Tuesday 16 November 2010
Foraging for mushrooms is a favourite pastime of the French, but it seems it is becoming an increasingly dangerous one.
This year it has been a warm and dry autumn in most of France, with the result that there is not the usual abundance of the common fungi that normally graces restaurant and family dining tables.
With the shortage of supply, prices have inevitably risen, particularly of the popular cèpe mushroom. In some parts of the country, prices of up to €70/kg have been reported, although if you live in the right area you may be lucky enough to buy them for around €15/kg.
As a result of the shortage, foragers have had to be ever more audacious to try and find them, while some property owners have shown a more vigorous approach to protecting them for their own personal profit or use.
Whether it is said in French or in the English, the message from a number of land owners seems to have been, ‘Get orff of my land!’
In one case recently in the Gironde a gendarme who was called by a farmer to remove mushroom pickers from his land was actually injured by the farmer, as he attempted to encircle the pickers with his 4x4 vehicle. The farmer was placed temporarily in custody before he was released without charge.
In another incident in Languedoc, a mushroom picker was in such a hurry to get away from an pursuing owner that he piled his vehicle into the ditch on the other side of the lane, and had to be taken to hospital for treatment by the local pompiers.
The usual press reports are also appearing of cases of intoxication from eating poisonous species of mushroom. Several hundred devotees are admitted to hospital each year, although thankfully few prove to be fatal.
With so many on the trail, each year some local mairie organise a journée de découverte des champignons, with a local expert invited in to assist in the identification of different types of mushrooms.
But there is also another hazard that pickers need to be aware of, for the sprouting of mushrooms also happens to coincide with the start of la chasse, and both share the same terrain.
So mushroom pickers face not only the risk incurring the wrath of property owners and intoxication from eating the wrong species, but also the need to listen out for the sound of buckshot and barking dogs.
Foraging for mushrooms can be dangerous for your health!