A haul of our most delicious parasitic mushroom, gathered by Simon Armijo in the White Mountains of Arizona, 100 miles west and higher and wetter than ours…
I actually don’t know many mushroomers; in southern New Mexico, just we and the Armijos, and the blogger MDMN and his wife at Sometimes Far Afield; and since they moved to Roswell we don’t even see them that often. It is a mixed blessing; no “mushroom jams” at the side of the Forest Service roads, no need for secrecy or misdirection. On the other hand, mushroomers tend to be scholarly as well as seriously interested in the outdoors; the Massachusetts contingent was heavy with writers; Larry Millman, Elio Schecter, Monty Montgomery. The late hunting writer Norm Strung was our mushroom guru in Montana. I miss the conversation , and have to do it online instead.
Our good friend Chas Clifton is an exception; we have known him and his beautiful wife Mary in real as well as virtual space forever. They live in the Wet Mountains of Clorado, not a bad place at all for foraging. Recently, Chas wrote a piece called “Would you eat Amanita if David Arora cooked it?”
I answered with a hearty “Yes!” Arora is the author of the only utterly indispensable book on identifying North American mushrooms, Mushrooms Demystified; my tattered and note- filled copy is a prized possession. (Look it up in Amazon, link not working right now).
It was a bit of a cheat, because I knew Chas was talking about the mushroom above, Amanita muscaria, and I would certainly eat it, as nothing in the world looks like it; the other “edible” Amanitas look so much like the deadly species that I would have to ask even Arora to justify them!
Chas led his readers to Fat of the Land, where Langdon Cook enjoys a dinner of muscaria cooked by Arora, with no ill effects. He cites and quotes mushroom writers who say it should not be recommended, but also links to a hilarious paper by Larry Millman and a friend, who didn’t get all the active ingredients out, and to a detailed and scholarly paper, by Arora and another, in Economic Botany, which not only tells you how to render it harmless, and delicious, but convincingly explains why only 20th century Americans seem to think it is dangerous. (I know he is nutty but it is hard not to see Gordon Wasson’s theory of Anglo Saxon “mycophobia” at work here).
The mushrooms are tempting, but the funniest thing in the whole mix might be Lawrence Millman’s deadpan account of the (not very frightening) effects of boiling the Amanitas in too little water. He and his friend spent hours looking at things and giggling and carrying on like two teenagers in the sixties who just got high for the first time. As Larry, a long- time correspondent, serious mycologist, arctic explorer, and fellow Fellow of the Explorers Club, is a scholarly and intrepid gent MY age, it is pretty funny. When they called him for advice, Arora suggested they take notes of their perceptions and words. Some examples:
“Lawrence has been silent for a while, listening to the mushrooms. All of a sudden he’s very talkative, although he’s not making much sense. “Smooth circus” –neither of us knows what that means. “Mushrooms are people, too,” he says.”
And: “Lawrence is drinking a beer and says he can relate to the bottle, that the bottle can relate to him, and that the two of them are actually enjoying each other’s company… we leave the restaurant. Lawrence says that objects have no meaning, but simply exist. We see a dead deer on the road, and he says the difference between a dead deer and a living one is negligible. Tonya still feels elated, exuberant but at the same time relaxed.”
I will refrain from making Sixties hippie noises. After all is done, the Muscaria is a common, big mushroom here, and if we find some, readers will get a first- hand account…
UPDATE: A dissenting view, here.
Going out to look for Boletus edulis this weekend. Here is a collage from previous years.
(I am enjoying these photo posts to set the season; never fear, writing will return soon).
I assume any reader knows me; others, in order of appearance: Lib, daughter-in-law Niki Mazzia Frishman, Connie Farmer, Della and Simon Armijo (the only other “shroomers” in two counties), who have also rebuilt about half of our house so far, and Greg Vivian, Lib’s former boss, a Vermonter who took naturally to mushrooming.
|We used to use a dead Jeep for a dryer|
The ‘shrooms have arrived or, as Peculiar wrote, channeling Chaucer (“…had he lived in the Southern Rockies and been more interested in fungi than relics”):
“Whan that August with his shoures soote
the droghte of June hath perced to the roote,
and bathed every veyne in swich parfoum
of which vertu engendred is the shroum….
“…thanne longen southwestryn folk to goon on pilgrimages.”
I had nearly given up– our rains have been intermittently heavy enough to threaten our roof and ceiling but we had seen no king boletes, nor the two “phenological” indicators that seem to predict good crops of the King: spadefoot toads (which need warmth, four days plus steady rain, and thunder), on this level; and in the mountains, the brilliant red- with- white- speckles, “entheogenic” (thanks to Chas for that term, which my computer does not like) but toxic Amanita muscaria.
But today, on the verge of giving up, we hit the jackpot. I emailed some of my fellow mycophiles:
“Our rather intermittent rains, though threatening to bring down the ceiling, hadn’t produced any boletes yet, but today we went to the San Mateos and found, not the biggest crop we have ever seen but a full season’s harvest, ie enough to fill a 5 gallon jar after drying and enough to throw handfuls into any stew or risotto through the winter (in the best years we get TWO winters’ worth!)
“The whole bunch is in the first photo. If that doesn’t look like enough to those of you who haven’t hunted them with us, look at the Maglite and Opinel knife for scale [Click to as they say “embiggen”]. Though relatively few, they were all of exceptional quality this year, too, well- shaped and dense.”
We may find more yet but at least the season is saved! Of course we will keep looking…
(BTW sorry for slow posting lately– many photos coming plus other posts & links, but read between the lines and you will see BUSY…)
Oh and– Mike, I agree re Satan’s bolete. And we now have most flat surfaces looking like yours, covered with slices…