Back in the summer I reported how all the Italians were walking around Ischia claiming the biggest, reddest, juiciest tomatoes. Well, nowadays, they’re claiming the biggest and best mushrooms. Since you can’t simply grow mushrooms in your backyard, there’s a frenzy in all the wooded areas around the island. In the wee hours of the morning, people go on secret recon missions seeking out mushrooms that might have sprouted overnight.
People have “their spots,” where they go to find the fungi every year, and they don’t want to reveal these places to anyone. If they agree to let a relative tag along, they bring them to other places that are poor in mushroom stock to throw people off their scent. Even husbands and wives don’t know of their better half’s mushroom places. Nephews betray their uncles to get to the mushrooms in the family spot first. In fact, it’s completely awkward if you run into a friend or family member while making a run to find mushrooms. You don’t want to be rude and ignore anyone, but you don’t want to share your finds either.
People continue to seek well into the afternoon in the hopes that one of the early birds missed a mushroom here or there. Some of those early birds sell their mushrooms for a premium on the street (and it’s perfectly legal with these kinds of mushrooms). Then, once you have your stash, you share photos and stories flaunting your flair for finding fungi. You also throw these skills in the face of the loved ones you lied to (and perhaps knocked out of the way as you leaped toward a mushroom under that tree on the mountain) by sharing the images of whatever meal you cook using the mushrooms (think spaghetti with olive oil, mushrooms, and pepperoncini or atop a wood-fired pizza). Once again, I’m not among the mushroom mongers hiking the hills of Ischia seeking out the good stuff. But I have been happily eating and judging whose mushrooms are best. Right now, it’s a tie. I guess we’re going to have to have a bunch of tie breakers. Oh well, more mushrooms for me.