Mushroom picking tips in Mallorca
The secret world of Mushroom Picking in Soller in Mallorca
Here I share my hobby about the secrets of mushroom picking in Mallorca, in this part of my English locals' guide to Soller in Mallorca. You are about to read some of the locals very secretive and inside knowledge about this tradition.
Mallorcans pride themselves with their traditions. One of these is foresting for mushrooms. 'Esclata sangs' or 'Blood Mushrooms', are the most sort after type of mushroom on the island. However, there is a lot more than just the high price at stake.
The Sollerics (Natives from Soller in Mallorca) will tell you that the two biggest types of a liar on the island are fishermen and mushroom pickers. But why are they so secretive?
You well may be wondering 'what is an Esclata sang?' Don't worry, here I will explain. If you really want to get in with locals in Soller you must know what one is, and the pride of finding them.
Image: © My Esclata sangs by peterb6001
Two esclata sangs or blood mushrooms
What is an Esclata Sang? 'Lactarious Sanguifluss'
Mallorca has a wide range of delicious wild mushrooms growing over the island, but by far the most sought after is the Esclata Sng, which is the Lactarius Sanguifluss.
In Catalan 'Sang' means 'blood'. These mushrooms are absolutely delicious with a deep and subtle meaty texture and flavour.
When cut from the stem, esclata sangs bleed. This looks exactly like the blood that comes out of them, sometimes even making you think that you have cut your own finger. This sang will turn a greenish colour when drying.
The fresher it is, the more blood it will have.
As you can see from the photos they are round, with a browny pink underneath and a thick stem. The top is a light cream yellow-orange colour. Sizes will vary.
If you are lucky enough to find esclata sangs always make sure with a knowledgeable local as to whether it is one, as there are various poisonous fungi on the island, one which looks quite similar.
A Mushroom picking knife
When picking mushrooms you should cut them nicely from the bottom and not just yank them from the ground. This helps protect the underground that they have and will help to appear in the same area again next year.
So one of these mushroom knifes will save you a lot of time in the long run and are also good for not damaging them.
Serra de Tramuntana mountains in Mallorca
The pride of finding them, and nobody spotting us
There are three of us. Two Mallorcan Sollerics and myself. It's early in the morning. Maybe 6.30 am. It's November and we are in a bar. We are in Can Massia, this is a real locals' bar situated about halfway between the square and the port. Rarely tourists venture here.
We have left our wicker collection baskets in the car. We don't want to raise suspicions. The bar owner 'Jose Antonio' serves our drinks. That would be two cafe solos with 2 Ron Amazonas (68% proof Mallorcan rum) for them and a tea and a 'Hierbas' (a Mallorcan liquor made from anise and mountain herbs) for myself. Well, I am English and need my tea.
Jose Antonio is a great friend of mine and knows exactly what we are up to. Being a bar owner he would be a good insider man for information as to where to find the esclata sangs but everybody lies to him.
If somebody says they found a few kilos in Deia, this normally means they found them elsewhere, and if they say they couldn't find any there, it may well be a good place to look.
Jose shows us a huge esclata sang that somebody had left it in the bar for him to show off. So it would appear the season has arrived. Pep has found some apparently.
Now due to trickery involved we inspect the fungi. These mushrooms can be bought for a longer time period from farms in Barcelona. Now, of course, the locals will tell you that these are far inferior in quality, nowhere near as fresh, and the blood has dried up in them.
It's decided that this one is from the island. The hunt is on but my companions have ordered another rum. We huddle around the table to discuss where we will be looking. Hushed voices and the low conversation takes place. There are other foresters here, and although we are all friends these are secrets that won't be shared.
We have three places planned, Soller has a population of 15,000 people. We know each other's cars. Parking near where we will be looking isn't an option. Somebody will see our car up somewhere in the mountains and know exactly what we are doing.
We park our car further away.
A nice haul of mushrooms from the Tramuntana mountain range in Mallorca
When is the mushroom season in Soller in Mallorca?
The season varies every year depending on the weather, rain and sunshine.
Mallorca has a great climate for 'setas', that's the Mallorcan word for mushrooms.
The season can range from anywhere from the beginning of October until early January.
Other 'bolets and setas' in a 'finca' - In a friends 'olivar' or olive grove in the Tramuntana mountains
What will I need to start mushroom picking?
We use wicker baskets to collect our esclata sangs.
The reason we use these, apart from being traditional is that if you put them in a normal bag they can get bruised and damaged. The sturdy sides and bottom help to stop them crushing one another.
A rounded mushroom knife is often used to cut them from the ground. This is to ensure that they are not damaged and that the web underneath the ground is not disturbed. Cutting from the lower stem will increase the chances of the esclata sang being in the same spot the next year.
Apart from this a healthy set of legs and a sharp pair of eyes are needed. They can be extremely difficult to spot and you may even tread on one without realizing.
If you venture deep into the mountains a military compass could also be handy.
How do I look for mushrooms or esclata sangs?
The giveaway signs
It should be said first that in a large area the esclata-sangs may appear in exactly the same spot each year.
This is one reason why the locals keep so secretive. They will often rise under the same tree, out of possible thousands.
So where to start and what signs to look for.
These mushrooms love pine trees. So first you should be in an area with pines. Check near recently upturned areas of the earth like fallen trunks.
They will sometimes be buried underneath the pine needles so a really sharp eye is needed. Familiarize yourself with the colour of the top of the seta. As you may only be able to see a tiny part beneath the pine needles.
They also appear on rocky land, almost camouflaging themselves.
One of the most helpful tips I have ever been given is to first look for blavas, or similar fungi. These are easy to spot from a distance. Blavas are big, stand well above the surface and the colours can vary from browns and yellows to pinks and purples. They have a spongy texture underneath.
There are often esclata-sangs hidden away near these. So spot these first then inspect the area around the pine trees nearby.
3 well known mushroom harvesting areas in the Tramuntana Mountains
I didn't tell you this info!
Es Faro, The Lighthouse
You can walk or drive up to the lighthouse in the Port of Soller in Mallorca. There is parking at the top for the people visiting theEs Faro restaurant. Here the road ends.
The whole area behind and around here is a good easy place to look, however, it is somewhat over-harvested. If you see empty holes in the pine needles on the floor or stumps from where the mushrooms were cut, you will know that people have already been looking.
Tip, the flat rocky areas with shrubs are especially good here, most people just check the pines
The Bolets here will appear later in the season than the first ones on the island because of the lower altitude.
Leaving Soller and going up the Tramuntana Mountains you will pass Cuba and reach Puig Major, the highest mountain on the island. Carry on and you will reach Lluc.
This has a monastery, bar and cafe. Many walkers go here by foot from Soller (Lluc a pie) once a year, about a 35 km walk.
This is where the esclata-sangs normally first appear on the island. Check the pines between there and the lakes.
Drive towards Lluc, it is well signposted. Once on the correct road (just off the main road between the Port of Soller and the square) follow the winding road all the way until you are near the top of Puig Major and you will see a huge reservoir.
Around this whole area is great for mushroom picking throughout the whole season.
Tip, there are big bulls here but they are owned by the legendary 'Tony de Cuba' and are quite docile.
These are three great areas to start off with. I collected the esclata-sangs in this picture from in and around these places.
Serra de Tramuntana mountain range on a lovely mushroom picking morning
How much do blood mushrooms cost?
Well, farmed blood mushrooms from Barcelona can be bought for about 15 to 25 euros per kilo.
Freshly picked ones can be bought in the market from anywhere from around 35 to 75 euros per kilo depending on the year and the harvests.
Going to far, a car gets robbed for esclata sangs
Is there a secret mafia?
A very close friend of mine told me an extraordinary story.
He is one of the most respected foragers in Soller. He was asked to find the bolets and fungi for a specialist book to be released in Soller. He would collect the hardest, rarest species to find to be photographed for the book.
This man in question 'Joan', was with his friend and fellow forager Tomeu 2 years ago. They had been out early and already filled up two baskets of mushrooms. They put these in the back of their car and went to look for more.
Upon returning they had found that the car had been broken into. It had been left on a very quiet mountain road.
The most astonishing fact about this story is that only the esclata sangs were stolen. His wallet was next to where the baskets had been and hadn't been touched.
Joan and Tomeu figure, they must have been followed and watched with the criminal waiting for his crime. They were pleased as this wasn't one of their favourite locations, they would be much more distressed about this being given away.
The police said that the car was professionally broken into, picking the lock and only damaging it every so slightly.
A selection of different mushrooms found in Soller in Mallorca - Images by peterb6001Click thumbnail to view full-size
Returning to the bar and giving thanks.
We had to return to the bar, didn't we?
We had a good find and now wanted to show off a little to Jose Antonio, the bar owner. We walked in beaming, with one large esclata sang in hand. This can often be seen by a number of the locals' following this routine.
Failing always feels horrible. Some days you are unlucky. Some days a change in the weather will have made them rancid. The grandmothers will frown if you don't have a harvest for them and tell you how many they and their husband would have found had they been our age.
In the bar, people will quiz about how many were found and where. Elaborate stories will begin smothered in lies by all parties, who are all trying to work out where and when to go next.
Jose Antonio will keep the trophy behind his bar, he will also come and have a sneak look in our car to see the whole haul of mushrooms and maybe we will swap a few for a beer.
The tradition is much more than gathering mushrooms. It is finding the best ones. A day out in the mountains with friends and family. Being a hero or zero in the town that month.
There are few tourists at this time of year. The beach is empty and the port becomes quite ghostly.
For two or so months, all coming from one type of mushroom, the esclata sang helps a town that in the winter is quiet and calm to have a little more joy and competition. Big finds and good months are remembered for years to come.
Bonds are born, banter takes place and traditions are kept. Good food is eaten and a carnival of setas takes place in the square with people from all over the island displaying their most special finds. Who would think that a mushroom could help a town to bond?
Thank you esclata sangs, and thank you to the locals for letting me in on your secrets and excepting me (although it did take years). They will now sigh a breath of relief that I haven't spoken of anything that they wouldn't want me to.
Setas, Mushrooms, Esclata Sangs and lamb Malloquin Style
© 2013 Peter Badham