Wild Mushroom Hunt

2 Mar

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Today I joined a group of women who were heading north to Mount Gilboa to hunt for wild mushrooms. We drove about an hour and 15 minutes north of Herzliya passing many Arab towns along the way, recognizable by the mosques, minarets and houses huddled together up the hillside.

We were a motley crew: JH, the leader of the pack, who knew where to go to find the mushrooms, how to identify them and tell whether they were edible or not and how to cook them. JD, originally from Wales but has been living in Israel since marrying an Israeli whom she met during a visit here many moons ago. A, an American who married an Arab Israeli and who lived for awhile in his hometown here in Israel. HW, originally from China, now married to an American diplomat. JB, also originally from China, now married to an Italian diplomat.

Our plan was to walk through the nature reserve atop Mount Gilboa, gathering wild ferula mushrooms and then have a cookout there. The mushrooms we were seeking have a symbiotic relationship with wild fennel or ferula. Where there is ferula, there will be ferula mushrooms. Once we arrived and began walking amidst the ferula I was entranced. The plants looked extraterrestrial to me. Wave after wave of feathery fronds spread out from sturdy stalks. Closer examination revealed flower heads at the top of the stalks. Most had not broken loose from their leafy coverings, others had just begun to poke out their heads. If we were to go there a bit later in the season we’d be greeted with a field of yellow flowers.

However, we were not lacking for flowers as we saw a few wildflowers, including two bright red nearly identical varieties. One was the anemone (of which we also saw purple and white blooms) and the other the poppy. We also saw wild clematis, lots of mandrake plants and thistle.

Back to the mushroom hunt. JH explained that the Bedouins typically forage in this area both for the mushrooms and the ferula heads. We had plenty of ferula to pick from and they were placed in our basket. Then we began scouring the ground near the ferula plants looking for our mushrooms, hoping the Bedouins hadn’t harvested them all. I found a mushroom early on in the hunt and what a thrill it was. As JH said, it was a lot like a treasure hunt. Though that was the one and only mushroom I found, others in the party found quite a few and before long our basket was full to brimming.

We moved on to an area where there are picnic tables set up. JH had brought a camp stove, onions, butter and bread so that we could cook up our mushrooms with the onions and have ferula sandwiches. Alas, we could not get the camp stove to light. To make matters worse one of the women received a call from her daughter who reported that all the kids in her school had been ushered into the bomb shelter and sirens were going off in town. Each of us grabbed our cell phones to check in with our respective significant others. There were a few tense moments as we awaited reports of the situation. As it turns out, it was a false alarm. Whew.

Oh well, we packed up, split the mushroom harvest among us and headed home. Brad and I had the ferula that evening with our dinner. The ferula florets were much like broccoli but with quite a mild flavor. The mushrooms were absolutely delicious! Very meaty with a lovely woody flavor.

Later I looked on the map to see just where  it was we had been hunting our mushrooms and I was surprised to discover we had been just a bit south of Nazareth in the Lower Galilee region. I keep forgetting that, with our central location in Tel Aviv, we are not far from anywhere in Israel, which is about the size of New Jersey.

Click here for more photos from the hunt.

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