Catalan to English translation

*bolet – mushroom of any type, with gills or no gills and can be harmful or healthful.
*porro – a glass pitcher with an additional narrow spout from which one drinks wine our vermouth, thus eliminating the need for other glassware when having drinks with friends – makes clean up a breeze.
*vaca – a cow or steer, and if it lives here in the Pyrenees, it can be very big.
*mira – LOOK!
*maco – handsome

There is a sheer delight in spotting a mound of green moss that is pushed up a little higher than the rest. I gently pull it away to discover a beautiful bolet buried in the dark soil. “Mira!!!”*

My best friend, Cinta, is thrilled too. “Maco.”*

She instructs that where there is one bolet, there will be “family and friends” tucked right in with it. I take a moment to look around, and yes, I find two other bolets nearby.

Discovering one bolet is like meeting a friend at a small neighborhood bar; when you arrive you will find other friends and family, as well as the pub regulars.

Choose Your Bolets Wisely

During this first of what will be many mushroom hikes here in our Pyrenees mountains, Cinta teaches me to be judicious when harvesting bolets.

I am to leave-be the ones which are bright red or blue-tinged, or rise taller than the others to be “seen.” These are characteristics that cause misery. It’s like choosing people to share your life. For a healthy existence keep yourself out of the reach of toxic folks.

The sun climbs to a high point in the sky. Our wool socks become too much, and the need for coffee is overwhelming. Cinta and I return by way of the same narrow & rocky trail we clambered up three hours ago.

In tow is Cinta’s handmade Catalan basket that we brought with high expectations of a huge haul. Our search generated three little bolets that look up at us from the depths of the wicker…

– which equals –

one edible bolet per hour of our meandering under tall pines on hard-to-see trails, some with thickets that do not hinder small animals or forest boars, but are a bitch for humans. We crossed tiny streams and walked through high-meadow cow pastures – home to very big vacas.* The vacas wear very big cowbells on very big, handmade leather cow-collars.

I learn that vacas do not like being kissed, but that’s a story for another day.

We arrive at where the trail meets the pavement. There, a cadre of drivers in trucks waits for hunters just like us. But not like us. These drivers barter for bolets to resell at the upcoming Saturday market. As in any fair-market-exchange, when the season fades away into winter, and the bolets are more challenging to come by, the negotiations will favor the finder.

Today Is Saturday – MARKET DAY!

My adventure in the mountains paid off with priceless knowledge. For two years, I have watched with admiration the chefs who arrive early to the Saturday outdoor market and expertly secure Pyrenees mountains bolets. They will present them that night at their restaurants as “not on the menu, but…“ delicacies.

This morning I woke up one hour early to arrive at the Saturday market before the chefs. I hoped to find the vegetable vendor, or cheese vendor, or meat vendor who also is selling the bolets that were negotiated yesterday where the trail meets the pavement.

I have never spent more than 20 euros (ever) at our Saturday market, and I regularly come away with sack-loads of vegetables, meat, cheeses, and a baguette. But this morning, I paid just about that amount for one container of bolets.

I couldn’t be happier because I know how much time and generational knowledge are needed to gather them.

What Is The Value from A Mushroom?

A good season of bolet gathering, with the expertise it takes, will provide an income that keeps families financially stress-free through the cold winter here in the Pyrenees mountains.  But for me, there are even richer returns:

    1. The aroma of the earth that floats up from bolets scattered across the table at the market takes my thoughts right back to the morning hike through the mountains with my friend, Cinta: “Mira!, maco.”

 

    1. The coffee tastes even better at my favorite cafe with the knowledge that in the bag I placed in an empty chair next to me, I have precious, excursion-found, and tricky-negotiation-bolets bought in the market just moments ago.

 

    1. I engage in the best 15-minute conversation with two friends sitting at a nearby table. It starts with: “did I buy the proper mushrooms?” and continues with, “how should I fix them for eating?” Those two friends multiply — as four strangers walk over to review my purchase. Each offers proper cleaning and cutting guidance (I must use the appropriate knife for cutting). Our conversation is a mix of Catalan, Spanish, French, and my own English. It is animated because this is a serious subject. You gotta get it right.

 

    1. I can not wait to get back to the little apartment, that I share with Sèu when she is in town, where I will add another task to my Saturday afternoon list:
      • Clean and slice bolets (with the appropriate knife).
      • Place a third in one bowl and drizzle with lemon and sprinkle lightly with salt.
      • Put a third in a second bowl and drizzle with regionally produced olive oil and crushed pepper.
      • Place a final third – that has been soaked in red wine from last night’s left-over porro* – and put in a bowl.
      • Carry the three bowls of bolets to my favorite little bar to share with friends who I am confident will be there.

 

  1. This “flight of freshly found bolets” will create hours-long conversations amongst friends and may even coax some strangers out of their circle. There will be stories shared of bolet hunts & meals, and memories about parents and grandparents and even great grandparents.

Which returns me to the idea expressed by my friend, Cinta:

When you are fortunate to find a bolet hidden under the forest moss, take a moment, and look around for the path that leads to a neighborhood pub full of family and friends.