Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Fruits of the Forest, i.e., Wild Mushrooms!

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Or mushrooms gone wild.

If there is one disappointing thing about our move to Oregon, it is that I have yet to see a plethora of huge, presumably delectable, mushrooms erupting from the forest floor. When I used to come to Oregon on vacations, I marveled at this sight, having been obsessed since childhood with mushrooms and the idea of harvesting them.

As a kid, I got mushroom books out from the library and tried to identify the white mushrooms my dad routinely mowed down with his lawnmower and the masses of stump mushrooms that quickly turned into mucky black goo. The books all suggested taking a sample of spores from a mushroom and looking at them under a microscope as part of the very tricky identification process. Well, I didn't have a microscope. I determined (through wishful thinking probably) that some of those lawnmower mushrooms were good to eat, and my mom actually let me make a spaghetti sauce out of those 'shrooms.

No one got sick, went on an unplanned vision quest, or died, but the sauce was unpleasant. It tasted like sour metal. I think my dad only ate some of it so as not to hurt my feelings. Were my parents too lenient and trusting of their 12-year-old daughter or what? The entire family could have died an excruciating death featuring such symptoms as bloating, bloody diarrhea, loss of coordination, spasms, unmotivated laughter and hilarity, a metallic taste in the mouth (!), destruction of red blood cells, vomiting, and kidney failure.

I think my mushroom obsession went on hiatus for about 15 years after the lukewarm reception of the spaghetti sauce, but it was reawakened once I got into hiking and started seeing mushrooms out in the woods. I bought a bunch of field guides and coffee-table books including The Ultimate Mushroom Book, a charming British tome that has huge photos of all my favorites (or they would be my favorites if I ever got a chance to find them and eat them) such as the Giant Puffball, Gem-Studded Puffball, Chicken of the Woods, Amethyst Deceiver, Hedgehog Fungus, Horn of Plenty, Charcoal burner, Shaggy Inkcap, and Slippery Jack. The best thing about The Ultimate Mushroom Book is that it has recipes, complete with mouth-watering photos of the dishes. Now these are British dishes with names like Kedgeree of Oyster and Chanterelle Mushrooms and Roly Poly Chicken and Chanterelle Pudding. Does that sound good to anyone in the United States or is it just that my obsession has overridden my better judgment? Every time I looked at this book when I lived in Chicago, I wanted to try these recipe, but sadly there was no way to get my hands on the key ingredients.

So when we moved to Oregon, I fully expected that I would find some sort of mycological society to join whose slightly unhinged members would teach me how to accurately distinguish the edible mushrooms from the lethal Death Caps and Destroying Angels. I have not found this group. Sure, I could buy a few types of wild mushrooms at the local natural foods grocery or the farmers' market, but that would not be satisfactory for the following reasons:

* In order to get full enjoyment out of any mushroom dish I might make, the mushrooms must be harvested by my own hands.
* When my friend Elizabeth bought some wild mushrooms last year at the farmers' market she started hallucinating and was sick for an entire weekend. That does not inspire confidence.

I am going have to console myself by skimming through my books and amusing myself with some of the more whimsically named fungi:

Chocolate Tube Slime
Witches Butter
Dirty Milky
Carbon Balls
Wolf's Milk Slime
Elegant Stinkhorn
Stalked Yellow Trune
Saltshaker Earthstar
Blushing Fiber Head
Viscid Violet Cort
Chicken-Fat Suillus
Old Man of the Woods


Blogger Eyes said...

We have a mushroom farm right down the street from where I live. They will identify shrooms for you for a fee. They sell wild Chanterelle and Morels each year!

My parents permanently scared the living daylights out of me with wild mushrooms as a kid. My mom is from Austria and she loves Chanterelles so when we were in the U.P. of Michigan camping -- she decided to get a book and pick them. She wasn't 100% sure she had the right ones -- and not the poisonous look-a-like -- so she wouldn't let me eat any!

I was about that magical 12 age. She said if your father and I start to act weird -- go running for help. Tell everyone we ate these mushrooms -- run and act fast.

As they ate a different dinner than I did that night, my heart raced. I cringed. I watched in horror...

And then they were fine! Thankfully.

Today I tease my mom -- so you wanted to make me an orphan huh? You should have just taken me with you for Pete's sake! I don't think I want to go there ever again...

We usually get giant puff balls here though I haven't seen one in two years!

8:27 AM  
Blogger Rozanne said...

Oooh. To have a mom who actually (sort of) knows about wild mushrooms. Europeans seem to have mushroom hunting hard wired into their brains.

Be on the lookout for giant puffballs. This is the time of year when you might see them. I used to see them in a forest preserve near Chicago and I am kicking myself for not taking them and sauteing them up in lots of butter.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Your friend may have simply been allergic to a variety as many are. Or may have not cooked them thoroughly. I'd encourage you to join a local foray to get over your fear! I began with the safer species, like boletes. But it's a learnable skill (see Roger Philips, Mushrooms, the industry standard in the UK )

7:36 PM  

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