Chanterelles  or Eierschwammerl/ Pfiffferlinge © Nadya Kubik /

‘See if you can find some mushrooms in the woods, when you come home from school’ my mother said before leaving for work. September was the best time for picking mushrooms and of all the chores, this one was my favourite. I took my dog, a bitser of a German Shepherd and, wicker basket in hand, we headed off. Going mushrooming was an adventure, a reason to go exploring the woods with my favoured companion.

I was nine years old and knew all the edible mushrooms of the Vienna Woods. I followed my nose and went deep into the forest where the dappled light shimmered across shadows and birds courted each other atop the canopy of beech trees. I listened for the cuckoo, the woodpecker, and the chirpy lark. They accompanied me in song and lifted my spirits as I meandered from the path in search for mushrooms at the base of ancient tree trunks.  

Looking for mushrooms was different to every other chore I had. It wasn’t time bound – I could justify being away for hours, unlike going to the shop to buy bread. To my dismay, my mother could calculate the time it took to walk there and back to the minute. Mushrooming, however, was an art, and art took its time. No one would accuse me of dawdling in the woods.

Deep in the forest, I felt at peace. Safe with the dog by my side, we looked out for one another. He never ran too far from my side. I was there to remove a thorn from his paw or find a cool stream for a drink, he was there to protect me. Sometimes, it was he who led me to the tastiest mushrooms. These afternoons were our precious time together.

While finding mushrooms for that night’s dinner should have been foremost on my mind, there were unexpected pleasures in the woods; a salamander that scuttled across the path and disappeared under leaves, a doe that looked deep into my eyes before trotting away. These encounters were pure rapture. I knew I belonged to this magical world and would always be welcomed home.

And then, there were the times when I found a meadow of wildflowers and I’d fill my basket before remembering the real reason for my ramble. Or, tired from my long walk, I’d lie down in a clearing and watch the clouds assemble into my favourite animals. All I had to remember was to be home before six and explain that mushrooms were particularly difficult to find that day. This was the latitude I was given when looking for mushrooms that would provide our evening meal.

Even so, I still had to find them. I could not go home empty handed for there would be no dinner on the table. I’d search carefully around promising trunks, moving leaves with a stick or bending down to explore a mound that could signal a troop of mushrooms. I was always delighted when my instincts proved right and I could pick three or four chanterelles before moving on.

On bountiful days, I’d return with enough mushrooms for a couple of meals. The sweet earthy smell in my basket scented the kitchen. For the next two nights, we would eat well. We’d have our fill of fried mushrooms and boiled potatoes and would not go to bed hungry.

10 thoughts on “Mushrooms”

  1. another lovely memoir ! idyllic and no fear ! are those forests still there ? who taught you to identify safe mushrooms ?
    it is interesting as there is a feeling of necessity from your mother…free food..straitened life in Vienna ? Viki , I made a delicious mushroom and eggplant moussaka last week…it said chanterelles but I just settled for buttons ! hope I can make it for you one day !! Thanks for your story..I was expecting a fountain pen memoir after the ink blotter !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I walked through those forests again in 2019. Not much had changed in terms of the woods around the village. There used to be a railway kiosk near the station with a beer garden and that had fallen into disrepair. It was there that we met old Poldi who taught us which mushrooms were edible and which were not. You are right, they were rather desperate times for my parents. There was never enough money around and food was always scarce. Mushrooms certainly helped throughout late summer and autumn.


    2. Vicki, I seem to recall you talking about going into the forest with your class when you were teaching in Germany some years back. How magical! I wondered through the Black Forest over 30 years ago and was enchanted. I wish I knew about the mushrooms!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is magical Viktoria, how amazing to have the freedom to explore such a world. I walked through the fallen leaves and smelled the dampness in the air. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it certainly was a magical moment in time. I wonder how many children would now be allowed to do what I took for granted.


  3. I loved the way you were ‘out of time’ in some ways – time stretched and the place was magical. How lovely that children can find safety and beauty like this – your dog was a protector – and you had autonomy. This resonated for me in that I lived in a glorious place in North Wales and we had the ‘back by six’ injunction – but your writing has so much depth because you were providing the family meal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we experience time in a very different way as children. You are right, sometimes it stretches other times it compresses. I love the fact that it brought back memories of your own childhood in Wales.


  4. I recall being horrified around 45 years ago when you told me you used to go mushrooming in the Vienna Woods. I simply could not imagine it. I can now. Lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

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