Every spring and autumn the forests of Europe are occupied by eager hunters whose task is nothing more than back-breaking. The hunt is relatively easy to those who know the signs that tell them what to ignore.
Their mission is a delicacy, which requires a foraging instinct and a keen eye. They know their objects of desire by local names, we know them as mushrooms.
Mushrooms are highly prized, and always have been because they are protein and vitamin rich, and taste good. In recent years the search for mushrooms has been expanded to all the seasons, as mycology (the science of mushroom hunting) has become more sophisticated.
But the new hunting seasons have revealed mushrooms more delicate than the robust varieties we have been used to in Europe for countless centuries. This has meant a resurgence in mushroom and egg dishes, especially omelettes, which allow fragile mushrooms to retain their shape.
Each country has its own mushroom favourites. In the Basque region, the boletus mushroom is fried and blended with eggs into a mushroom omelette while perretxiku, the spring mushroom, is scrambled with eggs. In Lithuania and Sweden the chanterelle is a treasured delicacy, fresh and cooked. In France and Lithuania gypsy mushrooms are marinated.
But it is the vitamin-rich bolet that is revered most throughout Europe, even in the Baltic states, Finland, Poland, Russia and the Ukraine where the complete range of mushrooms are given the same status, and are used dried, fresh, cooked, marinated and pickled.
Barley and mushroom soup is one of the oldest traditional dishes in Europe. It combines field and forest, is earthy and wholesome. Besides soup, barley and mushrooms came together as a porridge, not so much these days. Creamed mushroom soup is also a very old dish, and is still found on a menu in a backstreet cafe.
Mushroom sauce is as popular today as it was two thousand years ago. Liver sautéed with mushrooms and onions has been reinvented so many times it is a wonder it still retains its original charm.
They are an essential ingredient in dumplings, omelettes, pancakes, pâté (as a duxelles) pies (pirogi and pirozhki) and stews.
Chanterelles are pickled, forever it seems.
These are some of Europe‘s popular mushrooms, as they are known in the various languages. English in bold, the original name in italic.
The famous bolet aka cèpe de bolete, cèpe, porcino, steinpilze
Agaricus, champignon d‘Paris, kétspórás csiperke, pratelle, termesztett csiperke, white mushroom has been cultivated in France since the 17th century when it was grown in the cool, dark, humid caves of stone quarries near Paris on beds of horse manure. Eaten fresh in salad but more often baked, grilled, sautéed, scrambled (with eggs) and stuffed, and added to sauces, soups and stews.
Agaricus Campestris, agaric champêtre, feldegerling, field mushroom, kerti
csiperke, mezei csiperke, rosé de prés, wiesenchampignon is a wild meadow mushroom, found in late summer and again in autumn. A cousin of the cultivated bisporus, it is collected for its cap and used variously. Many of the agaricus species are poisonous, so a knowledgeable eye is needed.
Boletus Edulis, bolet, cep, cèpes, cèpe de bolete, ontto beltzak, porcino, steinpilze is the most famous of the European mushrooms. Eaten fresh in season (with eggs), if you are lucky to know where to go to pick them or have a reliable supplier, and widely available dried. Used in sauces, soups, stews and stuffings.
Calocybe Gambosa, maipilz, mairitterling, májusi pereszke, marzolino, mousseron vrai, perretxiko, St George’s mushroom is a fragile grassland mushroom found in April and May, often dried, used with eggs.
Cantharellus Cibarius, chanterelle, eierschwamm, gallinaccio, garitola, girolle, pfifferling, sárga rókagomba, voveruška (yellow, black and white trumpets) is a wild European native, found in woodland summer to late autumn. Vitamin rich (A, B and D). Anything goes, especially fried.
Clitocybe Geotropa and Nebularis, clitocybe nébuleux, clouded agaric, clouded funnel, gibelurdinak, nebelkappe, óriás and szürke tölcsérgomba are wild funnel mushrooms widespread throughout Europe in late summer and late autumn, strong sweet aroma, used with eggs and in soups.
Coprinus Comatus, agarico chiomato, barbuda, coprin chevelu, geschubde inktzwam, schopftintling, shaggy inkcap is known as the urban mushroom because it is found on lawns and verges, picked young from summer to early winter, used variously.
Cortinarius Caperatus, gypsy mushroom, pholiote aux chèvres, ráncos fenyõgomba, reifpilz, roziote ridé is a woodland variety found on moist ground during the autumn throughout Europe, used in soups and stews.
Lactarius Deliciosus, edelreizker, izletes rizike, lactaire delicieux, nscalo, saffron milkcap, vache rouge is a summer to autumn woodland mushroom, very popular in the Balkans and on the Iberian peninsula, where it is an essential ingredient in vegetable soups and stews.
Leccinum Aurantiacum, bolet orangé, raudonikis, tölgyfa érdestinóru, vörös érdestinóru is a rare European native picked summer to autumn and dried.
Marasmius Oreades, fairy ring, faux mousseron, gambe secche, nelkenschwindling, nymphe des montagnes, marasme des oréades, senderuelas is a wild native of Europe, found in autumn and spring. Cream to white, it is used in various preparations, especially in soup. No longer as popular because it lacks flavour.
Morchella, magas, morel, morcheln, morille élevée, morilles (black, yellow and white) is a delicately scented mushroom found in late spring, then dried. Popular in French, Spanish and Swiss traditional cooking, often sautéed in butter. Large morels are filled with pork sausage meat.
Pleurotus Ostreatus, austernpilz, austernseitling, késõi laskagomba, oyster mushroom, pleurote en forme d‘huître grows in clusters on deciduous trees, and has been successfully cultivated, primarily for its earthy flavour when picked young. Dried and ground it is used as a garnish. Oyster mushroom omelette is one of Europe‘s most popular traditional dishes.
Russulas, galambgomba, täubling, russule of numerous varieties are picked from summer to autumn in woodland close to trees, used in soups, sauces and stews.
Truffle black Périgord, white Piedmont is found in old forests near host trees, using spores to propagate. Attempts to cultivate them have failed and with the loss of wild forest they remain elusive except to trained dogs and untrained sows. Used in sauces and pâté, especially pâte de foie gras.
Chicken Liver and Mushroom Pâté
- 500 g chicken livers, chopped
- 125 g pancetta, diced
- 100 g shallots, chopped small
- 2 eggs
- 50 g porcini, dried, reconstituted, sliced
- 50 ml red wine
- 45 g anchovies
- 50 g pear, dried, diced
- 30 g butter
- 15 ml olive oil
- 5 g black pepper, coarsely ground
- 1 sprig thyme Sea salt, pinch
Sauté pancetta in half the butter until crispy. Remove from pan.
Sauté chicken liver in remaining butter, and oil for three minutes.
Mix in shallots and mushrooms, fry over low heat for ten minutes.
Add pancetta, thyme, bay leaves and seasonings, and stir.
Remove with slotted spoon, and put in a bowl with anchovies.
De-glace pan with wine, add to liver mixture.
Add pear to mixture, allow to cool, incorporate eggs.
Preheat oven to 160°C.
Blend mixture, spoon into a baking dish, cover with foil.
Bake for an hour.
fresh mushroom salad
This mushroom salad is more often than not made with mixed mushrooms out of a jar with sour cream mixed with lemon juice, garlic salt and dill.
The fresh version is better if you can get the mushrooms.
- 500 g fresh boletus, chanterelle, oyster mushrooms
- 250 ml sour cream
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 onion, chopped finely (optional)
- Dill, handful
Soak the mushrooms in cold water for ten minutes to remove dirt and grit. Dry with paper towels.
Mix sour cream with lemon juice, onions and dill.
Gently fold mushrooms into the cream.
Soy milk, flour and oil reduced to a sauce is a vegan alternative to the cream.
Griby v Smetanie
baked mushrooms in sour cream
Another marriage of mushrooms and sour cream dish, typically Russian, despite being common across northern and eastern Europe, with few variations.
- 500 g mushrooms, fresh, mixed
- 8 scallions, chopped (optional)
- 160 ml sour cream
- 60 g butter
- 50 g cheese, grated (optional)
- 30 g flour
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Dill, handful
- Black pepper, pinch
- Salt, pinch
Fry mushrooms in butter and if using scallions until soft.
Mix sour cream and flour into a loose batter. Stir into mushrooms, add dill, lemon juice, pepper and salt.
Alternatively pour mushroom mixture into an ovenproof dish, top with grated cheese and bake for 20 minutes in a medium (175°C) oven.
Traditional Mushroom Dishes
Bigos POLAND meat, mushroom, sauerkraut and sausage stew
Calamaretti Ripeni ITALY small squid, porcini and salicornia
Ciuperci și Sos de Smântână ROMANIA sour cream, mushroom and onion sauce
Fritaja CROATIA SLOVENIA bacon, mushrooms, sausages and wine
Gerstensuppe SWITZERLAND barley and mushroom soup
Gobova Župa SLOVENIA mushroom soup
Kaša sa Pečurkama MONTENEGRO barley porridge with mushrooms
Lesnická Šunka CZECHIA ham in bacon, mushroom wine sauce
Murgues farcides amb carn de Porc ANDORRA morels stuffed with pork sausage meat
Palacsinta HUNGARY pancakes with bacon, cheese, mushrooms and yoghurt
Risotto con Castagne e Porcini ITALY rice with chestnuts and mushrooms
Risotto con Funghi ITALY SWITZERLAND rice with morels and porcini
Selsko Meso MACEDONIA baked meat and mushrooms
Vadgombaleves HUNGARY wild mushroom soup