It’s not all about deer
It’s mid-October and make no mistake, my thoughts are all about archery season and deer hunting but, hunting something other than deer gets my attention as well. Ever since I can remember, late September and early October meant one thing to my parents, it was mushroom season and the venerable popinki, or potpinki was the star of the show.
For the uninitiated, popinki, also known as Honey mushrooms in some parts of the country, are collectively known as Armillaria by mycologists. There are many species of edible wild mushrooms of course but the popinki are the most sought after by people of Eastern European descent. Holy meals such as Christmas Eve supper required meatless dishes and popinki, either canned, dried, or frozen were and still are especially popular at such times.
Popinkis have an almost meat-like texture and I find them delicious when sauteed in butter and served with some scrambled eggs. A few years back I found a stump full of beautiful button mushrooms and couldn’t wait to get them home. As my mother once did, I always boil any I find at least twice. It’s mostly to clean them of any woodland detritus but, this time, because they were so clean, I decided simply to sautee them in some butter. Big mistake!
A short time after eating the unboiled mushrooms I had some stomach distress. I’ve picked and eaten them for over seventy years but, only after investigating did I discover they could cause stomach upset in some people if eaten fresh or raw. I wasn’t going to die or anything of the sort by skipping an important step in their preparation, but it did teach me a lesson as to why my mother always parboiled any of the ones she and my father found.
Popinki are an enigma to me. My father always said to look for them in thick briars and he was right. Some say to search for them on fallen logs and beech or oak stumps and, they are also correct. Two years ago, I found them all over the forest floor and it was almost impossible not to step on one as I foraged. Last fall I found them growing profusely in a dense mat of pine needles. It seems popinki grow where they want to and when they want to. I first begin searching for my fungal treasures beginning around the 19th of September and failing to find any then, I search for them through early October and again after the first frost.
Archery season opened a week ago here in the Southern Tier and although I didn’t see any deer the first three days I hunted I did find several beech stumps with popinki growing on them. There would be time enough to hunt deer, but I couldn’t resist stopping and picking enough to ensure breakfast would be a special treat for the next several mornings. I couldn’t help myself, it’s just part of my Eastern European heritage.