Polish Food 101 ‒ Mushrooms
small, Polish Food 101 ‒ Mushrooms, Boletus badius (podgrzybki brunatne), photo: FoKa / Forum, grzyby_forum.jpg
Poland has a long tradition of mushroom picking, and accordingly forest mushrooms are essential ingredients of the Polish culinary tradition. The aroma of forest mushrooms, in particular dried ones, is one of the trademarks of the Polish national culinary heritage.
Poland is relatively rich with forests; they cover nearly 30 % of the territory. Since Polish forests are mostly owned by the state, most of them are accessible to the public. Thanks to the humid climate, it is easy to find lots of aromatic, edible species of forest mushrooms. Each mushroom species has a different flavor and taste.
The most popular are yellow-orange chanterelles (kurki) and incredibly fragrant ceps (borowiki, prawdziwki). Boletus badius (podgrzybki brunatne) are less noble and are cheaper but still tasty. The carrot-colored and nutty milk cap mushrooms (rydze) are rare and highly prized for their taste. Some mushroom eaters love the big and flat parasol mushrooms (kanie), the sticky suillus (maślaki), and the ceps’ cousin: leccinum (kozaki, koźlarze) which is great for soups. Some also recommend the slim armillaria mellea - honey fungus (opieńki), and the Tricholoma equestre (gąski).
To many Poles, the end of summer months means the beginning of the mushroom season. The season is fairly short and much of it depends on weather conditions. Usually it lasts from mid – August or September until the end of October or first frost. In autumn, farmer food markets in large cities offer a wide range of fresh wild mushrooms. A lot of people practice foraging. Most restaurants propose their very own mushroom seasonal menu. Poles know how to preserve mushrooms. They dry them. They pickle them. They freeze them.
Poles practice foraging a lot. Nearly everybody, at least once in her or his lifetime, went mushroom picking in the forest, removed dirt off mushrooms stems and caps, threaded fresh mushrooms, and hanged them in a warm and sunny place to dry them out, before storing in a jar. The habit of forest escapades is not so common anymore but it still exists. It is not only a matter of money. Gourmets, who appreciate quality products and care about where their food comes from, spend some of their free time making their own food stock for winter.
One of the most popular way to store mushrooms is to pickle them in a mixture of boiled water and white vinegar with aromatic spices: bay leaves, juniper berries, allspice, onions, mustard seeds etc. This Polish delicacy is traditionally served in households as a side dish, or as an accompaniment to cold hams, pâtés and sausages. In some regions locals preserve milk cap mushrooms in brine - like sauerkraut. The result is surprising and flavorsome.
The tradition of homemade preserves and pickles has been an cherished part of Polish culinary habits for hundreds of years. Not so long ago nearly every family – from farmers to intellectuals – had a cupboard full of jars and food stock for the winter. Everyone remembers their mom’s or grandma’s pickled mushrooms. The tradition of homemade preserves is not so common anymore as it is possible to get all types of preserves in stores. But common wisdom says that well prepared preserves are always better when homemade.
Dried ceps and boletus have an extremely intense taste. Ceps are appreciated as the noblest species, and thus expensive. They are most popular in the preparation of traditional Christmas Eve dinner, but also present in daily cooking. One or two dried Polish ceps will turn a plain soup into a more complex, flavorful broth.
Poles are soups lovers. Fresh forest mushroom soups are ideal for a hearty dish in autumn time. Add some croutons, noodles, potatoes, sprinkle with chopped parsley or dill and you will have a full lunch. Fried or braised mushrooms are always great as a side dish or a sauce for meat, and occasionally fish dishes. One beloved seasonal local specialty, especially in the south of the country, are fried milk cap mushrooms (rydze). The foodies of the area hold them as one of the greatest delicacies. Fresh or dried mushrooms are also used as a stuffing for dumplings (pierogi) or cabbage rolls (gołąbki). During Christmas time dried mushrooms are braised with sauerkraut, or used to cook the traditional Christmas dried mushroom soup. One of Poland's national dishes, hunter’s stew (bigos), requires the addition of dried ceps. Innovative chefs create also mushroom flavored desserts, such as ice cream, for example. Come to Poland and taste them in season!
Polish Food 101
Author: Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux, Winter 2013