Monday, March 19, 2012

Day: 96: “When in Doubt, Throw it Out,” and other Advice from Mushroom Folk


On Day 17, way back in December, I joined the mycological society of Kitsap County. The goal was to crush fungi-phobia thru shroom identification and socialization with folks who eat wild mushrooms and live to tell about it. I attended my first meeting of the Kitsap County Mycological Society on the evening of the annual Survivor’s potluck.

I meant to attend monthly meetings in January and February, but Fungi-Folk Phobia kept me at bay. I’ve been reading the newsletters, purchasing suggested field guides, and forgiving the winter rain for a promise of summer morels. But I struggled to take the next step, the leap into fellowship. I’m not shy, or at least no one who knows me would use that adjective to describe me, but I am agoraphobic. I don’t fear open spaces like some agoraphobes, but I have a hard time leaving the house if I know I’m going somewhere with a lot of people I don’t know. Concerts, public transportation, and the mall at Christmastime are mostly impossible. I haven’t always been like this, but I have always considered myself socially awkward. I don’t fit in all circles, but then again who does?

I wasn’t sure what fungi-folk would be like. I knew I wasn’t dealing with yacht club or country club cultures. Annual dues for open membership were only $30. How exclusive could it be? Honestly, I pictured a group of eccentric weirdoes, nice weirdoes, like the kind you meet at renaissance faires, but still weird or at least weirder than me.

The potluck was held at the L.O.O.F. hall, or Loyal Order of Odd Fellows. LOOF was a fraternal organization popular in the 50s & 60s, kind of like the Masons, I think. I don’t know anyone who belongs to L.O.O.F. or what the organization does as a mission, but the fraternal location and dimly lit parking lot wasn’t helping erase clandestine images of bearded men in velvet capes and hearty women with bread-dough breasts rising from the tops of peasant blouses.

Jim and Jasper joined me. Their company alleviated most of the anxiety. When we walked in, I was disappointed and relieved at the same time. Disappointed because I was looking forward to meeting characters out of my normal realm, but relieved at the instant comfort felt as a table of old ladies chirped salutations and admired my potluck contribution, gingerbread topped with mushroom-shaped meringues in a Pacific octopus baking dish.  

The potluck was great, very mushroomy, not like familiar Methodist potlucks with marshmallowed, green Jell-O and pineapple ham. I went back for seconds and thirds. I learned that I don’t eat enough mushrooms, and I don’t eat enough potatoes, but I really don’t eat enough potatoes infused with mushrooms. There were cheesy potatoes with chanterelles, scalloped potatoes with porcini, mashed potatoes with shiitakes, and truffle vermouth gravy to pour over everything except dessert. Amazing. It couldn’t have been easier to stick to an industrial-meat free diet.

I can’t wait for the next potluck. Agoraphobia won’t stand a chance. I’m very food-motivated. The offerings were unusual, exotic even, but for the most part the attendees seemed familiar. Two full tables of seniors could pose as stunt doubles for elders of my childhood church.

There was a sprinkling of biker-types, a handful of aging hippies, and a young family with a son afraid of my dog. The majority was Caucasian, with the exception of an older Native American man, a middle-aged black woman, and a Japanese grandma who filled my cup with fir-needle tea.

Langdon Cook, author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, served as guest speaker. His presentation offered a peek into the secret world and work of commercial foragers, those who scavenge wild mushrooms for sales to restaurants and fine grocery stores. The demand for wild mushrooms is high, so is the price, and so is the competition amongst foragers, private and commercial.

The sustainability of commercial harvest is questionable. Not enough is known about spore regrowth. I read that cutting the mushroom stalk is preferable to pulling. Cutting promotes regrowth in the same location, where pulling causes site damage. This seemed to be a disputed fact between the guest speaker and a couple of the society members. Members recommended cutting as well as leaving a percent of a wild patch unpicked to insure future mushrooms. Commercial pickers leave nothing behind. Every cap and stem has a price tag. Cutting versus pulling and percent picking versus clean picking are sustainability topics in need of more research.

Most wild mushrooms are too difficult to cultivate. I’m still waiting for the first crop of oyster mushrooms I started 3 years ago by drilling hundreds of holes in logs and filling the holes with spore-inoculated, wooden pegs. I read about mushroom growing in Mother Earth News and ordered my pegs from a suggested website. I thought for sure I’d found a way to have my own backyard mushrooms. But after chatting with several mushroom people at the potluck, I’ll probably wait forever. But as a new member of a mycological society, I’ll only have to wait until late spring for the first of many scheduled forays.

As an adult, I am new to potlucks. I never know what to bring. I think of the dish as a representation of self, or at least of cooking ability. I know I don't want green Jell-O salad or ham to represent me. I'm a decent cook, but nothing stunning. I figured the success of my gingerbread would help guide future participation. I laughed when I a saw only 4 squares of cake were missing, but all the meringue mushrooms were picked clean. So much for site conservation....

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to KPMS. I too have your flavor of agoraphobia - almost more a fear of new/different especially weighted by crowds/strangers. But the woods are no problem, where all those yummy fungi are. PS: IOOF not LOOF. PPS: the meringue mushrooms were awesome!