I AM ENJOYING LEARNING ABOUT THE WORLD OF MUSHROOMS. The pizza in the above photo has four types of gourmet mushrooms that I fashioned into a tomato-less version this past weekend. It was delicious.
My interest in mushrooms started years ago when I was introduced to Pennsylvania Dutchman canned mushrooms that accompanied pepperoni on my Chef Boyardee pizzas. This introduction thankfully advanced quickly to sautéing fresh white button caps in butter, thyme, and basil used to top off a slice of grilled sirloin steak. It simply got me hooked on mushrooms for good - the fresher the better.
A tidbit I’ve learned is that these white buttons (Agaricus bisporus) are closely related and are immature representatives of Cremini and Portabellas which I also enjoy regularly in all types of dishes. I’ve learned that the three familiar names represent about 90% of the cultivated mushrooms in the USA.
During college, I was introduced to wild mushrooms in the form of morels. I worked summers on Old Mission Peninsula as a gardener for a retired NYC boutique retailer who often asked me to join her for a patio lunch on her veranda. She would feature homemade soups served in her fine China made with the morel mushrooms she had found on her farm. I was initially cautious about eating them as they were so foreign to me reminding me of a chicken’s brain. But I soon got over this repulsion and began savoring the nutty flavor and unique texture they added to her soups. She thought I was both charming and naïve with my cautious ways. She moved me to new heights in the world of finer cuisine with her introduction to morel mushrooms. I became a fan for life.
Fifty years later I’m finding and enjoying morels as often as nature allows. Foraging for them is a rite of spring in northern Michigan. I search for them and delight at the odd places they appear (in the last couple of years they have shown up in my friend’s bluegrass lawn). So much for woodland oak, aspen trees, and old apple orchards, which are purported to be their favored habitat. Trust me, a little dumb luck also helps!
What impresses me is the growth in the cultivation of the more exotic mushrooms that have occurred in the last decade all over the country. I have difficulty spelling their names the likes of Shiitake, Turkey Tails, Lion’s Mane, Porcini, Enoki, Oyster, etc. There are so many varieties in the trade today. We are so fortunate.
This briefly summarizes my experiences with mushrooms. I have little trouble calling them “fungi” which has nicely entered the lexicon, but “shrooms” have not caught on with me. And I’m just too cautious to experiment with the new genre of psilocybin (even with two of my favorite aficionados’ Michael Pollan and Andrew Weil, true activists for their use). Frankly, I am not ready for an out-of-body experience. Vodka is my favored accelerator for altering brain waves and stimulating pleasure centers - I will leave it at that.
A final note on truffles that are also in the mushroom family. I will wait until I hit the jackpot in our lotteries to add truffles to my experience list. Stay tuned for both events.
Mushroom foraging in Michigan.