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    Mushroom Hunting in the Abandoned Village of Kayaköy

    Looking out the ‘taksi’ window on the way from Ölüdeniz beach to Kayaköy, I spot the eerily empty ghost town. Scattered stone and remnants of a hillside population of 10,000 that used to live here. It’s the main tourist attraction for this small town located near the west coast of Turkey.

    The village of Kayaköy was established in the 14th century. For centuries, it thrived as a peaceful, diverse community. However, after the Greco-Turkish War (1919–22), the village was abandoned in the population exchange that followed. Under this agreement, some 2 million people were resettled so that Turkey could have one major religion and Greece could keep Christians on its land.

    In the early 20th century, former residents of Levissi, Greece (an area now belonging to Turkey) settled in Athens, 40 kilometers from their homeland. The newly arrived Greek Muslims did not live in Kayaköy because its hillside location reminded them of the remote area from which they had come.

    A large earthquake damaged Kayaköy in 1957, causing most of the old houses, schools, chapels, churches, shops, and cafés to be abandoned. Some of these structures stand as lonely reminders of a once-vibrant town.

    Mid-afternoon prayers from the loudspeakers echo off cracked stone walls. I feel like I’m in a post-apocalyptic scene, meandering through rubble after some cataclysmic event. I hear bells clanking on collars. Sheep and goats huddle on the hillside and munch on grass that sprout through crevices.

    Being careful of where I step, crooked cobblestone paths make up the streets and alleyways that for over a century nature has steadily reclaimed. The untamed growth reminds me that nothing human-made lasts forever.

    Pine forest covers the top of the hill behind the town. I scrabble through the bush. Needles clump around the base of trunks and smaller bushes. In amongst the needles, growing in abundance, I spot Tricholoma terreum, also known as Grey Knights or dirty Tricholoma.

    Tricholoma terreum

    The generic name comes from the Greek word meaning ‘hairy fringe,’ and the specific epithet terreum is Latin and means ‘earth’ – a reference to the cap color of this mushroom.

    This mushroom, once thought to be edible, has now been shown to cause kidney failure when consumed in certain quantities even over a short time period. This is good to know, and I’m reminded of the saying: “There are old mushroom hunters. And there are bold mushroom hunters. But there are no old bold mushroom hunters.”

    I make my way through a narrow pathway and spot a reddish mushroom with a partially wavy cap exposing the gills. A unique growth and something new to me-

    Chroogomphus rutilus

    Commonly known as the brown slimecap, the copper spike, pine-spikes, or spike-caps (based on their shape and where they grow).

    The genus name is derived from the Greek χρω- chroo-, meaning ‘skin’ or ‘color,’ and ‘γομφος’ gomphos meaning ‘plug’ or ‘large wedge-shaped nail’.

    I can see why the common name was given, as they really do look like red spikes in the ground.

    However, they are not regarded as flavorful and possess neither a distinctive taste nor odor. One food writer states about C. rutilus and C. vinicolor:

    “They are excellent when dried, have a firm, chewy texture but almost no flavor. This means you can put them in any dish without worrying about overpowering them – there’s nothing to overpower! They make an excellent textural addition, though, a little crunchy, a little rubbery, very pleasant. Use them in tomato sauce as a meat substitute or in a spicy Thai curry. You can’t go wrong because you can’t taste them.”

    Continuing on, I would come across plenty of C. rutilus and one larger capped look-a-like growing near a pine under a mossy embankment-

    Lactarius deterrimus

    The mushroom is commonly known as the “false saffron milkcap,” “Orange-latex Milky,” or “orange milkcap.” The epithet deterrimus is Latin and was chosen by German mycologist Frieder Gröger to highlight the poor gustatory properties of the mushroom, such as the bitter aftertaste and often heavy maggot infestations. The superlative of “dēterior” (meaning less good) means “the worst, the poorest.”

    Although the one I found was in pristine condition, after learning about the origin of its name, it didn’t seem appealing to eat. I cut into the stipe and cap of the mushroom to split in two and immediately noticed the orange-salmon color, which over time darkened to a maroon.

    Opposite the path, growing all by its lonesome self, I see a small Rickenella (moss cap) with white spores growing from a patch of soil and moss on the side of a stone.

    Further along the path, trees provide shade, and I feel the damp, cool air leading me further into an area where Peziza cups and more unidentified species grow. Next to a shrub, a small protuberance grows. It’s an earthball or Scleroderma species. Cut open; it reminds me of dark chocolate (not edible).

    I’m not into foraging for edible mushrooms during this foray, but it did make me wonder if the inhabitants of this town consumed any mushrooms in their dishes?

    I make my way down the street, leaving the ghost town behind, but taking with me memories of all the variety of mushrooms found along the way.

    Joseph Pallante
    Joseph Pallantehttps://myconeer.com
    An avid traveller, Joe enjoys spending time exploring the New Zealand countryside. In his spare time, he travels around in his campervan, writes about nature, and takes photos of fungi.

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