Cooked, Cured, Curdled | The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 4

Of all the indigenous produce in Europe the bolet is the most popular mushroom

The winter wonderland of the Ursern Valley became a reality for outsiders who wanted to witness Goethe’s ‘snow-capped mountainous desert’ when rail followed road. Open to easterlies and westerlies, heavy precipitation (with snow 184 days a year) and bitterly cold winds, winters in the Ursern valley are harsh and long. Summers are generally warm and wet.

The first settlers in the Ursern contributed to the monotonous landscape. They cleared forested slopes to gain new pastureland. Their animals denuded the slopes. Constantly threatened by devastating avalanches, the valley was almost bare when houses began to dot the landscape.

In 1397 a notice was issued that forbid the removal of the trees by their inhabitants and their descendants. Experience showed that a forested slope provided protection against avalanches, rockfalls and whitewater. Hardly anyone took notice and almost 500 years passed before a plan was made to erect avalanche barriers and begin reforestation.

By 1950 three new forests had been created. The forested land around Andermatt, the principle town of the valley, was doubled and forest wildernesses were created to promote biodiversity. Now there are almost 170 hectares of high forest in the Ursern Valley.

The hunting of deer, chamois, marmots, foxes and badgers is allowed for two weeks each September. Small game hunting season runs from 15 October to 30 November. Wild berry collecting has no limit. However wild mushroom collecting has a daily limit – no more than 500 grams of morels, 2 kilos of chanterelles and 3 kilos of boletus and other mushrooms.

A rival to mushroom soup and stew containing mushrooms, among the most popular traditional dishes in Europe, sausage with mushroom sauce is prominent.

The sausage might be smoked or it might be spicy. It might be cut up and served in the sauce. Generally the sausage is left whole, grilled and served with potatoes and the sauce.

In Switzerland the large pork sausages called bratwürst are a popular snack with bread and condiments. They come alive when they are served with creamed mushroom sauce that sometimes comes with the grated potato dish called rösti.

Ever since the white mushrooms known as champignon d‘Paris became popular they have replaced the bolet mushroom in this sauce, although clever chefs add reconstituted dried porcini to give the sauce an earthy depth of flavour.

So while the champignonrahmsauce is a pragmatic accessory to the bratwürst among chefs and cooks, those with access to the mushrooms of the forest prefer to make this typically Swiss dish with fresh boletus. Then it becomes bratwürst mit steinpilzerahmsauce, a totally different reality with no equal.

The mushroom hunters who bring home freshly dug bolets and chanterelles usually have two thoughts in their mind.

Do I fry these mushrooms in a little oil and eat them with fresh bread?

Do I fry them in oil and add fresh eggs to make an omelette garnished with freshly cracked black peppercorns?

As a traditional accompaniment, creamed mushroom sauce features with slices of veal and once again the champignon d‘Paris is favoured. It also features with meatballs in a dish that is popular in Poland, where the cream is sour cream and, in typical Polish tradition, the sauce is piquant. The choice of mushrooms is more egalitarian. In Italy the sauce is made with cream, garlic and, not unsurprisingly, porcini.