Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was chock-a-block full of whimsical characters such as a hookah-smoking caterpillar and a bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts playing-card. Although animals and some objects in the story are able to speak, somehow the idea of a talking mushroom was too far-out even for Carroll’s rich imagination. The book depicts a colorful hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom on which Alice dines (without so much as a parental warning) to become large or small. But while the Cheshire cat is chatty, the mushroom remains mum.
Posts Tagged ‘mushrooms’
Fungal Homes: Much Room, No Mushrooms
For some reason, mushrooms have spawned more than their fair share of puns. As a kid I learned that they’re all fun-guys, and that the only rooms you can’t enter in a house are mushrooms. The last one might not work these days, as entire buildings are now being made of fungus.
Given that mold inside our homes can make us ill, you wouldn’t think that being surrounded by the stuff would be a great idea. But just like so many other things in life, “it depends.” As a building material, fungus is cheap, ubiquitous, and a renewable resource. But that’s not the best part. By dry weight, walls made of fungus are stronger than concrete and have better insulation value than polyurethane foam. They are weather-proof, practically non-combustible, and oddly enough, resist getting moldy.
Meaty Matters: Mushrooms that eat animals
The more we learn about nature, the more distressingly clear it is that nature doesn’t pay that much attention to the stuff we’ve spent decades writing about it. Recently it was established that animals play for sheer enjoyment – it’s not an evolutionary ruse to get them to practice real life, as we asserted for hundreds of years. Real life includes jubilant fun for the majority of animal species.
We once held up “mate for life” critters like penguins and swans as exemplars of marital fidelity, only to later realize that while couples do stay together, you can bet the farm that in nesting season, both partners are slutting around like James Bond on ecstasy. And whitetail deer jumped out of the “herbivore” box we assigned them, caught on video with mouths full of carrion, or pulverizing mice to death for a snack. Despite lacking decent equipment to kill and consume prey, hippos, giraffes, and other “strict herbivores,” as we had described them, routinely break their vows of vegetarianism.
Fungi, whose job it is to decompose organic matter, also flunked biology class, because many common species hunt or trap live prey and then eat them. If I was vegan, I’d worry that chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), which has a texture and flavor similar to that of chicken, or beefsteak shelf fungi (Fistulina hepatica), with the look and feel of raw beef, might be gateway foods back to meatland. What would really blow my mind, though, would be deciding whether it was OK to eat mushrooms that thoughtlessly kill and consume animals.
Growing Gourmet Mushrooms at Home Workshop
The Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts (Arts Center) is set to offer a workshop – Gourmet Mushrooms at Home with Andy LeBlanc – on Saturday, June 8, 2019, from 10 am to 2 pm. » Continue Reading.
Paul Hetzler: Let Them Eat Trees
Nearly all historians agree Marie Antoinette probably never coined the phrase “let them eat cake,” a saying already in popular culture before her time. The saying was ascribed to her by opponents to bolster her reputation as a callous and arrogant aristocrat. She would have seemed far more benevolent if she had said “let them eat trees.”
From remote villages to five-star urban restaurants, people around the world consume all manner of delectable dishes featuring second-hand wood. Although that is not generally how it is featured on the menu. Mushrooms such as inky cap, oyster and shiitake have a voracious appetite for wood, a substance that very few organisms eat because it is so hard to digest. Anyone who has tried to dine on lumber can attest to that. » Continue Reading.
Let Them Eat Wood: Woodland Mushrooms
Nearly all historians agree Marie Antoinette probably never coined the phrase “Let them eat cake,” a saying already in popular culture before her time. The phrase was ascribed to her by opponents to bolster her reputation as callous and arrogant.
She would have seemed far more benevolent if she had said “Let them eat wood.” » Continue Reading.
Cultivating Mushrooms in the Adirondacks
I absolutely love mushrooms. They add real zest and excitement to all sorts of recipes. I’ve been cooking with them all of my adult life. They’re the perfect choice for hearty, intensely satisfying, really-good-for-you, low-calorie meals. Great if you’re watching your waistline!
It’s easy and fun to cultivate edible mushrooms using logs, stumps, or other mediums (i.e. straw, corn cobs), and the moist shade of your wooded property. Each mushroom variety offers its own unique, often nutty flavor. And they’re packed full of nutrients; things like B-vitamins, including riboflavin (an essential dietary nutrient which plays a major role in red blood cell formation and energy production, and strengthens the immune system), niacin (a digestive aid that can help maintain good blood circulation, healthy skin condition, and brain function), and pantothenic acid (one of the most versatile and flexible vitamins). » Continue Reading.
Poisonous Mushrooms: An Aura of Amanita
One of our big collective cultural fears about nature involves poisonous plants. Our mothers implored us to NEVER put anything from the woods in our mouths, but in reality, you can sample most of what’s out there with relative impunity. Your taste buds will give you a good indication of edibility, and if you ignore them you might pay the price of some diarrhea and stomach cramping.
Put another way, the poison in most so-called poisonous plants is about as harmful as the thorns they might carry – not something you want to go out of your way to mess with, but nothing to make you put a child-proof fence around the rhubarb because you heard a rumor the leaves were poisonous. (They are in mass amounts, but at a high enough dose so is salt.) » Continue Reading.
Wild Foods: Oyster Mushrooms
Carnivorous oysters are lurking about in the North Country, and residents who venture into the woods are advised to carry butter and a skillet at all times. Oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus, native wood-decaying fungi often found on dead and dying hardwoods, are delectable when sautéed in butter. Maybe hikers should carry a few cloves of garlic and a press as well. It’s good to be prepared.
It may be stretching a point to call oyster mushrooms carnivorous, as the only “meat” they consume are nematodes, which are a type of small roundworm that live in the soil. But they are one of the very few mushrooms in the world known to do this, so why not play it up. The nematodes provide the oysters with nitrogen, a scarce nutrient. » Continue Reading.
Puffballs: Giants Of The Mushroom World
“Never eat anything bigger than your head.” I don’t know if cartoonist Bernard Kliban came up with that or if it’s a nugget of old folk wisdom. Certainly you should not eat anything that big without at least chewing it first.
But if you like mushrooms, you can find wild ones that are in fact much larger than your head. » Continue Reading.
When Mushrooms Attack: The Fungus Among Us
The oyster mushroom: delicious, frequently spotted on veggie pizzas, and predatory. That’s right. The hyphae of many fungi, including the oyster mushroom, attack and paralyze prey. Then, as R. Greg Thorn of Western University enthusiastically described, the fungi “grow down their throats and digest them from the inside.”
Oyster mushrooms live in the trunks of dead or dying hardwoods. A couple different species grow in the Northeast, each preferring different tree species. Pleurotus ostreatus, the oyster mushroom that you find in the grocery store, is the least picky about where it grows, and it puts out its fruiting bodies from spring to fall.
Because they live on dead trees, these fungi have limited access to nitrogen. Dead wood has plenty of cellulose and lignin, but very little nitrogen-containing protein. So, like carnivorous plants (which are actually omnivorous, despite the label), oyster mushrooms have evolved a bag of tricks to supplement their diet by attracting and consuming nitrogen-rich prey. » Continue Reading.
The Challenges Of Identifying Mushrooms
When you stumble across something purple in the forest, it’s hard not to stop in your tracks. At least it was for me on a recent hike, when I came across three purple mushrooms. They stood about four inches tall, with saucer tops that were nearly black in the center and ringed in a rich eggplant-purple.
I was captivated. I was also clueless, as I had no idea what I was looking at. I have long regarded mushrooms the way I do yellow-colored warblers and ferns – far too many and too confusing to distinguish one from another. » Continue Reading.
Blobs on Ice: Jelly Fungi Add Color to Winter
They look like blobs of shiny tar, a melted lollipop, or a crayon left in the sun too long. They come in vivid colors from orange to yellow to white to black to pinkish. They have a disconcerting ability to mimic human body parts, such as ears and tongues, with Daliesque artfulness.
They got their name because their tissues have the texture and consistency of, well, jelly. In some cases it’s more like rubber. The various species often carry imaginative common names: witch’s butter, snow fungus, jelly ear. » Continue Reading.
Giant Puffballs: Orbs of the Mushroom World
Who left that soccer ball on the front lawn? Come on, you know it didn’t just grow there.
Pretending to confuse a giant puffball mushroom with a soccer ball (or vice versa) is a well-worn joke among mushroom foragers. For the rest of us, finding out that there exists a common mushroom in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire that frequently grows to soccer ball size sounds like more of a hidden-camera, the-joke’s-on-you kind of gag.
Not only do these giant mushrooms exist, says Ari Rockland Miller, a Vermont based mushroom foraging expert, they are edible, even delectable, early in their lifecycle, when their flesh is white and has the consistency of Styrofoam. » Continue Reading.
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If not for a fungus, Santa’s flying sleigh would be grounded. If that were the case, the only toys he could distribute would be to the elves who made them in the first place, which kind of spoils the whole surprise element. The truth is that Mister Claus relies on Amanita muscaria, a mushroom which grows among pine and birch, to zip around the world on Christmas Eve. Sometimes called the fly agaric or fly amanita because it has been used to kill flies, Amanita muscaria is a large, attractive mushroom. Its domed reddish cap is dotted with large white spots, making it one of the most recognizable toadstools or free-standing mushrooms in the world. It is the big polka-dotted mushroom of Alice in Wonderland, coloring books, and garden statuary.
» Continue Reading.