Mushrooms have always been a part of the Russian diet, going back to ancient times, when they helped peasant and hunter-gatherer communities survive long, hard winters.
With the advent of Christianity and its strict Orthodox mores and plentiful fasting days, mushrooms took on the role of meat replacements, used by both lay people and the clergy. Interestingly, up until just a few centuries ago, Russians only picked three kinds of mushrooms: porcinis (today called белые, “white mushrooms,” or боровики, but previously known as “lips,” губы), milk mushrooms (грузди), and saffron milk caps (рыжики). This was because none of these mushrooms had poisonous “doubles” that could be picked by mistake.
But as the forests were cut down to make way for arable land and growing cities, the quantity of “noble” mushrooms dwindled, and Russians expanded their mushroom repertoire. In the eighteenth century, porcinis became known as “white mushrooms” because they retained their whiteness when dried, unlike the “black” boletus, such as birch boletes (подберезовики), aspen boletes (подосиновики) and suede boletes (моховики), all of which turn black.
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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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