Taking a stroll in a Polish forest this autumn can resemble a visit to the local shopping mall – people jostling each other on all sides, armed with baskets, consumption on their minds.
The visitors are enjoying the traditional Polish pastime of mushroom picking and this year more young people seem to have joined the hunt, encouraged by a bumper crop following an unusually wet spring and summer.
“I never expected mushroom picking to be so relaxing and so exciting at the same time,” said Karolina Kulfan, 33, clutching a large basket crammed with “boleti” mushrooms. “Finding a nice boletus is like winning the lottery,” she joked.
The boletus, which usually has a white stalk and brown or yellow top, is generally considered the best-tasting mushroom.
Poland is one of the biggest mushroom exporters worldwide and is estimated to provide some 90 percent of the boleti eaten in Europe.
With nearly a third of Polish territory covered by forest, many Poles have easy access to good mushroom picking areas.
Families will happily spend a whole weekend searching for mushrooms and the results of their labour is a favourite topic of conversation at work on Monday mornings.
In many rural communities, local people sit for hours by the roadside trying to sell their hoard to passing motorists.
Mushroom gathering is also popular in Russia, the Baltic states and some other parts of eastern and southern Europe.