There is a procedure to follow when tasting unfamiliar mushrooms. First, look in the identification book and inspect the mushroom, making sure that all the key features that are described in the book match the features of the gorgeous fungus you are cradling in your arms. Then, if everything looks identical and you are fairly confident that you have an edible mushroom, start cooking. Cut the fungus into small pieces and cook it and cook it and cook it. Finally, try a small portion, about a teaspoon, and wait for approximately half an hour to see if you get sick. If your ass starts releasing abnormally wet and uncomfortable excretions, or if your gastronomical system feels like a balloon that is continuously popping and being refilled, don’t eat more mushrooms. If you feel fine, eat a bit more, maybe a tablespoon, wait for half an hour, and so on and so forth until, after about five hours, you’ve eventually consumed the entire delicious toadstool.
This painstakingly safe process can be avoided by simply asking an expert if the mushroom you have picked is indeed edible. However, when you are all alone in the wilderness, like I was, and you have found what you think is a jackpot, like I did, it is smart, although difficult, to follow this procedure closely.
I was walking the edge of our property along the potholed Cape Elizabeth road about a week ago. I was looking for the telltale orange of chanterelles, but it was impossible to miss the spongy brown cap of a giant bolete that poked out from underneath a salmon berry bush. Inspecting it carefully, I found that all the important indicators were correct: the flesh didn’t stain blue when cut and the squishy pores underneath the cap were yellowish green instead of a cautionary red. Judging from these characteristics, as well as the bulbous stem, leathery cap and vein-laden stalk, I was almost positive that I had found a King Bolete.
Boletus edulis, also know as porcini, is one of the most sought after of all mushrooms and I had found one, right there, less than 100 yards from our driveway. At least I thought I had found one, but I am the cautious type, so I left the toadstool where it stood and continued searching for the familiar and delectable chanterelle.
After about an hour of harvesting I had a hefty bag full of meaty orange fungus and I had also spotted more boletes along the way. I decided to pick one of the enormous mushrooms and use the method described above to see if it was edible.
At first, everything went as planned. I removed the porous section, chopped the white flesh into small pieces and cooked it thoroughly in a cast iron pan with a little butter. I seasoned it lightly with salt and pepper.
When I tasted a morsel, the rest of the procedure was instantly and unreservedly ignored. The flavor was so amazing, so mind-blowing, that I completely forgot restraint and commenced to consume the entire mushroom.
Earthy fall tones overpowered initial sweetness and dissolved gradually into deep, savory aftertaste. I could even taste the salty spray that may have replaced autumn moisture, which had not yet arrived. These ocean-nourished delicacies were the best mushrooms I had ever found. I had to get more.
My disregard for the rules of unfamiliar mushroom tasting continued. Since the sun was beginning to set, I was obliged to sprint up the driveway to the spot where I had found more boletes earlier. I picked every acceptable specimen, took the entire load back to the cabin and concocted a vat of King Bolete and Golden Chanterelle gravy. Poured over steamed yams and baby red potatoes, the gravy was addictive.
Before I even realized it, I had eaten every last bit of gravy, which meant that I had consumed about five edulis of various sizes along with a healthy portion of chanterelles in less than an hour. I was suddenly assailed by the fear that I would begin feeling my insides explode. Anxiety overwhelmed me. Every gastronomic whisper, no matter how small, was an indication of my impending doom. Why had I been so careless?
There was nothing I could do but wait. Either I would start excreting terrible liquids and gasses in a matter of minutes, or I would not. Thankfully, as the minutes, and soon hours passed, I was delighted to feel no discomfort in my bowels whatsoever. In fact, a nearly indiscernible warmth seemed to be abiding in my stomach, as if I had taken a bite of the entire coastal rainforest itself and had somehow, through digestion, gained a small portion of its eternal and complex power.
This power had a strong effect, although I cannot prove, except from my own belief, that the mushrooms were the cause. As I crawled into bed, opened my book, and drew the kerosene lantern closer, my stomach felt normal. I was completely full and content and warm underneath the wool blankets. After some time, the flickering flame lulled me into relaxation. Immediately after snuffing the lantern, my heavy eyelids sunk closed and I began to dream.
Profound images, sounds, smells, emotions cluttered into my brain. The dreams were not abnormally strange in comparison to nightly oddities, but their clarity was unusual. The details of these dreams would be too long and twisted to describe. Suffice it to say that I woke up feeling as if I had lived an entire lifetime in a matter of hours. I was exhausted and invigorated at the same time.
Whether the mushrooms or some other mystical factor were the cause of this experience is hard to say. What is certain, however, is that they were delicious, and I intend to keep my eye out for them again, especially now that I can recognize their leathery brown caps, yellowish pores and bulbous, deep reaching stems.