Eric Bergeson: Mad about (local) mushrooms
I love to do mushrooms!
No, I am not using them to see visions and travel to distant lands from my living room.
Instead, I have been charmed by the taste of the hundreds of edible shaggy cap mushrooms which sprung up in my lawn during the wet fall.
People are prejudiced against lawn mushrooms because, it is true, some of them will kill you. Slowly and painfully. Or, if they don’t kill you, they might inspire you to see visions and start a new religion.
We don’t want that. We have enough old religions. We don’t need any new ones.
However, if you do a little research, you will find that the really deadly mushrooms are rare around here. Meanwhile, the healthy mushrooms, namely the shaggy caps, are easy to identify and lovely to eat.
I didn’t just jump in to eating the mushrooms in my yard without testing and research. Guinea pigs were needed.
I conned my brother and his wife to dig up a few. They ate them in fairly large quantities, and survived to tell about it.
After a delay of a couple of days, during which time I evaluated their vital signs, I jumped into the mushroom business myself.
The shaggy cap mushroom is a typically wondrous fungus. Although they have a gentle, foamy texture, a colony of them can lift concrete as they grow.
For a day or two, the shaggy cap is a vigorous thing of beauty, a upright oval of white. But as it matures, the mushroom issues a chemical which destroys itself and turns the white cap into a mucky, black, dripping blob of inky goo.
The goo turns to spores, which hide in the soil until whenever the conditions are right for them to form new mushrooms. That could be 40 years from now. They aren’t fussy.
The trick is to catch the mushroom before the goo stage and harvest it for food.
To do so, you take a knife and dig in the soil about an inch beneath the soil surface at the base of the mushroom.
Once the knife severs the root, the mushroom pulls out effortlessly. Toss it in your bowl and move on to the next, which isn’t far away: if there is one in your lawn, there’s a thousand.
Once you have a basket full, you take them back to the kitchen. You must process and freeze the mushrooms within a couple of hours or they’ll turn to black ink.
A sharp knife will easily scrape away the humus which clings to the root. What remains of the root is the best part of the mushroom. It is as meaty as steak.
But the upper part which is hollow, and the cap, which contains a million folds like an accordion, is good too.
With a little practice, the mushrooms are easy to clean. Cut them up, spread them across a cookie tray and throw them in the freezer.
About two hours later, the shrooms are ready to be scraped off the cookie sheet, put in baggies and thrown in the freezer for use through the winter.
That is, if they last that long. The 40 bags of mushrooms I put up this fall are disappearing quickly into the morning frying pan. With a little bacon grease and some salt, they make store-bought mushrooms seem like those Styrofoam peanuts that they use for packing. Tasteless!
To use the frozen mushrooms, just dump them right into a hot, oiled frying pan, tinkle, tink, tink, tink.
After they sizzle for five minutes, add the eggs. Or meat. Or whatever.
No matter what you add, be it meat, noodles, or purslane, it is guaranteed that the shaggy cap mushrooms gathered from your lawn will be the star of the meal.
Yes, you’ll pick them out first and eat everything else later.
When the first frost came last week, the shaggy cap mushrooms on the lawn turned to goo. However, when the weather warmed, new ones shot through the fallen leaves within hours.
I gathered a few, but regretted that I had not put up more when there were thousands pushing the gravel of the driveway.
As the world burns around us and we wonder what the next lunatic political disaster will bring, it is comforting to know that we have healthy food, and plenty of it, right in our yard.
Due to marketers, we have become brainwashed that store-bought food is acceptable, but things gathered out our front door are creepy.
We need to get over our ignorant prejudices.
Right out our front door is a bounty. With the modern luxury of deep freezers, we can eat like kings all year.