Back in the 1700’s, lobsters were reasonably regarded as a disgusting beach bug that only the poor and the desperate bothered to sample. The upshot of which was that these lower class coastal folks had a unique knowledge of an amazingly rich, flavorful and cheap dining option that went virtually unnoticed until the mid 1800’s when Maine began to be exploited for their little secret.
A similar story must also exist for the mushroom. How else can it be explained that such a phallic shaped fungal plant that grows from peat and manure now also sits in packages on our grocer’s shelves ready for consumption? We chop them and toss them on a salad, we saute them and smother them on our steak, we fry them and dip them in some sauce, we put some oil on them, grill them, and actually call them a burger. Mind you, real men don’t do that last one, but we will dump some, after they’ve been sliced and grilled, on top of the slab of beef and under the giant slice of cheddar cheese.
Mushrooms are basically the non-sexy version of scotch in that the only difference between the varieties is the composition of the soil that gave them their origin and the duration of their maturation. Still, in spite of a complete lack of nostalgic marketing histories and packaging, mushrooms really have persisted in their popularity. From the simple white mushroom that retails for $8.00 per pound to the Japanese matsutake that currently go to market for up to $1,000 per pound, people just have to have them.
Scientists and foodies attribute several health benefits to the mushroom, mostly “linking” such associations as lowering cholesterol, burning fat, lowering blood pressure, and fighting cancer. It’s weird, I’ve noticed that there are only two methods of research and reporting that feel comfortable using the word “link” to suggest there is a viable association without asserting actually positive proof. They are fringe health studies, and entertainment reporting. This is why, in any given minute news update on NBC’s Today Show, you could feasibly hear a story that medically “links” a vegetable to preventing cancer, as well as a story that romantically “links” Brad Pitt to Myley Cyrus.
Of course, there is one scientifically proven benefit to one very specific mushroom. It is the Psilocybe Cubensis, nicknamed “shrooms” by Southeastern hippie-dippies. It grows naturally in cow manure enriched soil, and it packs one hell of trip! They can be grown in other, more controlled ways, of course, but apparently the cow, with its four stomachs, and complete absence of stomach acids, makes a perfect incubating chamber for the spores, so that when it finally makes a deposit, the spores get deposited in a perfectly enriched and moist environment for growth. Florida’s climate is the most ideal for this psychedelic fungus, which is why while kids in the Midwest go “cow tipping,” kids in the the Sunshine state are going “cow tripping.”
My National Mushroom Day was neither fancy, nor trippy, though, and my yard seemed to be more excited to celebrate the day than I was (the picture up top was taken this morning two steps from my front walkway). For dinner it was just white mushrooms cut into some salads and cooked into the spaghetti sauce. Configuring for the pasta and meatballs, I figure my cholesterol was about level for the night. It was a good enough dinner, but truthfully, unless they’re the burgundy ones at Outback Steakhouse, mushrooms just don’t thrill me a whole bunch, even if they are “linked” to fighting cancer.
See you Wednesday for National Pasta Day… DOH!