Friday, November 9, 2012

They're Not Morels and Not For Your Risotto!

Fall and spring are serious mushroom seasons in the American west, specifically in Southeastern Idaho but also in many other regions of the U.S.A. Wild morels in spring are found throughout the damp forests, shiitakes, wood mushrooms that seem to be an American version of what tastes much like Italian porcinis, domestic buttons, portobellos, plus a multitude of others the names of which i cant remember.

And, of course, the coveted truffles imported from Europe and some even from Asia, seem to reappear in fall and spring. However, regardless of the multitude of excellent wild mushroom hunting guides available that, complete with fabulous photographs and precise descriptive details that will lead us to identifying and collecting edible ones, I’ll stick with more mundane, cultivated store bought varieties. I do cross the line for the  wild, aromatic and rare truffle. And maybe a few morels now and then!

Wild mushrooms - those intriguingly mysterious growths that appear to sprout overnight from nothing, are often also referred to as toad stools. The terms ‘mushroom’ and ‘toadstool’ are subjective, not scientific so they do have a wide range of interpretations.

Webster's Dictionary defines them as:
        1. Any of various mushrooms having a stalk with an umbrellalike cap, especially the agarics.
Note: I wasn't at all sure what "agarics" were until consulting Wikipedia for further enlightenment!
        2. A poisonous mushroom as distinguished from an edible one.
        3. Any of various other fleshy fungi, as the puffballs and coral fungi.

Generally, mushrooms are also described as,
         "fungi with fruit bodies that have a cap more or less centrally placed on top of a stem are referred to as ‘mushrooms’, or as ‘mushrooms and toadstools’. Some people broadly consider that all fungi with a cap and stem are ‘mushrooms’, while others consider only edible fungi as ‘mushrooms’. In the strictest sense, the word ‘mushroom’ refers only to members of the genus Agaricus, e.g. the cultivated white button mushroom." (Wikipedia).

  ‘Toadstool’ is more of a layperson's term for any fungus with a cap and stem that appears different from Agaricus, regardless of its edibility but  usually it's suspected of being poisonous!

Taking photos in Idaho of some of these strange fungi really got me going on one of my favorite non-cooking obsessions: Research. While I was intrigued by the eerie, extra-terrestrial appearance of these lawn decorations, I quickly became fascinated by newly gained, and equally intriguing, information: Famous Historical Figures Poisoned by Mushrooms.

So I'm thrilled to present a brief list of some famous poisonings although I'm sure that if I really put my nose to the research grindstone, many more would appear.

  • Siddhartha Gautama (also known as The Buddha): It's believed that Gautama died of mushroom poisoning some time around 479 BCE but this claim has come under a good deal of debate.
  • Roman Emperor Claudius is believed to have been murdered by being fed the death cap mushroom. This story appeared approximately two centuries after the events amidst controversy about whether he was, in fact murdered or the unfortunate victim of an unfortunate gastronomic choice.
  • Pope Clement VII is rumored to have been murdered by mushroom poisoning as well. Again, a great deal of debate surrounds the conclusion.
  • Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and Tsaritsa Natalia Naryshkina are believed to have died from eating the death cap mushroom.
  • According to a popular legend, the composer Johann Schubert died in Paris, along with his wife, one of his children, maidservant and four acquaintances after insisting that certain poisonous mushrooms were edible.
  • The best-selling author Nicholas Evans (The Horse Whisperer) was poisoned after eating Cortinarius speciosissimus.
  • Physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit's parents (the creator of the Fahrenheit temperature scale), died in Danzig in 1701 from accidentally eating poisonous mushrooms.
Bon appetite! 

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