Last Saturday Eric and I went mushroom hunting in Sandy River Delta Park. Our goal was to find infamously elusive morels, but after a couple hours we had nothing and Eric had a headache. He lay down on a moss-covered log and I looked under, gasping, “Morel!” But it was only a Verpa bohemica, not a real morel, not edible. They look rather similar at first, penis-like with a wrinkly head, but the Verpa bohemica has a fibrous, cotton-like interior and a cap completely detached from the shaft, described as being like a thimble resting on a finger.
Even a misleading find reinvigorated us. We targeted an area that had been subjected to a controlled burn a few years before. There was little sign of fire damage in the acres of grasses, but patches of trees showed scorched trunks and fallen logs. Eric walked on the logs over blackberry brambles and shouted a triumphant “Whoa!” when he found large oyster mushrooms growing on a fallen cottonwood.
Then came the obligatory “Weirdo with Mushrooms” pictures. We carry All That the Rain Promises and More and Mushrooms Demystified with us when we go mushroom hunting. The author David Aurora is pictured on All the Rain Promises wearing a tuxedo and holding a trumpet in one hand and a large cluster of orange mushrooms in the other. He grins through a massive beard. He is a weirdo with mushrooms and all the people pictured in his book are weirdoes with mushrooms. They’re smug or indiscreetly jubilant about their oversized fungus finds. Their hair is wild, their clothing nonstandard.
We ate oyster mushrooms for dinner, grilled in our first outdoor cookout of the year. (It was still too chilly to eat outside.) We had a decadent oyster mushroom hash for breakfast. I took the remaining mushrooms home in a paper bag, but forgot to put it in the refrigerator overnight. The bag was a little soggy when I put it in the fridge the next morning.
I was going to make cream of mushroom soup, but leaving the bag out overnight turned out to be a critical error. The mushrooms looked a little worm-eaten. They had gone from firm, fleshy, and pliable to squishy and wet, with tiny tunnels burrowed through the surface. Eric would have thrown them out, but I was reluctant to waste our bounty. Surely the compromised texture of the mushrooms wouldn’t matter when turned into soup.
The mushrooms were full of maggots. Here is a recipe for cream of oyster mushroom maggot soup:
4 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon parsley
¼ teaspoon thyme
1 large onion
1 quart vegetable stock
1 pint heavy cream
1 pound oyster mushrooms (That’s what I had remaining.)
Melt butter in a tall pot. Add parsley and thyme. Don’t scorch the spices. Chop onion (actually, do that beforehand so you don’t run out of time and scorch the spices) and add it to the butter. While the onion browns, slice mushrooms. Start with the softest, soggiest bunch. Notice that fungus gnat maggots are fleeing out of the mushrooms at every slice. Lots of them. Push that aside and slice the other bunch of mushrooms that don’t look so worm eaten. Maggots are coming out of that too. Put the mushroom slices in the pan anyway. Decide not to tell Eric about the maggots. It’s just extra protein. Cook for five minutes stirring occasionally. The mushrooms, onions, spices, and butter, sure smell good, don’t they. Almost enough to make you forget what’s in the mix. Almost. Notice that the maggots aren’t cooking down. The mushrooms rapidly lose mass over medium heat, but the maggots are keeping their shape. Notice their black pin heads and sturdy white tubular bodies.
Throw it all into the compost. Not the indoor compost container, the outdoor compost bin.