It’s May and though I find it hard to believe, the vast swathes of few-flowered garlic (see previous post) have withered almost to nothing, the warm weather having made a short season out of what seemed a limitless resource. Only yellowing leaves and those paradoxical bulbils remained, though now much bigger and much easier to harvest, having ruptured the sheath-like structure around the flower. The veggie caviar idea works much better with these more substantial fruits, and the flavour has also intensified with the ripening.
And what about the ‘true’ wild garlic’s (Allium ursinum) May arrival? Well, thanks mainly to the vigorousness of few-flowered leek, it doesn’t seem to have a season in Berlin. Online forums of keen Bärlauch hunters are mainly an endless scroll of mistaken identifications (people naming ramsons locations that are actually few-flowered garlic spots), or read like tirades against the intruding few-flowered leek, as if it were personally responsible for wiping out the true Bärlauch. Most of the people who can remember harvesting real ramsons say that the true wild garlic is now nowhere to be found around the city and its surrounding woodland. I managed to encounter oneplant on pushing through some particularly dense foliage on today’s hike:
Though I was happy to see that true wild garlic is still making its way in the woods, albeit having gone underground, Sunday was really about one thing only: morels. Saturday came the spring rains and a tender warm night, and in the early hours it continued to pour intermittently. I set out for the Kiesgrube hoping that the free-draining, sandy and poor soil might just support the kind of treasure I was looking for. The whole way through the forest the air was decidedly shroomy, but more the strange apricot note I associate with chanterelles than anything else, and it took an hour to calm down into the right rhythm for seeking out morels. Not that I have ever had the honour of finding any before, but I imagine it requires a similar level of concentration to the one needed in order to find horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides), a similarly reclusive little mushroom. I covered every square foot of the ‘grube before finally accepting my biggest fear: no underlying chalk to the sand, the only real comfort allowing you to say to yourself ‘if they are anywhere, they’re here’. On the crestfallen march back, however, in the way of consolation the woods offered me a chicken:
Because of the location of today’s intended bounty, I walked pretty much the exact reverse circuit of my regular ‘small’ Grunewald route. Even with my aching, morel-strained eyes, this wonderful chicken of the woods fungus (Laetiporus sulphureus) was visible through the trees, growing from the last tree stump on the route, usually the first thing I encounter on my ‘small’ route. Having left enough to be sure that the fungus can regenerate, it still weighs almost a kilogram (2lbs). The fruit body had also engulfed part of a young bramble plant, which was completely fused between the three tiers of chicken-like flesh. Through the cotton bag I had planned to use for the hypothetical morels, it happily leaked its viscid juice all over my jeans on the train home.
Even besides this runner-up prize, the scouring of the Kiesgrube revealed other important foraging opportunities, namely the locating of a tucked-away apple tree in blossom. Apart from the lack of chalk, I could not have been better positioned for morels, if you believe the literature, than to be on light sandy soil, on a warm, wet day in May, at the foot of an aged apple tree. However, there were none to be found, leading me to the conclusion that coming across an apple tree on light sandy soil in wet weather in late spring, should perhaps indicate to me not the fragile hope of spring morels but rather the near certainty of autumn apples.
When I think of the amount of concentration required to stay focused in hunting the elusive morel, I can’t help but contemplate how many other treasures pass me by, both edible and aesthetic. On any other day, I would have rejoiced to find, in one swoop, a huge chunk of edible bracket fungus, and also the site of a future apple haul. I know this only reinforces the fact that foraging is about staying flexible and opportunistic rather than doggedly trying to hunt down a rare treat, but my thirst for morels is incessant, having developed to the state of a sort of affair of foraging honour. Though I myself wish it were otherwise, it will not be slaked by the commiseration of chicken nuggets for dinner.