Written by Wildcat Dianne on 20 Apr, 2008
In a scene from one of my favorite movies, 2005's Czech film Zelary, the main character Hana, who is hiding from the Nazis in a remote mountain village called Zelary, gets a lesson from one of the old ladies of the village on the wild…Read More
In a scene from one of my favorite movies, 2005's Czech film Zelary, the main character Hana, who is hiding from the Nazis in a remote mountain village called Zelary, gets a lesson from one of the old ladies of the village on the wild herbs that grow in the area. The scene brought back a flood of good memories for me because three years before that in 2002, my friend Ivan and I would spend many hours on our bikes searching for wild herbs and mushrooms in the woods and fields near his home of the village Borovce.
My first visit to Slovakia was in September 2001, which is when wild mushrooms come into harvest. About a week into my short visit to Borovce, Ivan took me mushrooming in the woods near Lancar, a small village known for its 18th Century hilltop church.
After arriving in the woods, Ivan and I parked our bikes on the side of the road near a secret spot where Ivan knew the best mushrooms grew. Like Dad with his secret woodcutting places near McCall, Idaho and Loki and Katie with their secret swim holes in Donnelly, Idaho, Ivan had his secret mushrooming place. Armed with bags, Ivan and I made our way into the woods and began searching for mushrooms. Since Dad had taken me mushrooming near McCall a couple of times, I had a fair idea of what morels and brains looked like, but Slovakian wild mushrooms are a little different than American wild mushrooms, and I had to call Ivan over a few times to a patch I had discovered to make sure that what I wanted to pick was edible and not poisonous. It is said that the Ancient Roman Ruler Claudius died after imbibing poisoned mushrooms that his wicked sister and nephew had prepared for him, and I wasn't about to end my 2001 European vacation inadvertantely re-enacting the death scene from I, Claudius in which Derek Jacobi's stuttering Claudius dies after eating those famous mushrooms.
After about an hour mushrooming, Ivan and I had filled our bags and strapped the bounty on his bike and went into Lancar to explore the church and have a drink in another village before heading back to Borovce before it got dark. Ivan's mother Irena greeted our smiling faces at the door of her home and immediately took our bounty and went to work on them. Most of the mushrooms Irena lined on plastic sheeting and put outside by the house to dry for winter use. The remaining fresh mushrooms were sauteed in butter and made into an omelet that is one of the best omelets I have ever eaten. It put button mushrooms from WinCo to shame.
Most Slovakian villagers are poor and cannot afford proper medical care and rely on herbal remedies to cure what ails them. On several occasions, Ivan's parents would take their bikes into the woods near their Borovce home and harvets elderberry flowers from the trees on the roadsides leading into the woods. They would come home with huge bags of white sweet-smelling flowers and put them in a big pan with water and sugar and make a syrup that was jarred and used to sweeten tea and was to help stomach trouble. I grew to like sweetening my tea after lunch with the syrup and wish that we had some elderberries here in Idaho, and I doubt if we will find them in Florida.
Other trips into the forest by Ivan's parents would be to find Zhilava or nettles, the prickly leaves that are common in Middle Eastern cooking and can leave the pickers with scratched up arms and hands. Ivan, his parents, and I would go into the woods on separate occasions and with gloves, pick tons of Zhilava which would be laid out on plastic sheeting in the Anders' yard and dried out for tea which was good for stomach aches.
More on herbing and mushrooming in Slovakia in my next entry!
Every bike ride into the Slovakian woods to sightsee and get exercise there was a little lesson from Ivan on herbs and other edible plants that grew wild in the forests and open fields scattered throughout Western Slovakia.The dirt road from Borovce to Lancar was…Read More
Every bike ride into the Slovakian woods to sightsee and get exercise there was a little lesson from Ivan on herbs and other edible plants that grew wild in the forests and open fields scattered throughout Western Slovakia.
The dirt road from Borovce to Lancar was one prime example of wild plants and herbs. On my first visit to Slovakia in 2001, walnuts were in harvest on a tree that grew wild on the side of the road, and we would pick several nuts for us to munch on while riding or take them home for a later snack. Then Ivan picked some berries from a wild Juniper tree. I didn't release they were edible, but Ivan said they were full of vitamins. I reluctantly tried them, and they are an acquired taste. Try eating pine tar in berry form. That's what they tasted like.
Usually when one rides on a road, they ignore their surroundings. Ivan was always in search of plants and herbs to pick and take home for drying. Many times, we would stop on the Borovce/Lancar road and harvest wild Marjoram, which would be taken home and hung in the kitchen or Ivan's workshed to dry for cooking. I took some dried Marjoram home to Idaho with me after the 2001 visit to cook with, and it was very good.
Wild garlic grew like wildfire on many roads in Slovakia, and we used to get a strong whif of the stuff everytime we biked through them. Many times, we would stop and pick it fresh and eat it on bread with Brzynda cheese as a snack after a long ride around Western Slovakia.
Ivan sent me home in 2002 with a bag of wild peppermint which is another tummyache cure in Slovakia, and it was used with love here in Idaho for our teas and cooking. It has a mustier smell than what we are used to, but the taste is the same.
When Ivan taught me how to make homemade cherry/currant wine in June when cherries came into season, the tree in his yard didn't yield enough fruit for enough wine to get them through the summer and fall. There was a wild cherry tree on the Borovce/Lancar road about five minutes from Ivan's house that we spent a nice June evening harvesting a huge bucketload of the sweet fruit, and I also enjoyed helping myself to some of the fruit while picking, but Ivan wouldn't let me climb up the tree to help him get the good stuff from the higher limbs.
If you are interested in picking herbs and other wild plants and fruits in Slovkia, make sure you do thorough research through the internet or books. Ivan had an old book from a woman who was an herbal specialist in Slovakia in the early and mid-20th Century. Doing your homework can be the difference from a good harvest or a poisoned harvest!