Report to Readers: The case of the Canterbury mushroom forager
I returned from a short Thanksgiving holiday to some old messages from readers, including one from a man incensed by Hillary Nelson’s recent Food section column on mushrooms.
Nelson, who writes the twice-monthly “Home Plate” column about cooking with local food, had a particularly interesting one on Nov. 14. Not only did she explain how to make a mushroom soup and a mushroom-noodle dish, but she also described foraging for wild oyster mushrooms in the local woods.
“We went out with knives and bags and carried away about 15 pounds of gorgeous white anise-scented oyster mushrooms, far more than we could possibly eat fresh. So we simply sliced them up and dried them, tucking them away into jars to use in winter stocks and soups,” Nelson wrote.
In fact, it was that description that had my caller so angry. Without some expertise, he said, picking and eating wild mushrooms can be deadly. The Monitor was irresponsible to encourage such behavior, he said.
Well, he’s right about the risk of picking mushrooms when you don’t know what you’re doing. Just last week the California media was filled with the story of the deaths of nursing home residents who were mistakenly fed poisonous mushrooms.
But Nelson’s column did include what I think was a reasonable caution. She wrote:
“If you’d like to forage some of your own, please do take along an experienced mushroom hunter and an excellent mushroom guidebook. Misidentifying mushrooms can be deadly, or at the very least decidedly unpleasant. A friend of my nephew’s recently treated his friends to what he thought was a fry-up of chanterelles. They turned out to be jack o’lantern mushrooms; the dinner party guests spent the better part of the night with serious gastric distress.
“If you’d rather not take a risk, do your mushroom hunting at the farmers market or grocery store.”
My hunch is that lots of cooks clipped Nelson’s column out of the newspaper – but will likely make her recipes using store-bought mushrooms. Either way, they looked delicious.