By Julie Etra
Mushroom collection and consumption in Mexico go back thousands of years, predating the Spanish conquest. The Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca, the mountain range between the coast and the valley of Oaxaca, is known for its wild mushrooms, edible, hallucinogenic, and poisonous (the latter two can be somewhat synonymous). It is estimated that there are 250,000 species of mushrooms in Mexico. Produce markets here in the Bahías de Huatulco might lead you to believe Mexico has only introduced button, crimini, and portobello mushrooms (all different life stages of the same species, Agaricus bisporus), and occasionally other cultivated varieties, such as oyster mushrooms. But the many wild mushrooms found growing in temperate forested highlands are becoming more and more popular when seasonally available, particularly in urban areas, including the gourmet markets in Mexico City.
In the State of Hidalgo, northeast of the state of Mexico, when conditions for growth are optimal during the rainy season, skilled, exclusively women, mushroom collectors known as nanacateras are busy. August is known as mushrooms month or hongosto (hongos = fungi, gosto short for agosto). The Otomi nanacateras (the Otomi are an indigenous group, with their own language, Otomi) apply their exceptional skills distinguishing the edible from the non-edible and teach the methods of both collection and preparation.
Other well known nanacateras are also from Hidalgo, including the pueblo of Acaxochitlán. These women offer workshops on identification, methods of collection, and preparation. San Lorenzo Tlacoyucan, a rural area southeast of Mexico City in a region known as the Milpa Alta, located on the steep slopes of an extinct volcano just east of the state of Morelia, is also known for its climate, ideal for wild mushrooms.
Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca
We have passed through San Jose del Pacifico on our way to Oaxaca on numerous occasions and have seen signs posted for identification and collection workshops. We don’t know if these workshops are taught by nanacateras or other skilled collectors, but, like other snowbirds, we are never here during the optimum period, the rainy season.