Mushrooms are the stuff of legend, mystery and magic. Naturally occurring arcs or rings of mushrooms, usually in a forested area, are thought to be gateways into the kingdoms of fairies and elves. These phenomena are reputed to vanish after only five midnights wherever they have bloomed, sometimes leaving a shadow of themselves in the surrounding growth. It is said that if a fairy or an elf can entice a human into their ring, he is whisked off never to tread the real world again.
While the virtues of magic mushroom, Psilocybin, were highly touted in the 60s, ancient advocates were painting them as elements of religious rites in the art caves of Tassili, Algeria up to 9,000 years ago. Aztecs served the psychedelic mushroom at coronation ceremonies and pre-historic Spanish rock art depicted their use long before Spain was Spain. As usual, there is nothing new under the sun.
Except possibly the imagination of humans when naming things in the world. In the case of mushrooms for instance: puff balls, lion’s mane, hen-of-the-woods, toadstools and oysters, clearly someone was having a good time. Though the mushroom is known in some quarters as the meat of the vegetable world, it is neither flesh nor vegetable at all. Like its cousin, the much-revered truffle, it is a fungus. The dense, substantial texture and flavor of the mushroom is unique, even before you consider the differences between the varieties. One of the world’s more extraordinary confluences of taste and timing must be that of Italy’s Piemonte region during truffle season, grape harvest and porcini mushroom season which occurs each September and October.
Delicious, intoxicating and sometimes toxic, it is important to know your mushrooms. Fortunately, most mushrooms sold in today’s farmers’ markets and grocery stores are cultivated rather than foraged. There is no single distinguishing trait that identifies the toxic mushroom. Yet a 1st C Roman woman was famous as a professional poisoner. Locusta was believed to have provided Agrippina the Younger, the fourth wife of Claudius, with poisoned mushrooms enabling her to remove her mushroom-loving husband from power.
But let’s get serious, it’s really all about getting mushrooms to the table. We have several mushroom growers at our market with plenty of interesting varieties. In previous newsletters we’ve offered recipes for Grilled Shitake Mushrooms, Mushroom Crepes, Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches with Aioli and Sautéed Lion’s Mane, to cite a few. Check these and others out on the website http://www.litchfieldfarmersmarket.org/.