It was a gray morning in central Illinois. Flat light seeped through bare branches above, and I was on the hunt. We brought no guns, only knives. But my prey was not deer or grouse or elk. Mushrooms—the fruit of fungus—in the guise of oysters, puffballs, sulphur shelf, shaggy mane, and hen-of-the-woods were the objective on this outing, which I cover in a travel article for today’s New York Times.
Mushroom hunting is a popular hobby worldwide, notably in Nordic and Eastern European countries where there’s a tradition of families foraging together. The pursuit of wild mushrooms for food is practiced from Laos to Lithuania. Truffles, maitake, matsutake, king boletes, shiitake and dozens of other edible types are hunted commercially around the planet.
My hunt—a half-day trip in the woods near Henry, Ill., with Tom Nauman of Morel Mania Inc.—yielded a couple choice blooms.
Mushrooms are the fruit of fungus, the visible bloom formed from the mycelium, which is the stringy vegetative part of the organism that grows underground or intertwined and inside an organic host like a dead tree. Mushrooms sprout in all colors and shapes, sometimes within hours after a rainstorm or temperature change to release spores into the wind. There are tens of thousands of mushroom types. They are sacred to some cultures, forbidden in others.
In the United States, wild mushrooms are widely regarded with suspicion. “We have deep-rooted associations with mushrooms being pretty low on the totem pole,” said Ike Forester, president of the North American Mycological Association (NAMA), an organization of professional and amateur mushroomers based in Gladstone, Ore.
But Mr. Forester said fear or disdain for fungi was somewhat unfounded. “A very small percentage of mushrooms are deadly poisonous,” he said. “Though you need to be careful before putting anything on your plate.”
(SEE FULL STORY HERE: http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/11/09/travel/escapes/09mush.html?8dpc)