Olya Kutsiuruba and David Swab of Vancouver had just spent a day doing what they love — mushroom picking — and their baskets were full of the day’s bounty, when Kutsiuruba says her husband started lagging behind.
It was late Thursday afternoon as they were walking down a hilly slope in the Sea to Sky corridor between North Vancouver and Squamish, when Swab “let out a shriek” and started backing away from a bush.
“I thought he was bitten by something or he saw a bear,” Kutsiuruba said in an interview.
“I ran over and he told me to peek under the underbrush, and I looked through the leaves gently and there sat the most massive mushroom.”
She said both of them burst out laughing on seeing the giant king bolete mushroom — a brownish-white monster that tipped the scales at 2.92 kilograms (6.4 pounds) and measured about 36 centimetres wide across the cap.
“For mushroom pickers this isn’t something that happens at all,” she said. “If ever.”
The fungiphiles like to go out as much as they can in the fall, and Kutsiuruba said this year they have noticed there are a lot more mushrooms than there were last year.
“I have an entire fridge full of mushrooms in paper bags. We have way too much. It’s kind of the case with mushrooms. When it rains, it pours,” she said.
The hobby isn’t without its dangers: last week, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control warned mushroom lovers not to forage in urban areas of Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island because they could reap a deadly harvest. Death cap mushrooms are the deadliest on the planet and have been identified in 100 locations in the Vancouver area, the warning said.
But Kutsiuruba said the practice is “almost in our blood.” She said her grandmother was an avid mushroom picker in Ukraine who taught Kutsiuruba’s father, who in turn taught her.
“As a kid I got really excited about it … mushroom picking is part of my heritage and I enjoy it. I’m happy that I can carry it on with my husband,” she said, adding that she planned to share photos of their big find with family members in Ukraine.
Kutsiuruba said she and her husband spent most of Saturday dehydrating the giant king bolete, and all those mushrooms will make for a tastier Thanksgiving.
“We’re very much thankful for this,” she said. “It’s really our own little harvest.”
She said she’s going to make her favourite dish with the king bolete — a dill-heavy, creamy sauce that can be poured over mashed potatoes, polenta or perogies. She said she learned the recipe from her mother.