11 September 2008

Magic Mushrooms

In the past few years we've had the occasional mushroom pop up in the lawn, and eventually a body has to get around to wondering, "I wonder if I can eat those things..."

As a child I was fed many dire and dreadful stories about people -- "Seasoned mushroom hunters! Decades of experience identifying and picking wild mushrooms..." -- suddenly up and dying after a dreadful mistake consuming a "poisonous toadstool". So it was with just a hint of trepidation that, after much careful umming over mushroom books and identification guides, J standing by with the car-keys ready to rush me off to hospital at the first signs of turning blue, I gingerly tasted a tiny fragment of one of these little white lawn-jobbies a few years ago... Too tiny a fragment to even find out if they tasted good! Several hours later, still alive, I tried a bigger piece, and waited for The End. Or at least some decent hallucinations.  No such luck. Some more hours went by, and, emboldened by my continuing good health, I ate the rest of the damn thing. Delicious!

The mushrooms in question are Agaricus campestris, the Field Mushroom, and a close relative to Agaricus bisporus, the Button Mushroom we so commonly buy in the supermarkets, and they're a roughly similar size shape and colour to Button Mushrooms. Around this area there are no poisonous species similar to the Field Mushrooms, so you'd have to be pretty careless to mistake these for something poisonous.

For reasons unknown, this year we've had a sudden population explosion, with small clumps of these mushrooms popping up like mad all over the lawn over quite a wide area. Enough to keep us well fed with mushrooms for the past few months, and especially welcome through Winter when not much else is happening in the garden. Never an all-at-once glut of mushrooms, but a pretty constant supply -- enough that we've not had to buy mushrooms in 3 or 4 months.

Of course they're not the perfect, clean, brownish-white of indoor-cultivated commercial specimens, and we have to clean off odd bits of grass and twig and soil before they're ready to eat. The flavour is similar to a Button Mushroom, though a bit stronger and wilder, most likely because they're absolutely fresh. But the texture is noticeably different: silkier and a bit "slippery" when cooked. We've been enjoying them in pastas, in pizzas, with eggs for a breakfast feast, and raw in salads.

Apart from the odd mushroom getting trampled or pecked by curious chickens, we've made sure to leave a fair percentage of them to open fully and release their spores in the hope of equal (or better) harvests in years to come. Not only have they been a welcome addition to the food supply, but they also confirm my long-held belief that mushroom cultivation is a natural for our area.

I'm also sure they're trying to teach us something about the need for healthy mycelial life in our soils...

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