Monday, June 28, 2004

Go ask Alice

After the monsoon du jour, which involved high winds that knocked down a nearby oak branch big enough to kill a person, I went for a stroll.

Mushrooms have popped up everywhere. I mean, it's like Alice in freaking Wonderland out there. I'm considering joining a wild-mushrooming society that's based in Atlanta, or at the very least buying a couple of really good field guides and talking to the bio department, because I want to learn more about them and don't necessarily trust my own identification skills (even though I have a Master's degree in paleontology that involved quite a bit of animal and plant identification, as you can well imagine). I've seen 15, 20, maybe even 30 species out there, and surely some of them have to be gourmet-quality. There's one that looks suspiciously like an oyster mushroom and even grows in the right kind of environment, e.g., on downed tree branches. There's another that starts out like an elf-cap and then explodes into a big white starburst. There are puffballs, clusters of delicate little umbrellas, minature trumpets, big brown bread loaves, and amorphous twisty things. I'm fascinated by them all.

Linguistics is a funny thing. Even though it's been shown that people poisoned by mushrooms are almost always folks who just matched their quarry with a photo (if that) and didn't bother to read the accompanying text, I'm still duly petrified by wild mushrooms. The mere mention of something called a "Death Cap" or, even more horrifyingly, a "Destroying Angel," is enough to send me scrambling in the opposite direction and give me nightmares for a week. Yet you can bet if I found a single morel, I'd spend the entire rest of the day in the woods looking for its compadres. So caution is the watchword, but I am definitely interested in broadening my knowledge.


We spent an hour today hiking through the woods and collecting mushrooms for spore prints. We also spent a lot of time reading on the internet and found a couple of articles on the most easy-to-identify edible mushrooms in the U.S. It turns out that there are a few select species that, as long as you RTFM, are almost impossible to mistake. We have puffballs and chanterelles (and maybe-probably the aforementioned oysters)! Next time I have a chance, I'm going to grab a couple of each and take them to the university to make sure I'm right. Then it's cookin' time...


Meanwhile, Jonny B., in commenting on my last post, inadvertently reminded me that I ought to do something about the condition of my herb garden. So I went out and took the tops off my gigantic oregano plant. I'm air-drying the cuttings in my kitchen, and I don't think I'll want for dried oregano for a long while. This is especially true since I don't use dried oregano unless the weather outside is so incredibly unpleasant that I don't want to step out the back door and clip some fresh oregano. It even winters over here, so I have access to fresh oregano in January. Maybe I'll give the dried stuff to my friends.