobby is becoming increasingly popular as hipsters and wealthier Poles who are looking to connect with nature join in with rural traditionalists.
“As soon as the internet crawled into Poland and the first websites appeared in 1996 I opened the site,” says Snowarski. “I treated it as an educational mission and at the same time a hobby. In 1997, in the mushrooming season there were 300 visitors to the site. Now in Google searches for ‘mushroom’ the website grzyby.pl is usually placed first. So it is here most mushroom pickers looking for information on the internet find it, 99.9 percent of them check it only once before their autumn mushroom trip. There is a group of several dozen very active mushroom picking enthusiasts who post their entries from the forest even after the season has ended.”
Snowarski agreed that it contravened tradition to tell any outsiders about the specific locations where mushrooms were found. He said that most users gave the location to 20 square kilometres. He did admit that he loved to introduce new people to mushrooming and teach them about the hobby. He hopes that those who haven’t tried it will go into the woods early one morning to see if they can find the treasures of the forest.
“Mycelium is like a fruit tree but invisible. It grows in the soil for many, even tens, of years, in the same place and just like an apple tree, produces its fruit at the right time. Not every year at the same time and in varying amounts. Hence the phenomenon of ‘your places’. A seasoned mushroom picker, who knows ‘his area’ well, just remembers under what trees and when,” Snowarski says.
Insider knowledge handed down through the generations may not be essential but it always helps.