This section is from the book "Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them", by W. Hamilton Gibson. Also available from Amazon: Our Edible Toadstools And Mushrooms And How To Distinguish Them.
The knowledge of their identities once acquired, it is perfectly reasonable to assert that in average weather conditions the fungus-hunter may confine himself to these varieties and still be confronted with an embarrassment of riches, availing himself of three meals a day, with the mere trouble of a ramble through the woods or pastures. Indeed, he may restrict himself to six of these species - the green Russula, Puff-ball, Pasture - mushroom, Campestris (meadow-mushroom), Shaggy-mane, and Boletus edu-lis - and yet become a veritable mycological gourmand if he chooses, never at a loss for an appetizing entree at his table.
In the group of Russulae and Boleti alone, more than one conservative amateur of the writer's acquaintance finds a sufficient supply to meet all dietary wants.
What a plenteous, spontaneous harvest of delicious feasting annually goes begging in our woods and fields!
The sentiment of Dr. Badham, the eminent British authority on mushrooms, years ago, in reference to the spontaneous perennial harvest of wild edible fungi which abounded in his country, going to waste by the ton, would appear to be as true to-day for Britain as when he uttered it, and applies with even greater force to the similar, I may say identical, neglected tribute of Nature in our own American woods and fields, where the growth of fungi is especially rich.
The fungus-eaters of Britain, it is said, are even to-day merely a conspicuous coterie, while in America this particular sort of specialist is more generally an isolated "crank" who is compelled to "flock alone," contemplated with a certain awe by his less venturesome fellows, and otherwise variously considered, either with envy of his experience and scientific knowledge, or more probably as an irresponsible, who continually tempts Providence in his foolhardy experiments with poison.
But what a contrast do we find on the Continent in the appreciation of the fungus as an article of diet! In France, Germany, Russia, and Italy, for example, where the woods are scoured for the perennial crop, and where, through centuries of popular familiarity and tradition, the knowledge of its economic value has become the possession of the people, a most important possession to the poor peasant who, perhaps for weeks together, will taste no other animal food. I say "animal food" advisedly; for, gastronomically and chemically considered, the flesh of the mushroom has been proven to be almost identical with meat, and possesses the same nourishing properties. This animal affinity is further suggested in its physiological life, the fungus reversing the order of all other vegetation in imbibing oxygen and exhaling carbonic acid, after the manner of animals. It is not surprising, therefore, that the analogy should be still further emphasized by the discrimination of the palate, many kinds of fungi when cooked simulating the taste and consistency of animal food almost to the point of deception.