I just got my first negative feedback and I am so excited. Yuppiedouche@Gmail.com suggests that, “You’re an idiot”. I want my fans and detractors alike to know that I am open to criticism and suggestions. But speaking of ground-hugging detritivores, I finally found some Verpa bohemica!
Apparently, the metabolism of this fungus is still not well understood but, according to mushroomexpert.com it is suspected that it is both saprophytic and mycorrhizal at different stages of its life. Saprophytic means detritivore. The meaning of mycorrhizal is fully discussed elswhere on this website. It belongs to the family Morchellaceae (morel family) and subdivision Ascomycotina (spores born in sacs called asci, for our purposes however these are all the “weird” looking mushrooms) . So despite the claims to the contrary, the Verpa is closely related to the morel.
For the longest time I, along with everyone I know, labored along under the illusion that this was a poisonous mushroom. All “false morels” are supposed to be poisonous. According to David Arora’s “Mushrooms Demystified” the Verpa bohemica should be consumed rarely, in small quantities, with caution, if at all. And I would certainly recommend that you treat it as if it were of “unknown edibility” the first time you try it, as prudence would dictate. Not all people are able to consume all mushrooms. I would, however, never have thought to gather this one for the table if it weren’t for the fact that last year, a bad year for morels here in the Willamette Valley, it started popping up in farmer’s markets and restaurants started buying it. At first, I was shocked. Then one day I asked one of the more well-known commercial mushroom harvesting outfits at the farmer’s market about it as I didn’t see any at his table; morels were becoming more ubiquitous at this point. His response, “more people get sick from Morels than from Verpa”, and he seemed none to happy that I had questioned the integrity of commercial mushroom harvesters. So this year, cooks started putting up pictures on my facebook club “Pacific Northwest Mycological Club” of their Verpa harvests and saying, “the flavor is like a morel” and I thought, “I’m gonna go get me some of them”. And so I did.
We (Leona and I) found them growing under some cottonwood trees near the Columbia River, amongst a tangle of Himalayan Blackberry. As so often happens with these things, all the easy- to- get- to ones trailside had already been gone over by a very thorough individual with a sharp knife. Of course it was pouring and I was in flip- flops, my boots having previously gotten thoroughly soaked.
Prudence advises us to try new mushrooms with caution, whether or not they have a reputation. David Arora advises us to always cook all members of Morchellaceae. So I did. I split it down the middle lengthwise and cooked it in a cast iron skillet over a high flame. A little oil to prevent sticking and a little salt to move things along. This is true of most cookery and most mushroom cookery, salt at the beginning of the process, this draws out the water which is necessary for the vegetable to really begin cooking. The mushroom first turns flaccid, this is not a sign to stop cooking, one must be brave and forge ahead. When the mushroom has released moist of it’s excess water, which takes a while as it is between 80 and 90% water, then it will begin to brown. Many people tell me about how they don’t like this or that mushroom because it “tastes like slugs” or is “too slimy”, as if they alone do not enjoy the consistency of raw gastropod. The rest of us just relish it. The problem is in the cookery. It is not a young snap pea, nor a stalk of asparagus. The fungi are more closely related to meat, both in flavor and tissue makeup, than they are to tender spring vegetables. Sure, a Porcini may be consumed raw, as may a meadow mushroom, Agaricus campestris but Cantherellus, Hydnum (hedgehog), Pleurotus (oyster), Verpa are best hammered as they say in the professional kitchen.
The next evening I roasted them with garlic (garlic added at the end of the process) and served them forth with our usual salad: curly endives tossed in garlic/anchovy/red wine vinaigrette and dusted with a generous blizzard of parmigiano. This was good. The next evening however, grilled next to a simply seasoned fryer, was not so good. Robin was over too and no one finished their mushrooms, they tasted… spoiled. Like decay. So, my recommendation is to eat your Verpas fresh.
This concludes my tirade on mushroom cookery. If you would like to know more I suugest reading Angelo Pellegrini’s epilogue to the 1970′s edition of The Savory Wild Mushroom. Especially the part where he rages that “the mushroom hunter rises at dawn and wears his shirt inside out. To ask why is to ask why fire burns.” That part always cracks me up.
And if you have some constructive criticism, I’d love to hear it. If you want to talk shit on the internet under an assumed name, tell me where we can meet, it’ll be like an online date. And you can talk shit to my face.