heavily forested slopes of La Malinche, one of the four
volcanoes in the Tlaxcala area, rich with many species
of fungi, have blessed indigenous Indian groups with their
bounty for hundreds of years. Mushroom collecting is an
ancient tradition with deep cultural significance, dating
back at least two thousand years in this region. Ethno
mycologist Adriana Montoya, studies the modern day mushroom
culture of these Indians, and shared her findings with
our group. Although mushrooms are gathered for sale and
are very important to the local economy, Adriana has found
that native people also use mushrooms for food, tinder,
cosmetics, insecticide, medicine, and ornaments.
gathering is a family affair that includes even very young
children. By accompanying parents during mushroom forays,
children learn to recognize the most desirable varieties
and learn the secrets of where to find them in the forest.
One of our guides, Guadalupe, carries her month old daughter
with her as we tramp through the forest where she spends
much of her time. Her two preschool children accompany
another female guide.
through Javier Mina, we happen upon people engaging in
the food dehydrating process used in this remote area.
On tarps in a roadway, beans, mushrooms, corn, and seeds
dry in the sun. When drying is complete, villagers sack
their goods for shipping. Mushrooms gathered in this area
are sent to local markets and to Mexico City, where they
continue on to brokers in Paris, Buenos Aires and Milan.
This wonderful cottage industry makes it possible for
the indigenous people to continue to live in some of the
most spectacular geography on earth.
day's foray yields different species of fungi depending
on the type of forest visited. We collect at elevations
of 8,500-10,000 feet in areas where access is often difficult.
Steep slopes and slippery embankments test our mettle.
The group is quickly becoming rather like a family, sharing
fun and sometimes helping each other survive. Usually,
we ride in a small bus but, on the trip to Cañada
Grande, we transfer to the back of a dump truck for the
last two kilometers. The driver navigates a dry, rutted
streambed to reach our destination. Hanging on to the
sideboards as the truck sways and bumps along, the group
ducks on cue to avoid the low tree branches. Deep into
the forest the truck stops, we climb out of the truck
and fan out to begin the mushroom hunt.
hours later, the truck horn sounds three times, the signal
for us to return to the truck and enjoy lunch in the forest.
Rogelio Salas, once owner of a restaurant in Mexico City,
coordinates our meals. Watermelon juice and wild mushroom
tamales made with blue corn are the group's favorite.
Local peaches are in season, and are served for dessert.
They are quite small but delectable.
a beginner, I collect every mushroom I see and carefully
place it into my foray basket with great excitement. In
a few days, with more knowledge, I gather selectively
according to my own personal scale. I pick the choicest,
most unusual, largest, prettiest, smallest and species
unknown to me. At day's end, the group's collecting effort
is studied. Identification tables are set up by our expert
mycologists, with knowledgeable trip members assisting.
Berry, who has been interested in mushrooms for at least
forty years, and is here to learn even more, assists with
the identification task. Through a process of consultation,
debate and research, the specimens are labeled with Latin
and local names.
spores are examined under a microscope for any specimens
defying identification by other means. To quote Nance,
one of our trippers, "looking at spores under a microscope
was not something I thought of as a vacation plan, but
once you took a close look they were so interesting! Some
of those tiny spores have ventriculated surfaces so that
they can attach themselves to any hapless creature or
bit of passing debris." The mycologists continue
their work late into the evening, investigating, photographing,
and cataloging the day's foray result to add to their
local people collect sixty edible mushroom species. Although
we do not find that many, we collect enough edibles each
day to feast on. Once the genus and species of a particular
mushroom has been established and everyone has looked
over the day's foray results, the best tasting mushrooms
are transferred to the kitchen. The gracious staff at
La Escondida allow us to invade their rustic kitchen to
prepare our "tasting". The night I assist, we
prepare Boletus luridiformis, Lactarius salmonicolor,
Boletus pinophilus (pante), Clavariadelphus truncatus,
Tricholomata clitocybe gibba, Cantharellas, Hygrophorus
chrysodon (huevito) and Helvella crispa (oreja de padre).
These are prepared simply, sautéed separately with
a little butter and salt, to allow the individual flavors
to be appreciated. Loraine Berry, very experienced with
mushroom identification and preparation, says that "they
may be edible, but some mushrooms are not incredible".
She was right, they were not equally delicious.