Cuzco’s Wild Mushrooms
By Hebert Edgardo Huamani Jara (translated by David Knowlton)
From November to April rains bathe Cuzco´s countryside. Its forests flourish. Among them the ground is painted with mushrooms as life arrives at its high point.
The wild mushrooms grow in the damp of the forest shade, or in other low light, humid environments. Some species of these fungi are edible, while others are poisonous and others are hallucinogenic. But the edible ones are one of Cuzco’s delights and are used to prepare one of its most typical dishes.
In the city of Cuzco, even though it may be hard to believe, people wait with desire for the strong rains to come, especially in the months from December to February, since they bring us the delicious mushrooms called in Spanish “setas” and in Quechua “qoncha.”
People who live in the rural areas take advantage of this wild food. It grows in many parts of the countryside where, thanks to the rain and humid ground, we get the famous Cuzco mushrooms. The people will go out to rather them, especially the children. In the mornings when according to their custom, they take their animals to pasture, they will pick mushrooms along the way.
The children think of mushrooms as a kind of treasure. They mean a feast a midday and a celebration since they only grow in the fertile rainy months.
Despite the presence of poisonous mushrooms, the children know which ones to collect since they follow a tradition that is passed from generation to generation. If they were to pick the wrong ones they could result in illness or even death, since there are more than 200 species of poisonous mushrooms, not unlike the problems associated with eating rotting meat or vegetables.
But this is not a problem for Cuzco’s rural people since they know which ones are edible from the attractive smell that they have and because of the soft texture and chestnut color that they show.
At midday they prepare their lunch with the qoncha as the main ingredients. It is easy to prepare. One washes the mushrooms well, boils them with salt, and then adds cheese. With the heat the cheese will soften and become flexible. They accompany this dish with boiled chuño (freeze-dried potatoes). This delicious dish is called kapchi de setas and is a Cuzco tradition.
This simple feast comforts them during their arduous days from the softness the feel while chewing it. Its taste and the surrounding scent help them forget the work that went into gathering the mushrooms and they feel satisfied.
In the city of Cuzco people also like this dish, kapchi de setas, and so Cuzco’s rural people will also gather extra mushrooms to bring to market. As a result, during the rainy season, the people of Cuzco enjoy their own wild mushrooms with cheese and have made of them a dish that, almost more than anything else, stands for Cuzco’s cuisine.
Filed under: Food Culture
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