August 29, 2002

Mushroom Magic

If it has been wetter where you live than around here, the fall mushrooms should be showing their heads above the leaf litter soon. Even with cool, drizzly weather of the past few days, we are way behind on rainfall, and I feel certain the soil will not be wet enough to trigger the amazingly fast growth spurt that sends mushrooms up from underground, overnight, as if 'by magic'. Mushrooms have a magic quality for this reason, and are prominent in the lore of many folk tales because they appear to pop up instantly, out of nowhere.

One August many years ago, I was out on a 'foray' by myself, out in the National Forest near Speedwell, Virginia. I could go back to the exact spot right now. I can't remember if I was looking for anything in particular...probably just scouting for a place to take a biology class on a field trip. There was nothing remarkable about the second growth forest along the creek, just open mixed hardwoods with a few large white pines that somehow got left in the last timbering 'harvest'.

Through the undergrowth, I spotted a cluster of unfamiliar mushrooms, and pushed my way through the huckleberry and fetterbush to get a better view. It was like pushing aside the curtains into a fantasy land, a Disneyesque storybook scene from Hansel and Gretel. Over at least an acre of forest floor there were growing stout, thick archtypical mushrooms...heavy-stemmed, with smooth yellow-brown and red-brown caps like buffed suede, like rounded loaves of magical bread. Thousands of them growing singly and in dense clusters like antlers, from the bases of trees, and out in the open...I half-expected to see them hanging from tree branches. It literally made the hair on my arms stand up, it was so eerie.

Needless to say, I took many photos, using my large Buck Folding Hunter knife for size comparison. And of course, I brought a few specimens back to identify. It was definitely a boletus of some of the pored mushrooms versus those with gills. It was easy to find in my field guide: Boletus edulis. Common names: porcini, cpe, steinpilz, and king bolete. Prized and widely consumed in Europe. More common in the U.S. northwest, occasionally in the east. Edibility: CHOICE.

I turned around and headed back to the woods with a washtub. I easily filled it, leaving many intact mushrooms behind to sporulate and establish new colonies in the area, hopefully. Very few of the ones I collected were previously occupied: it is rare to find these mushrooms before the slugs, which feed off the outside and their little nibbles can be trimmed away, and the fly larvae (maggots) that eat their tunnels all through the stems and caps. Most of the ones I collected were in perfect condition: firm, white flesh, inch-thick stipes or stems, with pores underneath of a greenish or yellowish color.

We canned them. Big mistake. Second mistake: we left the porous part underneath the cap on when we canned them. In the end we had about 8 quarts of eel-slime. If we had it to do over again, we would have trimmed the pores, and strung the pieces of 'mushroom meat' on a string over the woodstove to dry, to make an outstanding mushroom soup that regrettably, we have only read about.

I have seen only perhaps a dozen individual specimens of Boletus edulis since that first encounter with the teeming hordes of them twenty years ago. There may yet be some Honeycaps or Meadow Mushrooms in our woods during the next couple of months, if we finally get rain. But for sure, the enchanted encounter with King Bolete is my ultimate fungal fantasy fulfilled.

By the way, I returned to that same magic spot in the forest again at the same time of year, for several years, and never saw a single boletus edulis growing there. All the more to make my one-time chance discovery seem the stuff of fairies and elves.

Posted by fred1st at August 29, 2002 06:54 AM

here's a great place to buy Magic Mushroom Kits

Posted by: magic mushroom kits at October 25, 2003 03:33 AM

You can also find ready to grow shroom kits at
Monkey Magic

Posted by: Magic Monky at February 8, 2004 11:25 AM

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