(written 23 January 2013)
On my 29th birthday, I went mushroom hunting.
In the US, I tend to forget—or indeed perhaps have never really been aware—that foods have seasons. We have mango season, amasuku (wild fruit) season, guava season…a season for sweet potatoes, fresh maize, and even animals like caterpillars and inswa (a type of flying ant/termite). It’s delightful when a favorite food makes its first appearance at the market. While some food preservation is practice—drying fish in the sun, for example—it’s generally feast or famine for a particular food. We eat lots of mangoes for a few months, and then wait until the coming year when the blooms will bear fruit and grow heavy again.
January is mushroom season.
I returned from a failed meeting at the clinic in mid-morning to find my sisters about to go into the woods behind my house in search if fungi. They waited for me and we went together. The mushrooms we sought were roughly the size of an Oreo cookie; the color of irish potatoes on top and a light yellow, like sweet potatoes, on the underside. My sisters—age 5, 7, 8, and 13—showed me how to find them and advised me as we plucked them from the ground: “Iviola—that’s rotten,” they’d say, even though I couldn’t tell the difference. I asked about other mushrooms I found as we walked—red, orange, yellow, even a white one with brown squarish spots, a pattern befitting an animal’s pelt; big mushrooms and tiny ones. Today, however, they were interested only in the pale brown ones that were plentiful if one wandered around long enough in the right place.
We wandered for perhaps 30 minutes, until we’d filled a bright silver bowl they had toted from home. Completely disoriented, I followed my sisters as they led me out of the woods and back into my yard. Foraging is still an essential part of getting groceries here in the village.