Mushroom hunting in Latvia

mushrooms at marketmushrooms and berries at tirgusThe last time I was in Latvia, I made it a goal to eat some of the country’s great mushrooms at as many meals as possible. A wonderful culture of forest foraging abounds, yielding wonderous displays at farmer’s markets of wild berries and assorted mushrooms. My favorite Latvian meal might be thought of more peasant food than haute cuisine, but mushrooms fried with onions and bacon, finished with cream, and served with a variety of the county’s incredible assortment of deeply flavored potatoes, then topped with fresh dill, is my food of choice. In the city of Riga, we shop at the Tirgus market in the old zepplin hangers. Sold by the kilo, we order up scoops of our favorites.

Sandra hunting mushroomsBut this summer, I wanted to join the early-rising, basket-carrying foragers, hoping to find some of Latvia’s famous “Black Gold” mushrooms, the baravikas.
Fortunately for me, a new friend, Sandra, is an expert mushroom hunter. She led me through the forest near her home in Saulkrasti.
Trimming mushroomsThe woods are so mossy and spongy, with soaring pines. It’s hard to keep your eyes peeled on the ground to hunt for mushrooms when there is such beauty to see all around. And plenty to taste as well, as the forest floor was carpeted with wild blueberry bushes laden with sweet, ripe berries.
pretty but poisonousBut we were on a mushroom hunt, and find some I did, though fortunately Sandra was there to keep me from picking them. It seems I have an eye only for what’s poisonous. our edible harvestSandra found plenty of edible varieties of gailenites, bekas, and other assorted senites to bring home to cook. After cleaning and peeling them, Sandra likes to boil her harvest with a small onion, assuring me that the onion will turn bluish purple if any of the mushrooms are poisonous. A bit skeptical of this method, I nevertheless trusted Sandra’s eye for fungi and her expertise at the stove.
peppers stuffed with wild mushroomsDuring my visit, in addition to my favorite mushroom gravy over potatoes, she prepared a mushroom and eggplant ratatouille, and an incredible mushroom stuffed pepper dish.
Not yet a mushroom expert, but now well-schooled in foraging, I was on the hunt for edible delights in the Gaujas National Forest. Hives of busy bees lead me to a cache of wild raspberries, delightfully sweet. Then there were tiny wild strawberries with their fresh complexity of flavors to savor and ripe red currants and blueberries. To round off our foraging, we sucked the honey out of clover flowers and sampled the new, light green “candles” of pine trees.
expert mushroom hunters with a bagfulForagers by necessity during the war, rather than out of curiousity and pleasure, my family remembers eating these needle tips, as well as nettle soup.
latvian black gold mushroom tastingAn excited shout from nearby foraging children lead me to the granddaddy of the baravikas. They were harvesting bagfulls of the prized mushroom, which would no doubt fetch a great price at the market.
After they left with their treasure, I searched the area and found an old giant. Too mature and bug-ridden to have for dinner, it was still nice to finally find one myself that wouldn’t kill me.

9 Responses to “Mushroom hunting in Latvia”

  1. wiseace

    I wouldn’t eat a mushroom if you paid me but I do love hunting them.

    09/08/13 01:24
  2. lasma

    Mushroom hunting and berry picking is the best thing in the world!!! Experience in itself!!!!

    09/10/10 15:56
  3. Roma

    How can I purchase the baravikas mushrooms to cultivate and grow myself?

    09/11/27 01:10
  4. daina

    Oh, I wish I could as well. It would have been great, but illegal, to smuggle some home and scatter the spores in hope of enjoying them here. I don’t know of anywhere they are actually cultivated. Instead, experienced hunters go to their particular spots in the woods. Some preserve them by marinating them, but I didn’t see them for sale in the grocery stores. Looks like you’ll need to plan a trip to experience them firsthand. These ephemeral experiences are what make travel such a delight.

    09/12/01 16:34
  5. bilgin

    Hello,

    I am living in Riga, and want to pick mushrooms in the wood. Can you advice me which one is good and which one is bad. and is there a group of expert mushroom pickes that I can join?
    Thanks

    10/09/10 04:22
  6. daina

    I’d go to the market and talk to the standholders. They might be able to link you with a good group. I just Skyped my uncle yesterday and he reports that this year has been amazing for harvesting mushrooms, especially the baravikas. He has never seen so many.

    10/09/10 07:23
  7. Zinta Aistars

    Kads gardums! Paldies, Daina, par skaisto aprakstu. Nupat atgriezos no Latvijas un rakstot par senem, atradu tavejo …

    10/10/15 10:28
  8. colin leakey

    As a biologist (FSB)and originally a mycologust/plant pathologist and interested in genetic resources I am making a short visit to Riga very soon and think to learn more about their edible mushrooms, drying and marketing an of course local names and dishes in which used. ALatvian friend has recebtly been creating ‘dishes’ for me based on beans and mushrooms. An interesting combination. Any help in myresearch much appreciated Professor Colin Leakey

    11/11/26 08:09
  9. Mara Anderson

    MY FAVORITE ALSO. Sometimes Trader Jor’s has gailenes

    13/11/26 19:11

Leave a Reply