September 30

Wild Mushrooms

Days Until. . .

Halloween 31

Today's Flavor

This is Wild Mushroom Day. Mushrooms that can only be gathered in the wild appear throughout the year, but a large number of them turn up in the fall. Especially one preceded by a wet summer. Here at my place on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, I've had an efflorescence lately of bolete mushrooms, one of the best of the wild ones. Mushrooms only resemble plants, but are in a kingdom all their own. The ones we buy at the store or see popping up suddenly in the yard are the fruiting bodies of the organism--what an apple is to a tree. The mycelia--hairlike filaments that grow underground, sometimes spreading through many acres of ground--form the main part of the mushroom, absorbing nutrients from decaying matter in the soil and water. Mushrooms contain little food value. They're mostly water. However, that doesn't prevent them from having a flavor, which is what we're interested in. It has the umami flavor--a meatiness. Mushrooms stand in for meat in many dishes. Some even have a meaty texture. The edible mushrooms range from the trumpet-shaped, orange chanterelle to the brain-like morel to the misshapen hen of the woods. Each is as distinctive in flavor as in appearance. The fact that some of them are poisonous or hallucinogenic adds to their allure. Most mushrooms are edible, if not worth eating. The few bad ones account for Rule Number One Of Mushroom-Eating: Never eat a mushroom that you're not absolutely positive is edible. There's no easy way of telling. That's why there are mushroom clubs, in which people hunt mushrooms and learn the difference. Eat them whenever you can, and write down all the kinds you've had in a little book. When you get up to a hundred, throw the book away, and all your warts will disappear.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Mushroom Corner, Washington is the intersection of Steilacoom Road and Marvin Road, on the eastern outskirts of Olympia, the state capital. It gets its name from the presence of Ostrom's Mushroom Farm, a very large producer of edible mushrooms. It's surrounded by residential subdivisions. Asian restaurants and fast food dominate the dining scene there. Within a mile you can eat mushrooms at the Sushi Boat, Fuji Japanese Steakhouse and Wok On Fire Mongolian Grill.

Edible Dictionary

shiitake, [shih-TAH-key], Japanese, n., adj.--A large mushroom native to East Asia, particularly in Japan. It has been cultivated there for centuries, and worldwide in the past few decades. So, it can't really be called a wild mushroom. The shiitake became very popular in this country in the 1980s, largely because its flavor is more assertive than that of the standard wild mushroom. It looks different enough to be exotic. One of its distinctions is that its stem is usually off-center with respect to the cap. This is because it grows on rotting wood logs in the wild. (The first part of its name refers to a kind of Japanese tree on which it was often found; "-take" means "mushroom.")

Deft Dining Rule #135

If a restaurant offers a special dish made with chanterelle mushrooms, order it, even if it's not a dish you usually like. It may be years before you get another chance.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

Don't wash mushrooms unless they really have a lot of dirt on them. Even then, never plunge them under water. Rinse them under cold running water, and just long enough.

Annals Of Seafood

The first photos ever of a live giant squid were taken today in 2004, about 600 miles from Tokyo. An elusive monster, the giant squid is big enough to battle a sperm whale to the finish. They can grow over forty feet in length, and have the biggest eyes of any living creature. Giant squid have been known for centuries, but no living specimens were documented until these photos were taken. They could have been found quicker if a trap filled with millions of gallons of marinara sauce were set in the Pacific.

Annals Of Waitstaff

Today in 1997, Hooters agreed to shell out $3.75 million to men who'd applied for jobs, but claimed they were discriminated against in hiring on the basis of sex. What? Get real.

Food in Literature

It is the birthday, in 1924, of Truman Capote. His book Breakfast at Tiffany's was not about breakfast at all, we were disappointed to know. Nor was In Cold Blood about boudin noir. On the other hand, he was quite the member of the New York literary crowd. A party he attended was one worth attending.

Music To Dine Romantically By

This is the birthday of Johnny Mathis, in 1935. The silky-voiced singer has sold more records than almost any other artist, and sells out every concert he performs. His style is original and unmistakable, and his taste in material is impeccable.

Annals Of Chewing Gum

Today is the birthday, in 1861, of William Wrigley, Jr. He founded the Wrigley Chewing Gum firm, and propelled it into the far-and-away leader in its field. (That would be Wrigley Field, I suppose.) His first two gums--named "Lotta" and "Vassar"--didn't have long legs. His third one did: Juicy Fruit, the oldest gum brand still being made. Next came Wrigley's Spearmint, and Doublemint in the 1930s. . . and away it went, filling the bottoms of tables in restaurants all over the land. How nice that I should be in Chicago today, two blocks from the Wrigley Building!

Beverages On Television

Today in 1982, a bar named Cheers opened for business on the tube, and became a top-rated television sitcom for eleven years. The set was based on a real Boston bar called Bull and Finch, whose owner did very well by the connection as the show's popularity skyrocketed. My beef is that not much was ever said about the quality of the drinks. But most of the customers just drank beer and schemed romances.

Food Namesakes

Major league baseball pitcher Jose Lima stepped onto The Big Mound today in 1972. . . Kenny Baker, an Irish tenor who became famous as the singer on the Jack Benny radio shows in the 1930s, gave out his first notes today in 1912.

Words To Eat By

"When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting."--St. Jerome,whose feast day is today. He lived in the fourth century.

"I confess that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town."--Alexandre Dumas.

Words To Drink By

"Wine gives courage and makes men more apt for passion."--Ovid.