For One Hartford Forager, Collecting Mushrooms Is In Her Blood

Oct 31, 2017

Weather people call rain "bad weather," but mushroom foragers know rain brings abundance.
Borodenko's grandmother, Agnes Frances Platt, in a photograph taken in 1960 as she collected dandelion greens on an Easter Sunday morning.
Credit Connie Borodenko

Foraging was a survival skill for my grandmother in war-torn Suwalki, Poland, and again after she emigrated to America in 1911.  

All her life, Bobchi collected wild greens and mushrooms.

I’d walk with her around the yard every Easter Sunday as she dug dandelions. She sometimes wept, remembering Polish Easters.

Later in the year, we’d go for mushrooms, although my grandmother knew only a few kinds.

My happiest memories are of the excitement of going to the woods with Bobchi, Mom, and my sister Pat, calling out when spotting good ones.

At 20, I used Euell Gibbons’s book "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" to discover even more vegetables and fruits.

I soon began to see many mushrooms I didn't know. So I bought my first mushroom book -- and soon brought my family the first Chicken of the Woods, a bright orange and yellow shelf mushroom that grows on trees. They loved its different and wonderful flavor.

Then I moved to Hartford, joined the Connecticut Valley Mycological Society, and found people of my own ilk -- seriously knowledgeable naturalists who taught me so much more. Such as about morels -- an elusive mushroom that favors elm trees, apple trees and ash.

I love creamed morels over scrambled eggs and toast. But, alas, when May is passed, morels are gone.

The best edible mushrooms wait for rain in mid-July. Weather people call rain “bad weather,” but mushroomers know rain brings abundance: sweet Chanterelles, spicy trumpets, slippery honeys to pickle, and rich Chicken of the Woods -- so good it converted my son-in-law into a mushroom lover.

Chicken of the Woods.
Credit Doug Bowman flickr.com/photos/bistrosavage / Creative Commons

In September, when Hen of the Woods fruit abundantly at the base of oak trees, I revel, for I have plenty to share, and still make soup stock for the whole year. 

In October, foragers hope for fresh rain to bring the last mushrooms of the season.

I've eaten 120 different species of mushrooms, and countless bunches of ramps, fiddleheads, nettles and day lily shoots. And I'm still here, at 77, grateful this world is full of these wondrous things. 

Connie Borodenko lives in Hartford, Connecticut. Like most mushroom foragers, she probably won't tell you the best places to look.