As well as being the ChickenKeeper, our poster Natty is also an intrepid MushroomHunter. This might spring from her background, which (in my estimation) apparently involved leaping from crag to crag toting a Kalashnikov from a tender age, foraging for survival in frozen forests while being pursued by bears and running-dog capitalists, and excelling in mathematics, sarcastic remarks, complex computer systems, and the like. She’s gathered some pictures of her applying her elite skills to the fey and cautious mushroom populations here in Northern California. The poetic digressions, I’m afraid, are entirely my own. — Stargazer
NUMBER ONE: THE DEATH CAP (AMANITA PHALLOIDES)
Amanita Phalloides, such a lovely fungus,
Amanita Phalloides, delicious and among us;
Amanita Phalloides, what for do I shiver?
Amanita Phalloides, what costs a brand new liver?
The reports are nearly universal: people who’ve eaten this report that it’s one of the most delicious mushrooms on the face of the earth. Unfortunately, it also contains a compound that destroys the human liver in an astoundingly short period of time. Every year a handful of Northern California mushroom hunters mistake it for another mushroom — mostly its harmless little brother (below) or for other varieties. They have a great dinner and then a not-so-great stay in the hospital and on the liver-transplant list. Mushroom hunting is not for amateurs.
NUMBER TWO: THE COCCORA, OR AMANITA CALYPTRODERMA
Sings Dey-O in the rain
Yet its sullen older brother
Will bring you lots of pain;
Before you go on piercing
That universal veil
‘Tis best to check that it sings
Lest your organs fail.
All young Amanita mushrooms feature a membrane called the “universal veil.” In the Coccora, it’s very thick and cottony, and there are a few other giveaways that this is not the Mushroom of I-Literally-Ate-Myself-To-Death but rather a very pleasant and agreeable dinner guest. But as Natty says, “It’s very different. I still wouldn’t eat it.”
NUMBER THREE: LACTARIUS RUBRILACTEUS
Lactarius rubrilacteus says, “I’m a bit redundant;
I’m milky and red-milky, but then I am no pundit.
It might say something to you that you cook me with a rock,
And even with the salt and herbs, I still taste like a sock.”
A reference I ran across for this mushroom mentioned that it was traditionally cooked by layering it in salt and herbs, weighing it down with a rock, and then simmering it for hours. Natty confirms that in her experience the salt was definitely involved. My attitude is that any supposed food item that has to be packed in salt and boiled, much less squashed by large rocks (for what reason? To prevent it from escaping?) in order to achieve even basic edibility is probably not worth the trouble.
NUMBER FOUR: CANTHERELLUS CALIFORNICUS, THE GLORIOUS CHANTARELLE
Will cheer the most forlorn of us.
To see that massive golden crest —
Our Destiny so Manifest —
It’s clear that dinner super-sizing
Isn’t just our own devising.
They can get monster, these Chantarelles, and they are a culinary treasure. On Natty’s own blog, http://squeakolas.blogspot.com/2011/12/gribnik.html, she demonstrates how to make a delicious main meal from the three pounds of chantarelles she foraged on a single walk.
While mushroom hunting isn’t my gig — I prefer huddling inside over a warm computer to digging around in the cold damp wild and almost certainly coming home with a whopping case of poison ivy, if not actual pneumonia — it’s pretty cool that someone knows how to do this. And Natty promises that once the rains start again, we’ll be expanding on the Guide.