As anyone acquainted with Vivaldi will especially know, autumn is the start of the hunting season. The third movement of the third concerto of the red priest’s Cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione has these accompanying verses:
I cacciator alla nov’ alba à caccia
Con corni, Schioppi, e canni escono fuore
Fugge la belua, e Seguono la traccia;
Già Sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De’ Schioppi e canni, ferita minaccia
Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.
Which translate as:
The hunters emerge at dawn,
ready for the chase,
with horns and dogs and cries.
Their quarry flees while they give chase.
Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on,
but, harried, dies.
This is also a time which brings conflicting thoughts among Italians. Are hunters conservationists or butchers, decimating migrating birds, shooting at domestic animals or even sometimes at themselves (by accident of course)? The anti-hunting lobby increases but is nowhere as vociferous as that which protested against the “unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” and brought a traditional British pastime to an end in its original form.
The point is, however, that here, if one is taking to a mountain or forest path, one must guard against being shot at and, if walking one’s dogs, bright yellow jackets for the animals are to be much recommended (and probably for oneself too!)
My sort of hunting is for mushrooms and in this I am joined by the majority of Italians whether they carry double-barrels or not. Just outside this room a path leads to the mushrooms woods and nice sprigs of heather.
As usual I am not very brilliant at finding them although my “mushroom” eye has improved a little. I equate the process of finding the prized porcini to uncovering Triassic sharks teeth in the Blackheath beds of Abbey wood in south east London: once you manage to find your first one it gets easier from then on.
The problem is that yesterday I didn’t find a single porcino; neither did my friend who copped his first Boletus edulis last year. In compensation, we had a nice walk up Monte Castro to enter into a lovely chestnut forest which would normally favour this king of mushrooms. Did anyone (or anything, the wild boars around here like mushrooms too) get there before us? Or weren’t’ the climatic conditions right? Or were we just plain unlucky?
At least we didn’t finish up like that poor chap from Pistoia who, last week-end died from his injuries as, mushroom-hunting, he fell into a gorge near il Prato fiorito and somewhat spoilt the celebrations at the Croce Rossa in Bagni di Lucca (see .https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/blessed-petrol-station/)
Perhaps I might have saved myself another poisoning – when I first went mushroom hunting some years back I asked my cognoscento to identify what I’d found and he immediately picked out an Amanita phaloides, better known as a death cap. If I had eaten it I would probably not be here to type this or, at the very least, I’d be attached to a dialysis machine.Recently in Poland, for instance, a family of three were poisoned, one of whom died with the other two needing liver transplants.
Mentioning Poland reminds me of my haunting three hours-long-motorbike ride through the dark Silesian forests when returning to the UK from Cracow. Every now and then in a forest clearing by the road I’d come across a table with a pretty girl selling mushrooms. Now they were good!
There’s no doubt that a combination of gourmet chef Carlucci and Polish plumbers in London have greatly increased awareness and popularity of mushroom hunting in the UK, as witness the bevy of early morning collectors in London’s Royal Parks.
In Italy mushroom hunting is very much embedded in the local culture and you can hold long conversations about porcini the same way that one can talk about the weather in the UK. That country at this time of year (or any time?) I am sure would be most favourable to mushrooms which require a generally temperate climate and damp conditions.
Anyway here are some photos of my secret chestnut forest with even more secretive mushrooms in it.
PS This is actually what we were looking for!