The Food Almanac: Monday, September 30, 2013

Staff Writer
It's Wild Mushroom Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Virgilrm
Most mushrooms are edible, if not worth eating. The few bad ones account for Rule Number One Of Mushroom-Eating: Never eat a mushroom that you're not absolutely positive is edible.

Today's Flavor
This is Wild Mushroom Day. Mushrooms that can only be gathered in the wild appear throughout the year, but a large number of them turn up in the fall. Especially one preceded by a wet summer. Here at my place on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, I've had an efflorescence lately of bolete mushrooms, one of the best of the wild ones.

Mushrooms only resemble plants, but are in a kingdom all their own. The ones we buy at the store or see popping up suddenly in the yard are the fruiting bodies of the organism--what an apple is to a tree. The mycelia--hairlike filaments that grow underground, sometimes spreading through many acres of ground--form the main part of the mushroom, absorbing nutrients from decaying matter in the soil and water.

Mushrooms contain little food value. They're mostly water. However, that doesn't prevent them from having a flavor, which is what we're interested in. It has the umami flavor--a meatiness. Mushrooms stand in for meat in many dishes. Some even have a meaty texture. 

The edible mushrooms range from the trumpet-shaped, orange chanterelle to the brain-like morel to the misshapen hen of the woods. Each is as distinctive in flavor as in appearance. The fact that some of them are poisonous or hallucinogenic adds to their allure. Most mushrooms are edible, if not worth eating. The few bad ones account for Rule Number One Of Mushroom-Eating: Never eat a mushroom that you're not absolutely positive is edible. There's no easy way of telling. That's why there are mushroom clubs, in which people hunt mushrooms and learn the difference. Eat them whenever you can, and write down all the kinds you've had in a little book. When you get up to a hundred, throw the book away, and all your warts will disappear.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Mushroom Creek is a small, usually dry, three-mile-long tributary of the Powder River in the southwest corner of Montana. Although the surrounding area is hilly desert, the Powder River brings enough water down to allow for a lot of farming along its banks. A lot of cattle are ranched here, too. Mushroom Creek gets enough flow to support trees, and that's where the mushrooms are. It's eighteen miles to the nearest restaurant, Hawk Alley in Broadus on US 212.

Edible Dictionary
lobster mushroom, n.--A prized wild mushroom, named for its color's resemblance to that of a boiled lobster. The mushroom is brilliant orange to red, and stands out in the wild or in a dish. It is unique in being two mushrooms in one. The main edible part is a mushroom in the lactarius and russula families. The color comes from a tiny parasitical mushroom that covers the surface of the bigger fungus. The only lobster aspect is the hue; they taste like mushrooms, although very good ones.

Deft Dining Rule #135
If a restaurant offers a special dish made with chanterelle mushrooms, order it, even if it's not a dish you usually like. It may be years before you get another chance.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
Don't wash mushrooms unless they really have a lot of dirt on them. Even then, never plunge them under water. Rinse them under cold running water, and just long enough.

Annals Of Seafood
The first photos ever of a live giant squid were taken today in 2004, about 600 miles from Tokyo. An elusive monster, the giant squid is big enough to battle a sperm whale to the finish. They can grow over forty feet in length, and have the biggest eyes of any living creature. Giant squid have been known for centuries, but no living specimens were documented until these photos were taken. They could have been found quicker if a trap filled with millions of gallons of marinara sauce were set in the Pacific.

Annals Of Waitstaff
Today in 1997, Hooters agreed to shell out $3.75 million to men who'd applied for jobs, but claimed they were discriminated against in hiring on the basis of sex. What? Get real.

Food in Literature
It is the birthday, in 1924, of Truman Capote. His book Breakfast at Tiffany's was not about breakfast at all, we were disappointed to know. Nor was In Cold Blood about boudin noir. On the other hand, he was quite the member of the New York literary crowd. A party he attended was one worth attending.

Music To Dine Romantically By
This is the birthday of Johnny Mathis, in 1935. The silky-voiced singer has sold more records than almost any other artist, and sells out every concert he performs. His style is original and unmistakable, and his taste in material is impeccable.

Annals Of Chewing Gum
Today is the birthday, in 1861, of William Wrigley, Jr. He founded the Wrigley Chewing Gum firm, and propelled it into the far-and-away leader in its field. (That would be Wrigley Field, I suppose.) His first two gums--named "Lotta" and "Vassar"--didn't have long legs. His third one did: Juicy Fruit, the oldest gum brand still being made. Next came Wrigley's Spearmint, and Doublemint in the 1930s. . . and away it went, filling the bottoms of tables in restaurants all over the land. How nice that I should be in Chicago today, two blocks from the Wrigley Building!

Beverages On Television
Today in 1982, a bar named Cheers opened for business on the tube, and became a top-rated television sitcom for eleven years. The set was based on a real Boston bar called Bull and Finch, whose owner did very well by the connection as the show's popularity skyrocketed. My beef is that not much was ever said about the quality of the drinks. But most of the customers just drank beer and schemed romances.

Food Namesakes 
Major league baseball pitcher Jose Lima stepped onto The Big Mound today in 1972. . . Kenny Baker, an Irish tenor who became famous as the singer on the Jack Benny radio shows in the 1930s, gave out his first notes today in 1912.

Words To Eat By
"When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting."--St. Jerome, whose feast day is today. He lived in the fourth century.
"I confess that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town."--Alexandre Dumas.

Words To Drink By
"Wine gives courage and makes men more apt for passion."--Ovid.