Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Taking the FUN Out of Fungi
Crisp. It is definitely "crisp" around here these days. Chilly nights demand a blazing fire, yet afternoons of golden sunshine entice me to believe in the "option" of a sweater. Last week we left for Disneyland in a torrent of rain, returning days later to clear and crunchy whispers announcing, "Fall has come . . . let's celebrate."
And celebrate we have.
Before my sweet sister departed we whipped up an early Thanksgiving meal and reveled in overly-filled plates of herb-y stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, "sweet" potatoes, and all the rest. Naturally we followed the plenteous meal with pumpkin pie topped with silky whipped cream. What a way to spend a Saturday!
Games, games, and more games filled the day into evening. We even made a game (tried anyway . . .) of tidying up the kitchen. While the glutted dishwasher hummed we played Mexican Train Dominoes and Phase Ten cards and "Ultimate" Sorry (our ruthless reworking of the traditional rules), all the while laughing ourselves silly. Laughter burns calories, right? We needed to work off that lavish feast somehow and it was too cold for a walk.
For years I dreamed of walking the property in search of edible fungi to add to our Thanksgiving feast. And every year my family groaned and voted "No" when I waved the business card of some fungi-expert-for-hire. "Where's your sense of adventure?" I pouted.
* * *
Now, leaves litter my deck in tattle-tale fashion. "All dining indoors!" they seem to herald. *sigh* The glorious gem-colored leaves number fewer after each succeeding blustery day, hinting that soon the barren limbs will eclipse the riot of color, offering space for memories and dreams in the emptiness. Winter time: hibernation, slumbering thoughts, and nurturing ideas -- that time fast approaches, so run and play and jump in these rich afternoons while they last.
And so the dance of autumn picks up the pace around here, with all those ideas and traditions of the pending holidays rushing to greet me. Absent among the traditions is the mushroom walk. I gave that idea up years ago. But . . .
Yesterday Elizabeth gleefully announced the return of the fungi as she proffered a big, brown mushroom for all to admire. Her reading of Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma has inspired her to hunt for edibles in the woodlands around our cottage. (Sound familiar?) Recently she unearthed a nodule-like growth while digging and wondered if she had found an elusive truffle. Since it was beneath a pine tree rather than the requisite oak and smelled decidedly un-truffly, she cast it aside and kept digging . . . but the idea of foraging for food continued simmering in her fertile mind.
* * *
[Setting: Crisp fall afternoon. Day's end complete with chores like putting the chickens to bed and taking that final sweeping view of the beauty of these homelands. Pink-cheeked, my agri-fairy daughter bounds in.]
"Doesn't it look good? Do you think it is edible?" She queries most excitedly as she shows off a large brown mushroomy growth newly plucked from the plush carpets surrounding our cottage. "Dad said he wouldn't want to eat it, but that it is probably of the edible sort."
I curl back my lips and shake my head. "Nope! That looks decidedly like a toadstool to me. Get it out of here!"
"What does a toadstool look like?" she persists.
"That!" I shoot back abruptly. "Out with that! Ick!"
"Oh . . ." she grumbles as she leaves me to sterilize my kitchen.
* * *
Later, she returns with "fungi" still in hand.
"Isn't there a place I can verify whether this is edible? Didn't you have the name of a guy who specializes in fungus walks followed by a feast of hunted treasures?"
"I did have that guy's name, but last I read in the paper his nature hike with clients landed some in the hospital with poisoning." I reply. "I tossed his card and gave up on that idea."
"Hmmmmmm . . . " she retreats.
* * *
Entering with said brown morsel (I did not say "Morel," mind you, as I am well aware of their appearance and deliciously edible nature -- this was no morel, I assure you), she persists:
"Do you have any reference books about mushrooms and foraging?"
I direct her to the appropriate shelf and she peruses, only to come away with the firm caveat to VERIFY before eating. Ho hum . . . back to square one. In the meantime she is potentially dusting my house with poisonous mitochondrial spores. I grimace.
* * *
I remember a dvd Gary purchased on one of our trips to the coast.
"Dad bought a dvd years ago all about mushrooms and fungi. See if it is out in the cabinet."
Elizabeth dashes away.
* * *
She and Rachel absorb every detail from the screen while I hear Lydia rattling around upstairs -- completely uninterested in The Case of the Mysterious Mushroom.
* * *
Later I open the trash compactor and find the lone mushroom cast away. I gawk and shudder.
Elizabeth walks in casually, "Yeah, you were right. The video said that was probably one of the most poisonous mushrooms around. Guess that's why the chickens haven't eaten them. It starts out as a cute white button mushroom . . ."
"Like those cute fairy rings all over the place?" I interrupt.
"Yep, just like those, but then it grows tall and spreads out into this brown cap with a veil hanging down on the underside," she says as she retrieves the brown blop from the bin. "I wasn't sure this was poisonous 'til I saw this veil thing. See it?" She points to a rotten bit of sludge draped on the underside of the rapidly rotting thing.
I nod and turn away. "Get that out of my kitchen!" I gasp.
End of story.
* * *
Not the end of the story, after all.
Later she is once again parading around with that deadly bit of slime (it had begun to look quite frightful by this time) intending to take some sort of "silhouette" of its spores AND IT WAS LAYING RIGHT ON MY NEWLY CLEANED COUNTER!!!
"Don't worry," she says dryly, "The video guy said you can't get hurt by touching the mushroom."
"Yeah," chimes in Rachel, "Just relax mom."
I stand there staring at a deadly mushroom on my counter -- a counter whereupon I recently prepped veggies and meat for a delicious dinnertime stew (with chocolate in the sauce: yummy!); a counter whereupon burritos are often crafted and eaten by the dozens on Matthew's "hungry" days; a counter whereupon bread is kneaded. I abruptly order this woodland sprite and her unsavory growth from my kitchen!
Amidst the rolling of eyes and the groaning I return to the counters and wash them again, all the while reminding myself that homeschooling comes in all shapes and sizes . . . and potencies.
Now, where were those cute button mushrooms I bought the other day?