At the beginning of September every year, the people of Ischia, Italy practically do a rain dance hoping that the summer heat turns to fall showers. The reason? It’s not just to cool off the island. The gents are hoping for rain because rain, followed by the strong sun, produces a fruitful mushroom season. When Mother Nature cooperates, the people of the island — usually those from the side of the island where the families once worked the land as their job — head to the hills of Buceto and Epomeo in search of mushrooms.
The most commonly found mushrooms are porcini. Those are the brown ones in the photo above. But when some of the others are found like the red one above (whose name literally translated is hard boiled egg), it’s like striking gold. People who find mushrooms have their spots — specific places they go in the woods to collect them — and they don’t like to tell anyone else for fear that their treasure will be stolen. Some of the people sell the mushrooms they find on the streets of Ischia during this time of year. Everyone wants to make creamy pasta sauces with the mushrooms. Some people even eat the porcini raw as antipasto.
Not just anyone can find and cook mushrooms. You have to know what you’re doing because mushrooms can be poisonous and you have to be able to tell the difference between the good and the bad. Also, if someone gives you mushrooms to use in your cooking as a gift (which often happens this time of year – the above in fact are mushrooms that my aunt’s friends gave to her when she arrived in Italy from the States a few days ago), never wash them in water. You might be tempted because they usually have dirt on them. But the mushrooms will soak up the water like a sponge, and you’ll have a soggy mess. Just rub off the dirt with a dry towel. Also, you can freeze the mushrooms if you’d like to have them at other times of the year for cooking. Yum!