It started a month ago. The mushrooms are talking to me.
Western North Carolina has been blessed this summer with normal rainfall at steady, predictable infusions; perfect growing conditions for fungi. I noticed the first ones emerging in the backyard. They were perfect, mushroomy mushrooms - the kind that you just know have to be good to eat. Then there were more on my morning dog walk. First just a few kinds, then more than a dozen. Deep amid the clutter in the back of my mind, I know some of them are edible, and it's driving me mad.
When I was a kid growing up on the outskirts of Boston, my Dad must have had the same urges I'm experiencing today. He came home one night from work and announced he was taking a class on mushrooms. The class was led by a woman who obviously knew her stuff. She took her students on field trips all over the greater Boston area and showed them the mushrooms that were good to eat and where they grew. They ended each session with a trip to the kitchen, where they'd cook up and sample the day's catch. "Her idea of cooking a mushroom was a hot pan, butter and salt," Dad recently reminisced. They were the best he'd ever tasted. After he graduated, Dad kept us in the shrooms for several years; boletes, oysters, corals, puff balls and hen-of-the-woods as I recall, and I remember them being as delicious as he does. Sadly, Dad's interests took him in other directions and I never took the time to learn anything from him for myself (being a high school punk uses up a lot of brain cells you know).
Two decades later, I'm obsessing over a crop of mushrooms I'm 75 percent sure are delectable, but that's exactly 25 percentage points short of where you need to be to start taking advantage of the bounty - besides, Sue won't let me eat the bright orange, cup-shaped beauties I'm almost positive are chantrelles, growing next to a stump in the backyard. There are books and videos for identifying mushrooms, but I'm going to wait for the next meeting of the Asheville Mushroom Club, where I intend to become a model member and learn all I can about mycology and the pursuit of mushrooms. I just hope I don't get there next month and the speaker says something like, "Well, I hope everyone here took full advantage of the greatest mushrooming season in memory. We will not see the likes of 2010 again in our lifetimes."
Until then, I'll just have to be satisfied with taking pictures and reading blogs by other foragers who know what the hell they are doing (see Fat of the Land). Jealous much? Ummm, yeah.