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Houbaření: The Czech pastime of mushroom picking

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One thing that is positively “Czech” is the ancient pastime of mushroom picking, convincing some to even refer to it as the “national sport.” 

Czechs have been picking mushrooms or “mushrooming” since the dawn of the country. And to this day, at least 2/3rds of the population go mushrooming at least once every single year. Every autumn, certain troves of forest floor start flourishing with mushrooms, and Czechs venture out to scoop up all the best loot (tax-free!). 

The best mushrooming sessions are done with a local expert, or at least a mushroom identifying app to figure out which ones are good and which ones will kill you. As the Czechs sometimes say, “All of them are edible, but some of them only once.” 

If you don’t have a reliable way to identify the mushrooms, you may have to resort to using the old Czech grandma technique of putting a silver spoon to the mushroom to see if it darkens, or testing them by rubbing an onion on them and seeing if it turns black. There’s also an old superstition that once a pair of human eyes set themselves on a mushroom, it stops growing.

The most commonly sought after mushrooms Porchinis, Gypsy Mushrooms, and Morels, but there are close to 14,000 different species to be discovered.  

Once picked, the last stage of the Czech mushrooming experience is rinsing them, getting rid of worms or bugs, and preparing them for many different meals. If you’re lucky, you can find mushrooms big enough to make giant mushroom schnitzel (houbové řízek).

Mushrooming remains alive and well, with the average Czech household picking 18 pounds of mushrooms a year, keeping the “national sport” going strong.

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