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.
I remember, as a boy, summer after summer observing upon a certain spot upon our lawn this dense, and at length scattering, ring of tiny yellowish mushrooms, and the aroma, as they simmered on the kitchen stove, is an appetizing memory. This species is very common, and inasmuch as it is likely to be confounded with two noxious varieties, it is advisable to bring in prominent contrast the characters of the true and the false.
The true Fairy-ring Champignon is pictured in Plate 8. It is common on lawns and close-cropped pastures, where it is usually seen growing in rings more or less broken, and often several feet in diameter, or in disconnected arcs, the vegetation extending outward year by year. This mushroom is held in great esteem, and frequently grows in such profusion that bushels may be gathered in a small area. The pileus is buff or cream colored, from one to two inches in diameter, leathery and shrivelled when dry, but when moist, after rain or dew, becoming brownish, soft, and pliable, the conditions perhaps alternating for several days; the skin refuses to be peeled, and in the older, fully opened specimens the centre of the cap is raised in a distinct tiny mound; gills, widely separated, about ten or twelve to the inch at circumference in average specimens, same color as cap, or paler, unequal in length, curving upward on reaching stem, thus "free" from apparent contact with it; stem, equal diameter, tough, fibrous, and tenacious, paler than gills, smooth to the base (no spines nor down); cup, none; spores, white; taste nutty, somewhat aromatic, appetizing; habitat usually on lawns or pastures.
The "ring" was long involved in mystery, being attributed to moles, lightning, witchcraft, etc. ; and, clothed with popular superstition, has found its way into many folk-legends, and has figured in the lore of elfs and goblins, to whom, in the absence of scientific knowledge, the strange, fungus-haunted circle was referred, the "ring" being applied not merely to the circle of mushrooms themselves, but especially to the clearly defined ring of clear, fresh grass surrounding the central, more faded area. But the fairies no longer dance their moonlight rigadoon upon the charmed circle of the champignon, nor do the nimble elves "rear their midnight mushrooms" upon the rings of lush grass as of old, for science has stepped in and cleared up the mystery. The Rev. M. J. Berkeley, in his Outlines to British Fungology, thus completely rescues the "fairy-ring" from the domain of poetry and reduces it to prosaic fact:
"True" fairy-ring Traditions of the mystic "ring"
Pileus: Convex at first, becoming flat, with a mound at centre, at juncture of stem; texture, tough and pliable when moist, brittle in drying, alternating between these two conditions with rain and sun; color, reddish buff at first, becoming cream colored when old, when it is usually quite wrinkled.
Gills: Broad, and quite separated; about ten or twelve to the inch at rim in large specimens; unequal in length; deep cream color; clearing the stem as they curve upward towards cap.
Stem: Solid; equal diameter; tough and fibrous; naked and smooth at base.
Taste: Sweet, "nutty," and appetizing.
Odor: Aromatic and pleasant.
Habitat: Pastures and lawns, generally growing in rings or curved lines.
Diameter of pileus, full expansion, one to two inches.
Plate VIII. Marasmius Oreades.
"These rings are sometimes of very ancient date, and attain such enormous dimensions as to be distinctly visible on a hill-side for a great distance. It is believed that they originate from a single fungus whose growth renders the soil immediately beneath unfit for its reproduction. The spawn, however, spreads all around, and in the second year produces a crop, whose spawn spreads again, the exhausted soil behind forbidding its return in that direction. Thus the circle is continually increased, and extends indefinitely till some cause intervenes to destroy it. If the spawn does not spread on all sides at first, an arc of a circle only is produced. The manure arising from the dead fungi of former years makes the grass peculiarly vigorous around, so as to render the circle visible even when there is no external appearance of fungus, and the contrast is often stronger from that behind being killed by the old spawn. This mode of growth is far more common than is supposed, and may be observed constantly in our woods, where the spawn can spread only in the soil or among the leaves and decaying fragments which cover it."
Many recipes are recommended for the preparation of this mushroom, some of which are given in a later chapter, including the method of desiccation so commonly employed with other species, and by which the champignon may be kept for ready use throughout the winter months.
In its fresh state, according to J. M. Berkeley,"When of good size and quickly grown, it is perhaps the best of all fungi for the table, whether carefully fried or stewed with an admixture of finely mixed herbs and a minute portion of garlic. It is at the same time tender and easy of digestion, and when once its use is known and its character ascertained, no species may be eaten with less fear. It is so common in some districts that bushels may be gathered in a day."