(SEE ALSO PAGE 45)
When one has learned to distinguish a few varieties of the edible fungi, a delicious acquisition to the menu will be enjoyed.
The author will not assume the responsibility of instructing how to distinguish the esculent mushrooms. There are books and colored charts which give explicit and reliable descriptions, and with these one can easily learn to know a few of them. Accidents are usually the result of carelessness or recklessness, many of the poisonous mushrooms being so attractive in appearance as to invite favor.
Mushroom hunting is akin in pleasure to botanizing, geologizing, or the gathering of any natural history specimens. It is not always easy to reject the many unfamiliar kinds.
In gathering mushrooms they should be cut, not pulled, and laid in the basket with the gills up, so the spores will not be lost. If the stem is perforated with fine holes it means that worms have bored it, and it should be rejected.
The most common varieties are the Agaracini - those having gills; the Boleti - those having pores; and puff-balls (Lycoperdaceag). All the puff-balls are edible, and those of the Boleti which have no tinge of red on the pore surface; but especial care must be used with the Agaracini, for it is said that all deaths from mushroom-poisoning have come from the Ama nita, which is a genus of the gilled species, and is very common and abundant.
The safeguard to other species of poison varieties is their bitter and acrid taste. This warning the poisonous Agaric does not give, but it has the distinguishing feature of a cup or volva at the base of the stern. This cup is some times below the ground, and should be carefully sought; and where any doubt is felt, the specimen should be rejected. The antidote to this poison, as given by Mr. Gibson, is one sixtieth grain doses of atropine in hypodermic injections.
Authorities on mushrooms advise the amateur to first acquaint himself with the Amanita family.
"Dr. W. A. Curtis found in North Carolina thirty-eight edible species of Agaricus, eleven of Boletus, nine of Polyporus, seven of Hydnum, and thirteen of Clavaria".
The popular tests of the cap peeling, or the mushroom blackening a silver spoon when cooking, are worthless.
Mushrooms are very short-lived, and are quickly attacked by insects and worms, and so rendered unfit for use. They also decay quickly, and should be rejected if not entirely sound. Many cases of illness are the result of this unfit condition. The same would be the case if unwholesome meat were eaten, but good meat is not condemned on that account. Mushrooms contain the same nutritive value as meat, and rank second to it in nitrogenous elements. They vary in flavor and in delicacy as much as vegetables.