After a dry start, summer finished up with quite a lot of wet weather that has continued into September. The roadsides and fields are filling with mushrooms. Last week while blackberry-picking on the family wood lot, I came upon a huge patch of beautiful white ones. “What a shame,” I thought, “that I don’t know mushrooms!”
There are some delicious fall mushrooms. I know, because I’ve eaten them. Gathered and prepared by friends who know how to identify the edible ones, they are rich and flavorful. I hear folks talk about the “shaggy manes” but I don’t know what they look like. I don’t trust mushrooms, or my ability to tell the good ones from the deadly ones. I’d rather err on the side of caution.
In the spring, I look for morels. They are distinctive in appearance and perfectly safe. Even so, one year I gathered a bag full of the brain-shaped “beef steaks,” thinking they were morels that had grown deformed. Though people eat them, it is not advised. They contain a component that is similar to one of the ingredients in rocket fuel. It builds up in the human body. Some people eat them all their lives with no problem. Others enjoy them without issue for years, then suddenly drop dead after a meal. No, thank you!
In the fall, the only mushrooms I know and trust are puffballs. They grow, pure white and stemless, as big around as a basketball. Evidently, my grandfather had a bad reaction to them once, and didn’t allow them on his table. My dad said he and his brothers used to kick them around like a soccer ball when they’d find them in the pasture. I have never had a problem with them, and they pop up annually in by back lawn this time of year.
Unfortunately, of all mushrooms, puffballs are pretty tasteless. They will, however, pick up the flavors of what they are cooked with, so can be a nice addition of texture and protein. I brought a nice one inside last week, with the intention of dicing it, then marinating the cubes in ginger and soy sauce before sauteing them in butter. While it sat on my counter, a large white worm pushed its way out of the surface. I threw it out, then, and find I have now lost my taste for that type of wild mushroom.
This year, I’ll get my mushrooms from the grocery store, and enjoy the wild ones only in photographs!