Mushroom season in Austria is like pumpkin season in the USA – a HUGE deal! But in Austria, instead of frequenting your local Starbucks and grabbing a pumpkin spice latte, you’re strapping on hiking boots and playing detective in the Austrian Alps.
So when asked to go mushroom hunting with a local mushroom enthusiast, we didn’t have to think about it for a second! Wandering the woods where mushrooms are plentiful and then cooking up a delicious dinner with our findings sounded the perfect way to spend the day . We could not wait to experience a true tradition in our new home. After all, this is why we moved to Austria in the first place – to truly embrace a new culture and step outside of our normal routine – and this was our chance!
While our excitement was clear, our lack of knowledge on what mushroom hunting entails was immediately made clear as well – in the very first hour of our hunt! We had no idea how much physical activity this would require or how much actual hunting we’d be doing that afternoon. Many lessons were learned searching for the perfect ‘shrooms in the Austrian Alps. And here they are:
1) Mushroom hunting is best right after it rains.
The damper the weather, the more mushrooms you will find. They can pretty much grow overnight after it rains, so schedule your hunt accordingly. And if the temperature drops below 34 degrees Fahrenheit the night before, you might want to rethink your mission. Nothing worse than setting out for a day of hunting and coming back with nothing for dinner!
2) Wear high socks or pants for the hunt.
You are not hiking a trail, so the branches and thorn-filled bushes are plentiful. Wear high socks or if the weather is cool enough, pants are best. We wore shorts and our legs were completely scratched up. Lesson learned!
3) Make sure to bring a “Mushroom Bag”.
This is the easiest and most efficient way to collect all of your mushrooms. And since you’ll be bending down a lot, hanging your cotton mushroom bag around your neck allows for quick gathering and storing. The quicker you gather, the more likely you are to return home victorious!
4) Bring water!
This should be obvious, but be sure to bring extra water and water bottles when you go mushroom hunting. You can also try to hunt around a spring or stream in the forest as they are perfect for refilling – and it’s the coldest and freshest water you will ever drink!
5) Purchase walkie talkies before your journey.
As a safety precaution, always carry walkie talkies with you. Spreading out is more effective than walking together, so it’s important to be able to stay in touch. We had no idea that we’d all be separated at one point, and having walkie talkies to communicate was extremely helpful.
6) Find a focal point or activate GPS at starting point.
If you have GPS meant for hiking, this is the time to use it! If not, find something in the distance that will help identify where you are. When we parked the car, we noticed a mountain peak on the horizon, and took note of where we were in relation to that peak. No matter where we wandered from there, we always knew where the car was parked and what direction would take us there.
7) Walk sideways and heel-toe vs. toe-heel.
This was a personal challenge for me in particular. I slid and fell, and then slid and fell some more. All of my struggling was due to the fact that I wasn’t hiking correctly. Down any steep surface, walking sideways and heel-toe is best. Don’t forget, if you are having a hard time walking down, than you can always walk back up and find a new route!
8) Colorful mushrooms = off-limit mushrooms.
Sure they look magical, but magical mushrooms are not the ones you want to eat! Don’t let their Alice in Wonderland appearance fool you. Admire but don’t eat these colorful ‘shrooms or you might severely regret that decision…
9) If you get lost, stay calm and listen.
As I said earlier, when you go mushroom hunting, you will not be walking right next to your partners. If you were, then how could you divide and conquer the forest? The potential to get lost, even just for a few minutes is not far off. But before your mind wanders and you start thinking of how you’ll survive for days in the middle of the Alps all by yourself, stop, look around and listen. Most likely, you will hear your fellow hunters stepping on branches close by.
10) Always bring an extra shirt.
No matter how cool it is outside, the energy exerted mushroom hunting will definitely cause you to sweat. Do yourself a favor, and bring an extra shirt to change into to. One of the best parts of mushroom hunting occurs after the hunt is complete. High in the mountains, you’ll find family-run restaurants meant for hikers to enjoy. Order a wine spritzer and fresh garlic cheese, and enjoy the view…comfortably in a clean and dry shirt!
After a long day of hiking, followed by spritzers and the freshet garlic cheese imaginable, we sorted through our findings. Luckily we’d gathered enough mushrooms to cook up Semmelknodel with mushroom cream sauce for dinner. This is a traditional Austrian dish, and one of our favorites, especially during the season.
As we sat and enjoyed dinner, we reflected on what a rewarding experience it was! One that we plan to repeat before November, when mushroom season comes to an end. And now that we’ve learned these 10 lessons in mushroom hunting, our next hunt should be an even bigger success!