The Belly Button Window Details

About Belly Button Window

The Semi-Regular Newsletter

Travels in Russia

KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Santa Claus in Moscow
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
Weddings in Winter
The Jews Are Here!
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
The Blind Leading the Blind
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Post-Crisis, Life Goes On
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Russian Caviar Mafia
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, September 6, 1998

Magical Mushrooms

Time to go 'schroom picking in the forests of Russia!

Boston Globe ,6 September 1998

Mushroom season has Russians in fungi frenzy
Success measured by basketful in good-natured rivalry

By David Filipov

ODRINOVO, Russia - With the practiced eye of a hunter stalking his quarry, Mikhail Volkov spied the two men hurrying across the boggy field toward a damp thicket, their knives bared, their eyes scanning from side to side.

"Locals. They're hunting," Volkov whispered. "Let's follow."

Moving stealthily, Volkov slipped behind the pair and tailed them at a safe distance until they unwittingly led him to the place he was looking for. The spot was covered with low spruce trees and mossy ground, prime territory for Russia's favorite summer pastime - mushroom picking.

Then came the tricky part. Anyone at home in the woods can find mushrooms, especially when someone else leads you to them. But knowing which mushrooms to pick can be a matter of life and death. Russians, who flock to the countryside on weekends as summer wanes, are supremely confident of their ability to distinguish between tasty delicacies and lethal toadstools.

But this confidence is often tragically misplaced. Russia's weekend fungus warriors suffer an alarmingly high number of casualties. Since mid-July, nine people have died and 180 have been poisoned from bad mushrooms, according to Lydia Terezhkova of Russia's Federal Health Inspection Service. And this is a good year. Last year, 34 died of mushroom poisoning across Russia in July and August.

The culprit, Terezhkova said, is usually the "death cap," amanita phalloides, known to Russians as the "belaya poganka," or pale toadstool. Inexperienced mushroom pickers often mistake the death cap for one of its edible cousins.

To the neophyte, the mushroom hunt means a nice stroll through the woods, basket in hand, to collect spongy, tasty fungi. But to high-intensity Russian mushroom hunters like Volkov, this activity is far more than a pleasant hobby or a cheap way to put something tasty on the table. Mushroom hunting is silent war - a quiet, good-natured, yet fierce competition to see who can collect more mushrooms and best hide what he or she finds.

When the ruble spun out of control in Moscow and other Russian cities last month, Russians such as Anna Rasputina, a telemarketer whose company is nearing bankruptcy because of the economic crisis, continued to head for the woods. "There's always an abundance of mushrooms," she said. "And they always cost the same: free."

Like their reckless winter brethren, the legions of ice fishermen who sit on lakes and rivers long after the ice has become undependable, Russian mushroom hunters seem impervious to the deadly perils of their hobby. "I don't believe you can be poisoned by a mushroom," Volkov maintained as he thrashed through a thicket of stinging nettles on a steamy summer's day in the woods near Odrinovo, a farming hamlet 30 miles north of Moscow. Vicious mosquitoes, apparently immune to American-made repellent, attacked in waves.

"People who suffer poisoning usually do something wrong, like picking mushrooms at the side of the road, where they are contaminated, or preparing them incorrectly," Volkov said just before he broke off his speech with a warrior-like cry.

Bending over, he proudly displayed his find: A pair of large "beliye griby," or white mushrooms - boletus edulis in the encyclopedia, the "Czar of the Forest" in Russia's rich fungal folklore. Russians consider this the tastiest cooking mushroom and also best for freezing, drying, pickling, or marinating for the long winter months. "To find whites so quickly - this is mushroom bliss," Volkov said with a sigh. "A mushroom miracle!" Volkov assiduously avoids the white mushroom's evil twin, known as the "satanic mushroom," which is not deadly but causes a nasty stomachache.

Why are mushrooms so popular in Russia? One reason is their availability. Mushrooms will grow wherever it's cool and damp - the typical summer weather forecast for Russia. Even in such forbidding places as the arctic mining city of Vorkuta, where nothing much grows except lichen, people gather mushrooms in the tundra in July.

When times are hard, mushrooms brighten up an otherwise drab diet. Volkov and his wife serve up mushroom-filled pastries, fried mushrooms with potatoes, mushroom julienne, mushrooms pickled in brine, and dried mushrooms.

President Boris N. Yeltsin even bagged a few white mushrooms during his July vacation in Karelia in northern Russia. In Moscow, anyone with a car can easily drive to choice mushroom hunting grounds in the dense forests that surround the city.

Over the years, Volkov has picked up some tips from the dean of Russian mushroom hunters, writer Vladimir Soloukhin, whose 1967 work "Third Hunt" includes a series of lectures on the subject. It is not altogether surprising that another Soloukhin work deals extensively with ice fishing.

Whenever a so-called mushroom rain - a light summer sun-shower - falls, Volkov heads for the forest to search for whites, "little foxes," and "milk caps." The same goes for the mushroom moon - the first full moon in August. To be certain of the best times, Volkov consults an astrological calendar.

This summer, the mushroom rains have been frequent, and mushroom bliss abounds in the forest. Mushroom good will is another matter. Russian mushroom hunters take note of their fellow foragers, but only to find the best spots. When two mushroom hunters meet in the woods, they quickly cover their baskets so that a competitor cannot glean success and retrace the other's steps to bountiful areas. Volkov calls this intelligence gathering.

"Find anything?" Volkov inquired of an elderly man who happened by as Volkov was leaving his newly discovered white mushroom site. The stranger discreetly zipped his brown leather bag and smiled politely.

"Nope," he said, eyeing the wicker basket covered by Volkov's hand. "There were some little foxes back aways, but they're all wormy. You?"

"Naw," Volkov said with a slight grin. "We didn't find a thing.

Enter your email for Belly Button Window updates: