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Saturday October 24, 2009

Hidden Treasures

This may be the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness back in Blighty but in Majorca it’s the beginning of the seta season, or to be truly Majorcan, the month for bolets, mushrooms. With Maria, the mushroom queen of our valley, leading me astray early one morning in the Tramuntana mountains, I discovered why fungi gathering has become an island if not, national, sport. In the Peninsula, they call them setas but here in rural Soller the locals say bolets. This in itself is rather irrelevant because every bolet has a very specific name and there are thousands of varieties, some delicious, some highly poisonous. To attempt mushroom hunting alone with little expertise is rather like playing a game of Russian roulette as I discovered on my first foray into the hills.

Maria, who runs Canantuna, a rustic restaurant in Fornalutx, one of the nearby villages, has rented a large parcel of mountain land to indulge in her favourite sport. At six in the morning when the crow is still tucked up in bed, she’ll be off up the mountain in hot pursuit of these highly prized items. On my first outing with her, she clicked her teeth in some frustration when I triumphantly held up a grey mushroom. ‘It’s a bolet verinoso,’ she tutted. A moment later I showed her another specimen. ‘Non. That’s peu de rata’. I suppose anything called rat foot has to be asking for trouble. What in fact this famed cook was after were esclatasangs, bloodbursters, so named because of their bright red juice. Maria, like a patient headmistress with a rather retarded pupil, gently directed me to soil where she thought there might be mushrooms lurking. Then with great care, rather like a palaeontologist uncovering a bone of great rarity, she brushed away the soil until the back of the mushroom gleamed at us in the early light.

Later we took our haul back to her restaurant and fried them in parsley, rich olive oil and garlic. It was then that I understood the meaning of what it was to die and go to heaven.

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