Is a Squirrel An Authority?

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At the University District farmers market last month, I jumped like a greyhound let out of its kennel when I saw the first tiny porcini of the season at the Foraged and Found counter. I sautéed them simply with olive oil, salt and pepper. You know how you eat or drink something in a foreign country and never recapture that flavor when you get home? Simply prepared porcini will transport you to a trattoria two blocks from the Piazza Navona. It’s a cheap roundtrip ticket with the current economy and strong euro. The picture was taken last year at Campo dei Fiori. I have no idea what mushroom these are, but they look fun.

As it does every year at this time, my brain slips an OCD circuit for mushrooms. I have to admit that mushrooms are about the only thing I look forward to with the arrival of autumn and when I walk my dog, I spend more time looking at the ground than the trees.
Mushroom books, like travel books, are never perfectly suited to one’s needs. Some have better pictures, some more details about where you’re likely to find particular mushrooms, some more complete glossaries of arcane vocab. Adnexed, anyone?

All my ‘field guides’ start off wanting a spore print. That’s when you leave the mushroom undisturbed on a white piece of paper and maybe you’ll get lucky a day later there will be what looks like dirt under it. It might be dirt. You have to pull out your microscope to examine the sample, and if you’re still in doubt there’s a gently caustic solution that you can drop the mushroom in and maybe that will help. I don’t know about you, but typically I’m not out in the woods overnight with my pocket microscope and Bunsen burner.

I’m a timid hunter- if An Authority doesn’t personally confirm my mushroom, I leave it alone, even if I‘ve got my two favorite mushroom books to agree, which never happens. So many look similar that I rarely feel like I’ve totally nailed the identification, inevitably something that looks like it might match the ‘choice, edible’ classification also looks suspiciously like the “deadly poisonous, avoid” picture, too.
I’m always hoping I’ll find something edible around my house. In my dreams my property is a nirvana of morels and boletes, but I knew I was doomed when the boletes I found turned out to be about the only two poisonous ones in the whole order.
Chanterelles are great beginner forager mushrooms because they’re so distinctive that once you’ve found a real chanterelle you won’t confuse it with anything else. I had a great chanterelle place but last year I was chased off by a mountain lion. Up they close look remarkably like Siamese cats, only the size of a sofa. And hungry. I haven’t been back.
I found what might possibly be a delicious edible, but I’m judging that on the fact that the squirrel keeps returning for snacks rather than positive ID. If the squirrel eats it, it must be okay, right?

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

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