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.
In the absence of any adequate popular guide to this great food resource, it may be hoped that this present work may afford not merely an occasional dainty entree to the menu of the luxurious epicure, but - a far more important consideration - a means of bringing the fungus within reach of the less-favored masses as a never-failing dependence for their daily food.
Dr. Badham's further pertinent remarks are worth quoting, in this connection, with emphasis: "As soon as the reader is initiated in this class of dainties he will, I am persuaded, lose no time in making the discovery known to the poor of his neighborhood; while in so doing he will render an important service to the country at large, by instructing the indigent and ignorant in the choice of an ample, wholesome, and excellent article, which they may convert into money or consume at their own tables, when properly prepared, throughout the winter."
Concerning the lavish plenitude of the fungus as a food resource, a passage from a letter of the late Dr. Curtis, of North Carolina, to the Rev. J. M. Berkeley, of England, many years ago, is most significant: "Of this latter quality I had become so well convinced that, during our late war, I sometimes averred - and I doubt if there was much, if any, exaggeration in the assertion - that in some parts of the country I could maintain a regiment of soldiers five months in the year upon mushrooms alone." A statement which doubtless will appear extravagant to those who have been accustomed to consider the one common "mushroom" as the only esculent among the fungi.
As already mentioned previously in my pages, the fungus affords a perfect substitute, chemically and gastronomically, for animal food. The analysis of its substance is almost identical with that of meat, being especially rich in nitrogenous elements, while its flavor and aroma and texture, as served for the table, occasionally so closely imitate that of flesh food as to be actually deceptive. Even in its raw state it would occasionally seem to suggest the same animal similarity. As an illustration, I recall the following striking instance of gastronomic discrimination in a carnivorous appetite, as exemplified in a full-grown pet hawk which I had tethered near my country studio.
One day, returning from a toadstool hunt, she observed me approaching with a basketful of mushrooms. They were mostly of the fleshy Boleti species. Supposing that I was bringing her food, she became very demonstrative in her actions, eying me most eagerly, and uttering that peculiar low squeal which seemed to emanate from the region of her appetite. As she approached me, thinking to satisfy her that the basket contained nothing suitable for hawk-food, I tossed her one of the largest of the mushrooms, which she almost caught in mid-air in her talons. Such was the strength of her clutch that the fungus was scattered in fragments upon the ground, when what was my surprise to observe the bird proceed from one fragment to another in a most ravenous manner, exhibiting all those tactics habitual to the hawk with live prey - the lowering and outspreading of the wings and tail against the ground, the raising of the neck feathers, and the same defiant, defensive mien which she had so often shown on previous occasions when a mouse or a squirrel had been the object of her solicitude. Having eaten the first fungus, I threw her another, which she devoured with the same eagerness, and another, and another, until she had taken five, and her crop was as large as a pint cup; after which she betook herself quietly to her roost on the rail near by, evidently under the supposition that she had broken her fast with a sumptuous meal of rabbit or squirrel flesh.