I love mushrooms.
The Illinois Mycological Association meets on the first Monday of every month, and Cathy is President. Last night, I went, and there were tables spread with, gosh, 30 to 40 different varieties of mushroom. Some gorgeous, others hideous; some that hurt you, others you can eat.
And eating is a big part of this mycological experience. Before the meeting begain, I queried one intrepid mushroom hunter about some of his finds, and I asked, kind of off-handedly, So, you eat these? He looked at me like, Do Fish Swim, Oh yeah, he said, oh yeah!
After a report on recent record-breaking mycological finds (which is pretty cool, when you think about it: newly occurring varieties of life, located and catalogued in the neighborhood), we broke into groups and Cathy, chowhound that she is, started cooking mushrooms. In this little lab, you get to EAT the specimens.
With butter and pan, she prepared Lepiota Americana (sp?), which I thought was delicious: deep burgundy, with a taste that lasted on the tongue 15 minutes or more, lingering like the taste of tobacco, smoky and deep. Then she cooked up a puffball that was as big as Patoriqs head this was also exceptionally delectable, but much more subtle, and with a creamy texture that dissolved on the tongue.
Now, as the two group leaders discussed ways of characterizing mushroom types, I was struck by the undercurrent of threat. For instance, we were discussing Linnaeus, and the group leader said that it was this scientist who, in 1751, developed the two-name categorization system, to which one guy at the table quipped, Yeah, Dead and Not Dead. Meaning that some of these specimens will make you dead and others will not. At another table, as we all examined the strange forms before us, a nice lady in a mushroom t-shirt picked up a plump one and asked, So you definitely can eat this and not have to get a new liver, right? To which another guy replied, It wont kill you, but it might make you wish you were dead.
Even the delicious Lepiota, I learned, has several poisonous varieties in reference to effects, I heard phrases like really bad, vomit blood, and "dead before the ambulance got there."
Like I said, I love mushrooms they add a dark earthy bass note to dishes, a deepness I don't think you can get with any other vegetable. But unless Im shrooming with a pro, Im strictly a catch-and-release guy. Incidentally, there are regular IMA forays scheduled over the next month or so. Im thinking it might be fun to pick through local underbrush to find fungal treasure and then reality check with the pros to make sure I can eat them and live.
These guys have a website (which has been posted before, but just in case you didnt catch it), and I include it below.