Monday, 6 July 2009

You can never have too many Mushrooms!

For a person who loves mushrooms as much as I do it is remarkable that this is probably the only drawing I have ever made of one.

This is simply a pencil sketch and taken from an old sketchbook - as you can see from the date it was drawn in 1996.

I think that it is reasonable study of a mushroom, with reasonable form and shading and also an artistic flair that turns it into something a bit more flowing and beautiful than just any old mushroom.

I like the line across the top of the cap which shows the flow of that form. I also like the base of the stem. I like the hollow that is indicated and the peeling skin of the lower stem. It sort of takes on a bit of a life of its own. I enjoy that. I enjoy animating what is ordinarily thought of as an inanimate object.

But mushrooms for me are more than just beautiful fruits. They are totally yummy too! Hardly a day goes by that i don't eat mushrooms - usually fried in olive oil and bit of butter, seasoned gently with a little salt and a good dollop of black pepper. You cannot really improve on that. i admit to being a bit of a philistine as I am quite happy with the ordinary white champignon mushrooms that can be bought in any supermarket. Although i also like the flat black mushrooms, black because they go black when you cook them and turn the juices black as well. I am also very happy with brown button mushrooms. I have not experimented much with the Chantrelles, Shiitakes and other more exotic varieties, mainly because of the cost of these things especially in this country. But at least I have somewhere still to go!

I believe that this love of mushrooms is partly a cultural element, which is inherited through my Eastern European heritage. I remember as a teenager going mushrooming with my father and some of his other Russian friends. I do not remember the names of the woods which we visited in Southern Germany but i do remember the stillness beneath the trees and the wonderful smell of mould and decay. I remember the sounds of the twigs breaking beneath my feet and the sudden brightness of the sun as I walked into a clearing. I remember my father warning us children not to stray to far from him - to always be in earshot so that we would not get lost.

We all carried little baskets and my father had a special knife for cutting the mushrooms. He taught me never to pull them out of the ground but to always cut them so that you did not destroy the delicate root system and thereby hinder development of the mushrooms spreading and continuing to thrive from year to year. He also explained that the basket was important because the holes in it allowed the spores of the collected mushrooms to spread as you walked. This also aided the new sewing of mushrooms for the future.

He was very knowledgeable on which mushrooms were edible or not, examining each one closely as he cut it and put it into his basket. Any that he was not quite sure about he would bring home and then spend what seemed like hours poring over his mushroom encyclopedia. Because he was long sighted this entailed propping his glasses up on his forehead while he examined them. Peering at the gills, stem, ring and cap in close detail. If he managed to make a positive ID and could declare the mushroom safe to eat it went in the pot. If he was in any doubt, it went in the bin. He was quite right to do this.

We were close friends with another family who used to go mushrooming a lot and they must have got careless one day because they all had to be carted off in the middle of the night to have their stomachs pumped after eating a tasty mushroom stew!

Himself and my mother then decided what they were going to do with the mushrooms. Some would be fried, some stewed and some were pickled and put into jars for later use. These were my least favourite because when pickled they developed a rather slimy texture and there were also always a few pine needles that found their way into the jar which had to be picked out before eating.

The biggest regret I have is not paying more attention to my father when he was examining and deciding which mushrooms were edible. My knowledge now is very small on this subject, in addition I do not go mushrooming now either so I am not likely to learn any time soon. Like so many other busy people nowadays I buy the less tasty, but less risky supermarket varieties.

And on that note - I think I could do with some nice breakfast mushrooms!

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