‘Life at an elevation of 1,150m and with an average rainfall of 2,500mm is exciting’, is an understatement. If you happen to ever wake up to a cacophony from ‘the wailing of the depressing sky’, and a slight hint of petrichor tickling your nose, amidst May in Kodagu, then my friend, it is the time you’ll actually experience Kodagu to its fullest. For any workaholic Bangalorean, Kodagu might be considered as a perfect weekend destination to relax their minds, see ‘non-virtual greens’, and to fill their Insta with the #coorg#nature#blessed#blahblah’s. But for any localite, it is the time when the bamboo rain shields are summoned back from the deep corners of the attic. It is the time when the foot of the pants in the village never touches the squishy earth from their rolled thrones up above. It’s the time no folded blanket in the house remains the same. The time when the ‘holes in the socks‘ are finally mended because of the bone-chilling temperature. And not to forget the blood-sucking leeches, always finding a dark corner heedless to the human eye.
But the rainy days in Coorg have pros and cons of their own. Along with an ambush of the bursting heavens comes the blooming of the earth’s fertility. My rainy days here are always associated with the mouth-watering scent of my most favorite dishes, like the jackfruit seed curry, chutney, and sweet dishes like the jackfruit kajayas and cakes. Other days are of the fishes and crabs caught from the overflowing brooks. And also the time for the savory Pathrode and aati paysa. I would shamelessly admit that my lockdown cravings for chicken has drastically decreased because of jackfruits. All in all, sipping the jaggery coffee and rubbing hands in front of the cackling flames in the kitchen, is bliss no heaven can surpass.
But there is something inevitable that accompanies the rainy days. Like there is no sea without an island, no sky without a horizon, no mountain without a valley, there are no toads without ‘toadstools‘.
Toadstools or mushrooms are something that has created an unofficial Olympics for Mushroom hunting amongst families, from generations. I would rather bravely state that, mushroom is a cursed treasure unspoken of. I mean it literally, because you would never find a person who’d yell at the top of his lungs about the mushrooms he’d found in his estate. If yes, that person is either a fool or not a localite. A person in Kodagu might leave a gold coin behind but never a mushroom. Be it even in somebody else’s estate, you see it first, it’s all yours. Such are its bewitching powers.
As soon as the first showers hit the dry earth and the lightning cracks it open, people after milking their cows head to the secret places, passed on from generation to generation. The sacred place where the mushroom grows, which is the place where the dormant spores lie from the last year.
The collection of mushrooms also depends on the family hierarchy. Collecting the naayi mari alumbu/ ನಾಯಿ ಮರಿ ಅಳುಂಬು ( Termitomyces fuliginosus) is left under the wings of the children in the family. These youngsters would always go to the same spot, thrice a day, curious about when the blob of sunshine would rise. This mushroom usually rises in the paddy fields and sometimes seen under dense cover. It always rises as a single mushroom, so if the kids happen to tumble across even one, they’d be lucky and pluck it no matter it being ready for harvesting or not. Just like the kids are left to pick these, they are also given the prestige of being the only ones to eat it with regards to its quantity. It is usually salted and toasted on a raw flame in the fireplace. On doing so, it’d shrink into the size of a peanut. Empty to the stomach but gasoline to their eagerness.
Then comes the Beljira alumbu ( Termitomyces microcarpus ) which is a pain in the back and a troop no blind man would overlook. The cluster of this mushroom is usually spread all throughout the location in specks of white. Usually, lazy peeps would ignore it and inform others of its location because along with the quantity comes the mess of picking it up and cleaning it. The cleaning alone takes hours together, that is to pinch out the muddy stems. The nastier thing being tortured by millions of mosquitoes within the thick shades of the estate, where these devils rise. This mushroom is prepared as either a sabzi or a sambhar using a coconut masala, the latter being tastier. The universal rule you need to know with mushrooms is that ‘ The quantity of the mushrooms collected is inversely proportional to the size of the pan used to cook it in.’
The sambhar while boiling is dipped with an iron object, preferably a sickle believing that the iron absorbs all the toxic material in the mushroom.
Another type is the Heglu alumbu ( Termitomyces heimii). The peculiar thing about this mushroom is that it is believed to rise on the same place at the same time. Therefore, the date and place of the prior appearance is noted and it is observed to rise in a difference of 1 or 2 days to the noted date. It is said to rise during full moons where the chances of a thunderstorm is high. These rise in a cluster but in a confined area. Another belief is to kick a mushroom before plucking it. This is said to make sure that no snake lies inside but in actual this practice makes sure that the spores are properly dispersed before they are all plucked. Similar belief is that people are not to enter the place after it has been harvested once. This belief supports the idea that at least in the second blooming of the mushrooms the spores are dispersed, making sure that it is available for the next season and also, though not significantly, conserves the biodiversity. This mushroom is preferably made into a spicy sabzi. Another type is the mara alumbu ( Pleurotus spps. ) which grows on decaying wood.
Motte alambu ( Astraeus hygrometricus ) has a bizarre way of preparation. It looks like a ball with a grey thin outer covering which is peeled easily like an egg shell (Thus the name, motte=egg). The 2nd layer is a white thin covering which also is peeled easily. The inner part is a fleshy white layer which is used in culinary. This layer has a softer ball like substance inside which does not absorb any flavors or seasoning. Thus, it is pressed and cracked which allows it to absorb the flavour. Kallu alumbu (Scleroderma citrinum ), Kallu=stone, also has an external thin layer which is removed, leaving a black or white fleshly blob, which is cooked.
There are many more types of edible mushrooms, but not all. In nature the prettiest of the mushroom are the deadliest of the poison. So if you’d tumble across a red shiny one and consume it taking it for an apple flavored one, you’d be poisoned just like Snow white. The odds being there won’t be a prince charming to save ya’. If you are still that dogged, remember that most of the white mushrooms are edible. And all mushrooms on which a fruitfly sits is edible. In case of emergencies, contact 108.
( P.S : The writer of the article is not responsible for any sort of mushroom poisoning. *wink, Namaste)