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.
Upon a certain spot on the lawn of one of my neighbors, year after year, without fail, there springs up a most singular crop. For the first two seasons of its appearance it was looked upon with curious awe by the proprietors of the premises, and usually ignominiously spurned with the foot by the undis-criminating and destructive small boy. One day I observed about five pounds of this fungus delicacy thus scattered piecemeal about the grass, and my protest has since spared the annual crop for my sole benefit. It usually makes its appearance in late September, and continues in intermittent crops until November. A casual observer happening upon a cluster of the young mushrooms might imagine that he beheld a convention of goose eggs standing on end in the grass, their summits spotted with brown.
A plebeian toadstool
Pileus: Egg-shaped in voung specimens; at length more cylindrical, and finally expanded, melting away in inky fluid. Color, creamy white, becoming black at edge with advancing age, as is also the case with the shaggy points upon its surface, which generally cover the pileus.
Gills: Crowded; equal in length; creamy white in young specimens, becoming pink, brown, and finally black, and always moist.
Stem: Cylindrical; creamy white; hollow, or with a loose cottony pith.
Spores: Black, falling away in drops.
Taste: Sweet, which applies only to the pink or white condition, at which time alone the species is considered esculent.
Habitat: Lawns, pastures, gardens, and rich grounds in the neighborhood of barns, etc. ; usually grows in dense clusters.
Diameter of cylindrical pileus in average specimens, two inches.
One of the most easily identified of all mushrooms.
Plate XVI. Coprinus Comatus.
If one of them is examined, it is seen to be a curious short-stemmed mushroom which never fully expands (Plate 16), perhaps five inches high, and whose surface is curiously decorated with shaggy patches. In its early stages it is white and singularly egglike, but later becomes brownish, its curved shaggy points finally changing to almost black. The concealed gills are crowded and of equal length, at first creamy white, but gradually changing through a whole gamut of pinks, sepias, and browns until they become black, at which time the whole substance of the cap melts on its elongated stalk - deliquesces into an unsightly inky paste, which besmears the grass and ultimately leaves only the bare white stem standing in its midst, a peculiar method of dissemination which distinguishes the group Coprinus, of which it is the most conspicuous example. This is the "shaggy-mane" mushroom, Coprinus comatus, the specific name signifying a wig - "from the fancied resemblance to a wig on a barber's block." Even a brief description is unnecessary with its portrait before us. It is a savory morsel, and it cannot be confounded with any other fungus. It frequently grows in such dense, crowded masses that a single group will afford a dinner for a family.
A Dinner For A Family
It should be gathered while the gills are in the early white or pink stage, and may be prepared for the table in various ways, either broiled or fried, as described for previous species, or stewed with milk, or otherwise served according to the culinary hints in our later chapter, in which a special recipe for this species is found.
In a recent stroll down the main street of Litchfield, Connecticut, I observed, over the fence in a front door-yard of a summer resident, just such a dense cluster of the shaggy Coprinus, the proprietor of the premises, an appreciative habitue of Delmoni-co's at other seasons of the year, complacently reading his morning paper in his piazza, little dreaming of the twenty pounds of dainty diet, fit for a king, so easily available.