photo courtesy of
photo courtesy of

I love eating mushrooms.  Cooked or raw, mushrooms are a staple in our home.

This stems back to my childhood, when my mother took us mushrooming.  Whenever we visited relatives living on farms in the countryside, we took buckets to gather mushrooms.  Often, the best ones grew in fields near cow pats.  They were big brown ones with huge caps.

( Thinking of cow pats reminds me of the car song I made up for my kids to sing when they were little – ” Ten cow pats sitting in the field, ten cow pats sitting in the field, step in a pat it will stick to your heel, there’ll be nine cow pats sitting in the field… and – When you have all ten, you are knee deep in @#$! )

When we went mushrooming, I thought my mum knew a lot about them.  She certainly gathered with vigor, but when the evening news had a story of people eating poisonous mushrooms that looked like the ones we gathered, only they gave off a yellow stain when cooked, we stopped going mushrooming so often.  It was only then that I realized Mum didn’t know enough to really tell the good ones from the bad.

Today, if I see mushrooms growing in a paddock or on the verge beside the road, I get a bit wistful but won’t touch them.  I, too, just don’t know enough to tell the difference and don’t want to get sick or die.

My adoptive Dad told us plenty of stories of how poisonous mushrooms work.  ( He was always good at regaling us with horrific details ).  Apparently, you can enjoy a good meal of poisonous mushrooms and not realize there is anything wrong at all, but a couple of weeks later your organs begin shutting down and there is no antidote to fix that.

So I stick with the mushrooms I figure have been sorted, that I can buy from the supermarket, the green grocer, or the open air markets.  There’s certainly a variety to choose from these days!

A friend of ours used to work in a mushroom factory.  It was in dark tunnels underground, and had rows of racks full of soft logs stuffed with special soil and moss.  The mushrooms would sprout until the logs were fully covered.  He took home a box of mushrooms to his family each week, as an employee bonus.  His wife ended up hating mushrooms.

I tried to grow mushrooms in a box a couple of times.  You know the ones you can find at the gardening center ?  The trouble was that the instructions say to stow it away in a cool dark space, but once it was stowed away I promptly forgot about it, and mushrooms actually do need some water to grow…

My grand-daughter hates mushrooms, though she knows she has to eat them in our house.  I tell her they are full of vitamin B12 and good for making brains work better when they need to concentrate, but it makes no difference.  She still thinks that eating them is like eating a slug.

I thought I had her figured when I cut a whole lot of mushrooms up into the tiniest slivers to add to a meal, recently, thinking that if she couldn’t see the mushroom shape she wouldn’t know… but she still managed to find them and pick them out to lay on the side of her plate, and would not believe me when I said they were egg plant.  She knew the taste!

There’s something fascinating about mushrooms and toadstools, puff balls and lichen, and fungi in general, though.  Consider that the part you can see and eat is really only the flower of the plant, that contains the seeds.  All the main part of the plant is hidden away, either in the soil, or in the wood of the plant it has taken up residence in.

Sometimes, where you can see bark pieces and leaf mulch on the ground, you can kick it away and uncover a gossamer network of white threads that reveal the actual body of a mushroom or toadstool.  It reminds me of the neural network in a human body…

I knew kids who tried ‘magic mushrooms‘ when I was young.  They never offered me any, so I can’t tell you what they were like, but I’m told you have hallucinations and really ‘trip out‘.  I was glad I didn’t try any when I discovered later that they can ruin your kidneys and other organs, permanently.  Why do people take things that can hurt them so badly?  (Says she who scoffs chocolate regularly, despite knowing that it has theobromine in it that kills dogs and probably builds up in our body cells, too).

When we bought our first home, there were large pine trees growing in our backyard.  At the foot of the pine trees were those red mushrooms with white spots on them, called Amanita Muscari  (I only know that one because it is easily recognized…).  They often had pieces picked out of them, that the birds had eaten, revealing the white flesh ( not the natural spots )  beneath the red surface.  (Obviously, birds like a bit of ‘magic mushroom’, too).

I warned my kids not to touch them, but I didn’t get rid of them.  There is something about those mushrooms that triggers special memories of fairies and the ‘otherworld’, especially when they grow in groups and rings.  At the time, the blue ‘Smurf‘ doll craze was turning my children into collectors, and Smurfs lived in mushroom houses.  I knew my kids would not be happy if I removed the Smurf houses…

When I was young, we lived in a Naval housing commission house for a while.  The lawn was riddled with puff balls in spring  ( and prickly bindis in summer…).  My sister and I loved to jump on them and make them burst.  Dust would spurt everywhere.

Stink balls were similar to puff balls, only longer, but you were game if you jumped on one of those.  When they burst they smelt like rotten eggs and if you got that on your clothes, it lingered.

I remember watching ‘Lost in Space‘ on television after school one day and the young ‘Will Robinson‘ character found some giant puffballs on a planet they visited.  When those balls exploded, they were deadly.  It’s funny how such things embed themselves in your head.  I didn’t jump on puff balls after that.

You know the saying, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover‘?  Well, mushrooms and fungi are like metaphors of that to me.  Knowing that so much of the mushroom is hidden away and that only the frontispiece is on display is kind of creepy to some.  Until I found that out, I thought that mushrooms and toadstools were beautiful just as they are – but then that simplicity was taken away because so much is actually secret.  Not that being secret put me off.  I’ve always been a person who likes finding hidden treasure…

In a way, people are like mushrooms.  What we show to the world is only a fraction of who we really are inside, or away from the world.  So much of us is never exposed to others.  It remains secret and hidden – a grand neural network of ‘stuff going on behind the scenes‘.

Most others tend to see us in the same way that kids see mushrooms – just for the first impressions and for what we put on display.  When they get a hint that there is a lot more hidden, that we have apparently kept secret from them, their first response is often to actually begin treating us with caution and wariness.  It’s like we should put our whole self on display or we must have some hidden agenda, but the truth is that we most likely didn’t keep anything secret.  They just never really looked or asked.

If you think of how delicate the ‘neural network‘ body of fungi is and use that as a metaphor for what we keep inside ourselves, it’s no wonder we don’t blithely share it around.  Such states of being are fragile.  We only want to let those who are tender and sympathetic have contact with our vulnerable inner selves.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s not bad or secretive.  It’s just self-protection.

My favorite dish of mushrooms is extremely simple.  I pull out the stems to make mushroom cups, fill them with grated tasty cheese and grill them in the oven.  The cheese melts and the mushrooms soften and ooze with very tasty juice that drips down your chin when you bite into them. Yum!

I’m hoping that my grand-daughter grows up to like mushrooms.  I hated brussels sprouts when I was young, and my mum made me eat them at dinner, too.  Today, I love brussels sprouts.  So, you just never know what the future holds… 😉


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