Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Inspired by a blog post from http://chezpim.com, I have been thinking about mushrooms. Is there a more dramatic food? Wonderfully flavorful and potentially deadly?

My mushroom history goes way back to my parent's honeymoon. They  stayed in a village in the Harz mountains in Germany, renting a room in a Pension (something similar to a B&B). There is nothing to do but hiking, and on every hike they went, they found wonderful mushrooms. My mother couldn't let a good mushroom stand, so soon, to my father's annoyance, their room was full of strings with mushrooms to dry. According to legend, these were mostly Steinpilze (porcini, king bolete, whatever you call them).

When I was little, we usually would go to the forest on Autuum weekends, to hunt mushrooms. My mother was an expert,  knew all of them and all about them, a side effect of growing up in wartimes. Most of the time, we would collect mushrooms that are quite ordinary (honey fungus (Hallimasch), sheathed woodtuft (Stockschwämmchen), Puffball (Bovist, only edible when very young),Parasols, etc.), since we mostly went to beech forests, where the prime species didn't grow as well. 

We were taught to harvest the edible ones, but always leave a few so that there are enough spores for next year, and to admire the poisonous ones, not destroy them. The prettiest mushrooms are certainly the fly agaric, a mushroom we encountered several times.
I remember once finding a death cap. She used gloves to get it out of the ground, and showed us its unique properties, so that we wouldn't accidentally collect it, when being on our own.

I recently saw a death cap in St. Helena, Napa Valley, right next to the Twomey winery. They are very pretty, with an iridescent color.

By the time I got interested in mushroom hunting on my own, Chernobyl happened. That put a hold to all mushroom hunting in many parts of Europe for a couple of decades, because mushrooms mistake Caesium for Calcium, and the radioactive rain from Chernobyl contained a lot of Caesium. When I moved to the US, I was told that nobody eats wild mushrooms. When I later married a mushroom lover, I had to learn to identify mushrooms all over again. I still only know how to identify the most common edible ones: chanterelles, boletes (to some extend), oyster mushrooms, morels.

A mushroom that is prolific in our neighborhood, is probably the yellow russula. The coloring is similar to chanterelles, but the gills are white, and they grow in clusters. Also, the gills don't go down all the way on the stem. They are supposedly edible, but  not very tasty. I have not taken a chance.

No comments:

Post a Comment