This summer, the heat seemed endless. We had moved to a country of pleasant summers and snowy winters, however the last couple of years the winters have been mercifully short, with very little in the way of snow and frost. Not enough to allow us to scrabble around on cross country skis, and there has been little to none in the way of ice skating on the pond. In 2014 the garden was green right up to Christmas, but the lack of precipitation is beginning to have consequences. For the last two years the Summer meadows of South Bohemia have grown in a thick tangle, with farmers harvesting 50% more than is expected, leaving barns overflowing with the stuff. It was so hot that I had to adopt Mediterranean techniques – any hard manual labour – the scything – obviously, and anything which was more than a saunter about the garden, had to be conducted in the early morning or late evening. When outside is body temperature, then working in shaded water is your only option…
After the dry winter, this summer has also been hot and dry. What mushrooms need, certainly at first, is warmth and damp. Those that are particularly prized – the Porcini – called Hrzib by the Czechs – will only grow when night time temperatures are above ten degrees. Now we know that they also need damp feet. Not just a good downpour, though that would normally help, but a constants supply of relative dampness. This year, it was just too hot. The rain clouds passed us by. They pretty much passed all the way over to Scotland. And now, when usually we’d be inundated. Besides ourselves with so many, eating delicious Mushroom Lasagne with Porcini, Chanterelle and a little tarragon, porcini in our scrambled eggs in the morning, that mushroom risotto with a little grated carrot in at the end for crunch… this year – only chicken of the woods.
When you catch chicken of the woods young enough, it has the texture of chicken – so you can really confuse people with your veggie food and sentence structures. We found it to be great in strongly flavoured foods like bean chilli and curry. It’s very meat-like texture has that density which, when combined with the same quantities of fat and salt as you’d find in meat is just plain confusing. Unfortunately it doesn’t stay like that for long. If you find it a little late, you’ll be eating something more akin to a bitter chipboard. This is why chicken of the woods has such a mixed reputation. What reputation it does have, like with the hedgehog mushroom, is not often discussed among the locals, hence our ability to find this mushroom growing on trees on roadsides in full and constant view of passing motorists. Long may it be ignored by everyone else.
So – how can we predict what will survive the winter? Will we have five months of snow, or hardly a frost? As the weather patterns change, and we have longer periods of weather conditions that could easily mean that we have Siberian conditions for weeks and weeks on end. It’s just been a matter of luck that we had the clement weather last year and North America got hit hard with the cold. The only thing I can do is plant all I can, and then protect. We will see what comes out on the other side.