Thursday, January 24, 2019

Mushroom season is coming, and this book has me HYPE!





In The Company of Mushrooms: A Biologist’s Tale – Elio Schaechter (1997)


            It is currently winter here in Houston, Texas, which means that soon the weather will warm up a bit, the rains will come, and the ground and trees will be full of mushrooms once again.  As an amateur mycologist, I am really looking forward to this next mushroom season.  While I wait for it, I find that reading cool books about mushrooms helps me to pass the time and prepare for my next hunts.
            The author of this book, Mr. Elio Schaechter, is a trained scientist, specifically in biology.  He combines his scientific knowledge with his love for the exploration and fun found in mushroom hunting.  The book is divided up into several parts, each of which focuses on one specific aspect of this fascinating hobby.  The first chapters discuss exactly what is a fungus, what is a mushroom, and how they fit into the tree of life.  Fungi are ancient, very ancient.  The organisms we class as fungi are so old that they belong to a separate kingdom of life, and have been evolving since before the advent of flowering plants and trees.  A mushroom is the fruiting body of many types of fungi whose purpose is solely to procreate.  Others do not make mushrooms, instead utilizing spherical shapes, jelly shapes, or other such creations to spread their spores.
            Another chapter in this great book details the use of mushrooms throughout history, and yet another explains the rise of mushroom hunting clubs and organizations.  These are some of the best parts of the book, as they detail the fun and camaraderie found by people whose shared interests in mushrooms bring them together to learn and eat and have fun.  As the world of mycology is largely one composed of self-starters and amateur hunters working alone, these mushroom/mycology clubs are a great resource for information exchange and education.  I myself have joined the Gulf States Mycological Society, and hope to head to a foray at one of the massive state parks here in Texas, as soon as the weather allows.
            One of the topics that Mr. Schaechter returns to is that of the traditional mushroom hunters in Europe and Asia, and why this has not taken hold in places like the UK, or the USA, where mushrooms are seen as dangerous and eating wild foraged mushrooms especially so.  This bias is a shame, as mushrooms are a very good food source when sourced intelligently.  The area I live in, near Houston, TX, is estimated to have 5,000-6,000 species of fungi, of which just over 1,000 are identified.  The climate is moist and there are lots of places for the mushrooms to grow.  Being in the middle of the continent, mushrooms from the East coast grow here as well as mushrooms from the West coast.  This hobby, which takes you into nature, allows for education and fun, and if lucky, results in delicious mushrooms for your table, is one that can be enjoyed by a great many people.  I hope to do my part by sharing my mushroom adventures and spreading the fungal love.

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