Memories, an Old Pocketknife, and Mushroom Torte
While cleaning out my sock draw today I found my old pocketknife that was given to me by my uncle Mike. It has a bone handle with a little bail on the end to which I had attached a rabbit’s foot for good luck. My uncle was a jeweler and before opening his own business he worked at The Imperial Knife Company which was based in Providence, Rhode Island. I was five years old when he gave me this pocket knife. Before he gave me the knife, he considered the all the possibilities of how a five year old could get hurt or hurt others possessing a “real knife”. So he ground off the point on the end so it resembled a butter knife and never sharpen the edge so it was impossible to cut anything. He was very clever when he gave them the title of “A Mushrooming Knife”. His design was so we could dig the mushrooms out of the ground using the blunt end of the Knife and slice through the soft tissue of the mushrooms to check for worms without getting hurt. At the last cookout of the summer he gave one of these Mushroom knives to me and each my cousins, with a promise of taking us all mushroom hunting.
It’s been over fifty years since my uncle gave me my mushroom knife but during each spring and fall, when the weather is warm and rainy and the biggest mushroom flushes of the year occur, I will wander the woodlands around the farm foraging for mushrooms. Mushroom collecting requires only the simplest of equipment: a flat-bottomed basket or box, a roll of waxed paper, a digging tool and a pencil and paper for notes.
The trick for most mushroom hunters is how to identify the choice mushrooms from the poisonous ones. A saying often quoted among mycophiles: “There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
If you are a beginning mushroom hunter, remember that phrase and repeat it often. Some of the most beautiful wild mushrooms are poisonous or deadly.
My recommendation for anyone thinking about hunting for mushrooms is not to go alone. Ask an experienced mushroom hunter or join a local mushrooming club. Many old timers will not give up their secret spot or favorite spot to hunt mushrooms, but if you have some land they will be more than willing to come along…they are always looking to expand their hunting grounds. You may have to share your secret spot but the information the old timers can give you is priceless.
Take notes about the weeks weather, the habitat and appearance of the mushroom. It's a good idea to note where the mushroom is growing (on wood, soil, moss); whether it is single or in clusters' the colors of the caps, gills and stem; and any other distinctive features. The more you can observe about the mushroom in the field, the easier it will be to identify.
We were all hunter-gatherers at one point, so we all have a deep need to get out in the woods and fish, hunt mushrooms, game, or collect wild plants. It really does awaken something primeval within us — even my non-mushrooming friends who come along on a mushroom walk have told me that it completely changes the way that they see the woods.”
If hunting wild mushrooms seems too confusing or dangerous you can always buy some delicious mushrooms in the produce section of your local market. This is a recipe my wife Susan uses to prepare a delicious mushroom torte. Serve with a green salad and a glass of Burgundy and enjoy.