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Pradeep Pattanayak

In Odisha, its monsoon time and what better than to relish favourite dishes hot and ready to serve in the warm comfort of home during this wet and chill weather. 

During rainy season, one of the most loved food item that makes people craze is mushroom. And of all, mushroom that grows in the wilderness of Keonjhar is probably the best there is to taste.

If you happen to be in Keonjhar district during rainy season, scenes of tribal people selling freshly plucked fleshy mushrooms of different varieties, different colours and different shapes in markets, weekly haats and even along roadsides is normal.

What happens is that with the advent of rainy season, the growth of mushrooms gets accelerated. In forested areas, over 30 kinds of mushrooms grow. While some of them are not fit for consumption, people say that some others when cooked properly, turn out to be tastier than mutton and chicken curry.
 
During this wet season, mushrooms of different colours like grey, white, yellow, black etc. grow abundantly on their own at ant hills, bunds of farmlands, haystacks and fields as well. 

Some of the varieties of mushrooms that are always great to taste and enjoy massive popularity are ‘Bihuduni’, ‘Bali Chhatu’, “Rutuka’, ‘Patria’, ‘Putukuni’. ‘Hunka Chhatu’ and ‘Pala Chhatu’. 

These days, tribal people can be seen selling mushrooms in urban areas as well as rural pockets, by roadsides and in markets. 

Since these tribal people collect mushrooms from forests and jungles for generations, they have a specialisation in differentiating edible mushrooms from poisonous, non-edible ones. 

The forest dwellers go to jungles as early as 4 to 5 am everyday to collect mushrooms. Though they depend on minor forest produces to earn their livelihood throughout the year, their earning gets doubled in rainy season, as there are many takers for mushrooms and a kilogram of mushroom fetches them something between Rs 200 to 500. 

Dari Dehury, a forest dweller who sales mushrooms, describes how they collect these traditional delicacies. 

“During summer season dried leaves fall off the trees. In rainy season, on a layer of dried leaves, mushroom grows. Another layer of dried leaves cover them. We have to go on searching for such locations where they have grown. We separate the upper layer of the leaves and collect the mushrooms,” said Dehury. 

“As straw and button mushrooms are cultivated, they are available all round the year. But these seasonal mushrooms take the cake. If compared, the cultivated mushrooms are nowhere near these seasonal ones in taste. They are so tasty that even non-vegetarians will prefer the delicacies prepared from them over mutton/chicken,” boasts Kailash Patra, a customer. 

Kitchendra Rout, another customer says, “No manure is used to grow these seasonal mushrooms. This is why they are nutritious as well besides being tasty.”
On the one hand, the rainy season brings an opportunity for the people to relish the nature’s gift, on the other hand, it offers an opportunity to earn some easy money. 

“There are several kinds of naturally-grown mushrooms available during the rainy season. Of them, around 20 types of mushrooms are tasty to eat. They play a significant role in maintaining the financial condition of forest dwellers,” said Niranjan Barik, a researcher. 

“During the holy month of Shravan, when people give up eating non-vegetarian items, mushrooms available in abundance, which can be seen as nature’s marvel,” Barik added.
 

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