26 August 2018

Why I Love Mushrooms


Mushrooms are great. I don't know why fruits and vegetables get all the hype. If you ask me, the best thing nature's got going right now are its fungi.

I've been on vacation in Connecticut the past few days (it seems strange to admit I'm vacationing at a place that is basically home, but there you have it). Our weather so far hasn't exactly been what you'd call fair: pouring rain for days on end, and a river that's flooding its banks.

Unlike the rest of us, the mushrooms love this weather. They're the bright spots of beauty on an otherwise drab and dreary backdrop. I never realized just how many of them there are, and how quickly they grow. Unlike flowers and vegetables that make you wait for weeks and months, mushrooms appear literally overnight. They're like the express delivery men of the plant world.

Plus, they're versatile. Many of us love art, and who doesn't love food? -- mushrooms are both. You can eat them (well, some of them!), and you sure can't beat them for variety of colors, shapes, and textures. We've got big smooth pinkish ones and little orange crinkly ones; ones that look like sponges and ones that look like the pages of a book.

We've got the Bracket Fungi, which grow on trees. They're also called Artists' Fungi because when they're alive and full of moisture you can scratch on the white surface to "draw" on it. I used to have a big Bracket fungus that I broke off from a tree and drew a nature scene on. I probably still have it somewhere, unless the bugs have eaten it up (a drawback you don't have with other art surfaces, which is why I ultimately still prefer canvas over fungus).

I also love mushrooms' names. My favorites so far are Old Man of the Woods, Elegant Stinkhorn, and Orange Jelly. Then there are Dung-Loving Bird's Nests -- although the "dung loving" part really tells you all you need to know. So, too, do Angel of Death and Destroying Angel, both of which ever-so-delicately hint at the consequences of incorporating them into one's soup or stirfry.

But as I mentioned before, some wild mushrooms are edible. In my area, perhaps more of them are edible than I'd realized prior to consulting a field guide. For example, the King Bolete is not only edible, it's supposedly a gourmet delicacy. It's a shame I'm not a mushroom expert, and therefore I can't be certain if the specimans now scattered hither and yon in the yard are Boletes or some sinister poisonous lookalike. They look delicious, and they smell just like good portobellos or shiitakes. As much as I'd love to find out for myself, I probably won't. Sigh. The stakes are a little too high if I'm wrong!

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