Monday, June 20, 2011

Mushroom Mondays

I used to hate mushrooms: slimy canned things perked up in vinaigrette for childhood holiday meals; ubiquitous chewy white extenders of college meals; over-marinated and overcooked replacements for meat… ugh. I never feared them, per se, but the presence of button mushrooms in my salad, stir-fry, or pasta made me grimace. I would eat them if the meal’s source was someone beloved; otherwise they were pushed aside until scrapped into the garbage can.

Hunting for mushrooms, however, sounded like fun. An invitation from one of my husband’s blog-buddies was proffered. It would be an opportunity to walk the woods with interesting, intelligent people and learn something new; it’s not like I would have to eat the things, after all. I didn’t hesitate, “Sure, I’m game.” Off we went.

That afternoon we toasted our success, often, while we removed bug-damaged flesh and dirt from boletus edulis. No problem; all in a day’s work. We sliced the pretty, fat little porcini, laid them out to dry and then… our hosts offered to make fresh mushroom risotto: uh oh. Maybe it was the wine or fear of offering offense to some very wonderful people that lead me to my first taste of… heaven. Which is how I became a convert,

“Hello, my name is LoARSqred. I am a mycophile.”

Hunting mushrooms is now a favorite pastime. I enjoy the anticipation of their seasons; finding, identifying, and photographing them;
spores in an old puffball

Unknown species

and yes, I enjoy cooking them and preserving them so we can eat them whenever the mood strikes.

 partial 2010 mushroom haul ready for shelf and freezer

We are still neophytes: we eat only that which we can positively identify -- crossed referenced in at least three books-- and stick mostly to non-gilled mushrooms with no (or easy to identify) poisonous lookalikes. It's an odd sensation, but once you start seeing mushrooms in the woods you see them everywhere... huge and tiny, on trees, on dead things, in cow patties, under pine needles, on the side of the road... I still can't identify 99% of them but trying to figure out what they are is part of the fun.

While it is a joy to find edible mushrooms, the others are often beautiful and photo-worthy. On more than one occasion an exasperated M has said to me, "Lo', we're hunting grouse (or whatever), not mushrooms!" Uh... not quite; if I'm outside, I'm always keeping an eye out for mushrooms... like this one that popped up a few weeks ago next to our Golden Midget Watermelon seedling.
Mushroom Mondays will kind of be like my pre-season training; a little disciplined research to go along with pictures every week will increase my knowledge base and make me a better hunter. My go-to source, and the best field guide available for my part of the county, All that the Rain Promises and More, is the hip pocket companion to one of the most authoritative tomes for mushroom identification in the Western U.S., David Arora's Mushrooms Demystified. We don't leave home without them... and about five other books that stay in the truck.

Yes,  my age is showing... who needs books when, of course, there's an app for that! I don't have an Apple iPhone so I can't vouch for idMushroom but I'm going to bookmark their reference page, it looks like another nice resource.

There is lots of good information available on the internet, too, like Mykoweb, Mushroom Observer, DavidFischer's American Mushrooms, and Mushroom Expert. In the case of foraging for wild mushrooms, I don't think there's anything approaching 'too much information.' Just read the horror stories about misidentification and you probably won't either.

And then there are the outdoor bloggers and foragers, and chefs and home cooks who share their tales and recipes... we'll save them for next time.

"Honey, do I need a disclaimer here to, you know, tell people not to eat things they can't positively identify? 
Or maybe it would be enough to post a 'Darwin loves mushrooms' sign?"

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