Foraging for Mushrooms

| 11/12/2013 9:34:00 AM

Brian KallerJust as a few of our elderly neighbours here in Ireland still scour the hedgerows for fruit and other treats, so some still quietly gather their own mushrooms. In parts of France and Italy it’s not so quiet; families there, I’m told, regard mushroom-hunting season as a sacred annual tradition, like deer season in my native Missouri.

Tell most people you forage for fungi, though, and they say the same thing: That sounds too dangerous for me. Even people I know who gather wild plants or hunt game fear mushrooms – the wrong one can kill you, they tell me, so why not avoid them all?

Mushroom harvest

It’s a fair argument; there’s no getting around the fact that some mushrooms are deadly, and that a few people die each year from eating them. To put that in perspective, though, remember that 450,000 Americans – we’ll use the USA as an example – die each year from smoking, 80,000 from drinking, and 32,000 from car accidents. Food poisoning sickened a whopping 48 million Americans last year, and killed 3,000 – including people who had done nothing more dangerous than eat the wrong fast-food burger. How many of those were from eating mushrooms, on average per year in that country?

Seventeen. Not 17,000 – just 17, or 1/2 of 1 percent of all food-related deaths.

Most of us, moreover, eat wild mushrooms all the time, from restaurants or jars at the store, so we obviously believe that someone is picking them safely. Most of us simply trust food sent from strangers more than we trust our own ability to learn.

11/13/2013 7:38:47 AM

Brian, our big mushroom hunting season is in the spring time and it's the morel mushroom. It has a very distinctive look that no other mushroom has. I'm not one that hunts the woods looking for the tasty morsels but some of my friends are. I think my Aunt sauteed them in butter with some seasonings and they tasted OK but really didn't light my fire. That was way back when I was a some what finicky eater. Today might be quite a different story. I have a much broader spectrum of food tastes. Your article was very encouraging to me to give it another try. ***** Have a great fungi hunting day.

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