IX. EATING MUSHROOMS AND SNAILS
The mushroom or carpophore is the fruiting or reproductive body of a group of organisms, each of which consist of a system of gills, often not visible, which goes by the name of fungus. When the mushroom is fully ripe, it releases its sports, which germinate if the conditions are right and then produce new fungi. Traditionally, there has not been a clear distinction in the use of these two terms, fungus and mushroom. They are sometimes both used as synonyms of carpophores and not as fungus, referring to the whole organism, and as mushroom, to a specific part of it. Fungus is usually treated as yet another type of mushroom; specifically, two types of boletus, Boletus aereus and Boletus edulis, are respectively known as black fungus and white fungus with their equivalents in Basque. A clear distinction between fungi and mushrooms, each with their respective varieties, is made in some locations, for example, in Artajona (N). However, only “fungus” is used and not “mushroom” in Murchante (N).
The place where wild mushrooms grow is known as setal (Carranza-B, Monreal-N), corro (Artajona-N) or zize-leku (Zeanuri-B). Those places are pinpointed by the type of grass growing there, which is usually longer and deeper green in colour.
When someone discovers a mushroom patch, they usually keep it a secret. In Álava, the spot where the St. George’s mushrooms grow is one of the most closely guarded secrets. It is usually passed down from parents to children and there are even some people who take the secret to the grave. In some places of Álava, the St. George's mushroom patch that is only known by one person is called a callandero (San Román de San Millán, Bernedo). This is not such a strange custom as the St. George's mushroom is considered to be a delicacy and often given as a precious gift.
Wild mushrooms are generally picked by men, but that is not always the case. In Iholdy (Ip), for example, women and children would get up early to go and look for them, and men would only pick them on the odd Sunday afternoon.
The skilful mushroomers are well aware of the habitats where the species grow that they are seeking, as well as about the right season of the year to do so.
There does not seem to be a territorial pattern regarding where wild mushrooms are part of the diet. There are some areas where mushrooming has a great following, while there are others where just the odd one is collected. Whether or not wild mushrooms form part of the diet seems to be down to family traditions rather than territorial distribution. There are connoisseurs who know a wide range of species, while there are others who only eat just two or three of the best-known wild mushrooms, or none, mainly because of their fear of being poisoned.
In general, people treat wild mushrooms with great respect. People who know little about them only eat the best known ones, which are usually considered safe to eat. Even so, there are many people who do not eat any type of wild mushrooms. In some homes, they are only eaten on rare occasions when someone who knows what they are doing has picked them.
Many mushroomers have to go to other nearby municipalities to look for them. That is the case of people living in towns, who spend their weekends during the mushrooming season to go to spots known for their abundance of wild mushrooms or where they are not normally part of the diet, as that is where they usually find good specimens. Mushrooming then offers the additional attraction of spending time enjoying the great outdoors.
In recent years, collecting, preparing and eating new species has become widespread both in areas with a deep rooted mushrooming tradition and those where wild mushrooms do not often feature on the menu. This is the result of the greater and better knowledge of the many connoisseurs. It is usually accepted that there was not the current fervour for mushrooms in the past and very few species were eaten, partly because people were worried about being poisoned and partly down to ignorance.
Along with this greater popularity of mushrooming, more and more people are eating wild mushrooms bought from the market, wrapped in plastic bags or on polyurethane trays covered in plastic.
Finally, it should be noted that there is the belief in Valcarlos (N) that once fungi have been seen by the human eye, they will not grow anymore and therefore have to be picked.
The common or vegetable garden snails have unquestionably been the usual ones eaten and the only ones harvested in some locations. However, in some municipalities, particularly in Navarra, different types of snails have traditionally been eaten:
Thus, in Sangüesa (N), they differentiate between a dark brown fat snail, which is more common and prefers irrigated land, and a lighter and flatter one, which can be found on irrigated and rain-fed land alike.
In Viana (N), they prefer the males of one species and the females of the others. The males are larger and flesh is coarser and the females have less meat but it is more delicate. Both types are found in vegetable gardens and in irrigated areas, even on slopes with gorse and olive groves. Another much smaller and lighter snail with very delicate flesh, known as cirigüella, is also harvested, but is not very common as it is a rare species in the town. Finally, the large snail that can be found in large numbers on the edge of alfalfa fields and thorny scrubland is also eaten.
In Monreal (N), two species are harvested: the small, tasty and highly sought-after navarricos and the common and garden ones.
In Lezaun (N), they differentiate between the black ones, which are found in vegetable gardens, the bojal, which are now called navarricos due to the influence of Pamplona, and the stripped and more tangy judios, which are found in heather. These are also known as navarricos.
In San Román de San Millán (A), the smallest and light coloured snails are called caraquillas and are popularly considered to be females.
In Basque, snails are called barrazkilo in Abadiano (B) and in Goizueta (N), barekarakoil in Uhart-Mixe (Ip), ka(r)akol (Begoña-Bilbao, Zeanuri, Ajangiz-B, GoizuetaN), and karakoil in Masparraute (Ip).