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NatureSpeak Articles

What about the fungus among us?

The next time you are in the kitchen you may want to ask yourself what culinary delights we would have to live without if there was no fungus among us.

After sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner last weekend it is hard not to think of the lovely glasses of wine, tasty cheeses and breads that complemented that massive turkey which we will be eating for days as sandwiches. Malted beverages were again part of my favourite holiday, which throughout history has specifically celebrated an abundant harvest of food. This is a great reason for celebration.

Many of the culinary delights we so eagerly consume are direct by-products of fungus. Bread owes it lightness and texture to yeast — the same agent that turns beer and wine into a splendid alcoholic beverage. Yeast is a pleasant term for us humans to utilize. Imagine the ensuing upset if recipes called for a teaspoon of fungus in our bread.

Many cheese delicacies rely on fungus for their virtues. Penicillium camemberti is the fungal growth responsible for the flavour of camembert and Penicillium roqueforti for the famous French blue cheeses which go so well with crackers and a glass of wine. So really, what pleasures would we have if not for the group of organisms termed fungi?

Fungi are a mysterious group indeed. Scientists believe that there is likely a 5:1 ratio of fungus to vascular plants yet we know far more about plants than we do about fungus. There are still thousands of this species waiting to be identified.

The fungi we have learned about have proven to be very beneficial and sometimes deadly to humans. The great discovery of penicillin was as simple as Alexander Fleming finding Penicillium mould on a plate that he had left out for the weekend. It has become the world’s leading antibiotic and changed medicine forever. People have been escaping reality for many years with the hallucinogenic properties of Psylocibins, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms”. Certain Amanita mushrooms have been given the term “death cap”. This is due to the vomiting and cramps that occur 12-24 hours after ingestion, followed by a brief remission then the onset of kidney and/or liver failure that just precedes death. This has been determined by more than one unfortunate soul out looking for edible mushrooms.

Fortunately there are many mushrooms that provide culinary delights without death. Chanterelles and Pine mushrooms are unrivalled as delicacies in the fall. Morels, porcini and lobster mushrooms are all scrumptious as well.

Portobello mushrooms are so large they replace hamburger patties on upscale burgers in town.

We know just enough about mushrooms to grow a few varieties in commercial operations. Unfortunately typical mushroom management (keep them in the dark and feed them shit) will only produce the common field mushroom we buy in grocery stores. If you want to find the real delicacies (the uncommon, wild, exquisite mushroom), you will have to get up early and go out into the woods to hunt for them, which, by the way, is exactly how it should be.

Upcoming Events: Oct. 13-14 th : Fungus Among Us Mushroom Festival. Join us for another great fungofest next week. Andy MacKinnon and Sharmin Gamiet will return to lead the mushroom talks and walks, and Ophrah Buckman will present another tasty cooking show. We’ve also added lichens to our program and have B.C.’s premier lichen expert, Trevor Goward, to introduce them to us.

• Friday, Oct. 13 th , 7:30 p.m.: Slide presentation at Millennium Place. Suggested donation: $8/$9.99 (member/non-member of the Whistler Naturalists).

• Saturday, Oct. 14 th , 9 a.m.: Meet outside MY Place for mushroom and lichen walks. $10/$15.

• Saturday, Oct. 14 th , 1 p.m.: Cooking demonstration with Ophrah Buckman at Millennium Place.

Written by: Kathy Jenkins


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