Lactarius densifolius mushroom ready for harvest as shown below.

During the rainy season especially in April, the Iteso of western Kenya are always happy and eager to get the local delicacy of mushroom stew. During this season, most school going children are tasked with the responsibility of picking the mushrooms in the plantations as this delicacy grows naturally. Most of the pupils absent themselves from school so as to pick the readily available source of protein in exchange for money i.e. either for sale or for their families’ consumption. Not only is this task vest upon children alone, their parents also participate in the picking. It’s normally picked early in the morning so as to get a bumper harvest. As the saying goes, ‘the earliest bird catches the worm’, hence the early morning picks.

Mushroom Picking:
In Teso land, they only pick the edible mushrooms as others are poisonous. They pay no attention to the identification of inedible mushrooms. Some people however described to me presumed characteristics of poisonous species such as a slimy face, bitter taste, bad smell, the prescence of a ring or brown spore dust. Some people pick only those mushrooms which they see monkeys eating, assuming that they are also safe for humans. When going to pick the mushrooms, one has to have a basket and knife. When picking the mushroom from the ground, you first cut off the soil from the base of the stipe. If you put mushrooms with soil in your basket, the soil will drop between the gills of the other mushrooms in your basket, then you’ll l have a lot of washing to do at home.

Emmy Makokha and John Masika picking  mushrooms.

The most common method of preservation among this community is drying in the sun. The sun makes a very effective dryer. The drying does not kill the micro-organisms on mushrooms but makes the substratum so dry that they enter a dormant phase. After drying, they become very hard.

Drying Procedure:
1. Cut into slices about 1/2cm thick and spread loosely on to a mat .To ascertain if they are dry enough, they should make a snapping sound when breaking them.
2. Dried mushrooms are then preserved in a container with a cover to be protected from moisture.

NB: Dried &preserved mushrooms will last until the next mushroom season &can be used after soaking in a small amount of clean water and the same water used in the cooking so as to utilize the nutritive elements that dissolved in the soaking water.

Dried Mushroom

Dried Mushroom ready for cooking

Mushroom Stew Preparation:
1. Onions
2. Tomatoes
3. Mushrooms
4. Cooking oil
5. Salt

1. Take about the same amount of onions, tomatoes and mushrooms.
2. If the mushrooms are fresh, cut them into small pieces, if dry, no cutting is required since they are already in smaller pieces.
3. Cut onions and tomatoes into different bowls.
4. Heat the oil
5. Add the onions to the heated oil until golden brown.
6. Add tomatoes to the sufuria until it’s cooked
7. After about 10 minutes, add the cleaned and chopped mushrooms to the sufuria and cook for another 30minutes so that the tomatoes and onions form a thickened stew
8. Vegetables e.g. kunde can be added to the stew according to availability & one’s like
9. The stew is eaten with brown ugali, boiled cassava or boiled bananas.

Mushrooms are the richest source of protein and are suitable for human consumption. They contain 31-40% of proteins. The percentage of protein is much higher than in cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables.  The proteins of mushrooms contain all essential amino acids and their quantity is higher than in the egg. They are the good source of iron. Mushroom contains minerals like calcium, potassium, sodium and phosphorous, and vitamins like B, C, D, and K. Mushroom contains niacin, which is ten times higher than any other vegetables. Mushrooms make an excellent food for diabetic and heart patients.

Story Prepared by:
Evalyne Namuju
Library Assistant-National Museums of Kenya - Main Library.

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