The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

An obsession with wild mushrooms

By EVE MARX
HUGER FOOTE PHOTO

Eugenia Bone

 

Eugenia Bone grew up on Croton Lake Road in Katonah, raised in an artistic and highly culinary-oriented household as the daughter of Ellie and Ed Giobbi. In the introduction to her new book, “Mycophilia: Revelations From the Weird World of Mushrooms,” recently published by Rodale, Ms. Bone, who as a college student studied English literature at Barnard College, writes, “My appreciation for mushrooms might be in the blood. We have a family story about how my mother went into labor with me in a restaurant in Florence while eating tagliatelle with truffles and the waiters had to clear off a couple of tables so she could lie down.”

“Mycophilia,” by Eugenia Bone.
 
Unlike other suburban families, hers did not participate in sports. Instead of skiing or sailing, what the family did for fun was forage. “When we were on the beach, we gathered mussels and sea snails. We collected blueberries. In the woods, we hunted watercress and dandelion greens.” She said she was still in elementary school when her parents taught her how to identify a morel.

It was that early training that led Ms. Bone (now married and a mother of two) on her quest to hunt the wild mushroom, a quest that has taken her to some of the best mushroom happy hunting grounds across the United States. Ms. Bone has foraged for mushrooms in Colorado, Oregon, Illinois, northern California, and throughout New York State. She claims her gluttony for fungi has been the galvanizing feature of her wild mushroom hunting adventures.

“I came to mushrooms from a culinary place,” Ms. Bone said in a telephone interview. “My appetites and enthusiasm for food I inherited from my parents, and from the lifestyle they live.”

Fresh from the garden ingredients and intense savory flavors are the hallmark of her father’s Italian cooking. Ms. Bone and her father have written a cookbook. “My father is one of the emancipators of Italian food,” Ms. Bone said.

She credits him for cultivating her palate to appreciate wild foods. “I don’t have a scientific background,” she said. “Mushrooms became the window by which I came to a better understanding of nature and biology. Mushrooms don’t taste like vegetables and they don’t taste like meat. They are fungi, and fungi as a food source is not really recognized by most people. People are afraid of mushrooms, a fear largely inherited from the English, but it’s also about not understanding what the fungi kingdom is comprised of. There’s a lot going on. My mandate in writing this book was to turn people on to what I was discovering.”

“Mycophilia” is a richly entertaining, informative read, chockablock with wild and wacky information about how and where mushrooms thrive, the itinerant armies who pick them, how new species are cultivated every year, and how wild mushroom harvesting in the United States is believed to be the country’s largest legal cash business. That two species of psychedelic mushrooms are actually growing in Central Park in New York City is among the book’s many fascinating details. Ms. Bone also relays her own far-flung foraging experiences, which include an expedition to a burned forest area known to be rife with bears. She talks about commercial pickers, poachers, mushroom federations, clubs, megaproducers of medicinal mushrooms and mushroom-growing monks in North Carolina whose bounty is processed into supplements.

Asked why she thinks so many people say they hate mushrooms, Ms. Bone is sanguine. “I’m going to guess that part of it is, why do they say they hate liver? I think it has to do with palate — and exposure. Most of the mushrooms available to people are the white button mushroom or Portobello or crimini. That’s been the dominant flavor market.” She attributes a lack of enthusiasm as “a lack of options and flavors. Those mushrooms I just mentioned are extremely mild. They have a dense spongy quality that makes them easy to dismiss. But the texture of mushrooms varies quite a bit.”

Included in the book are a number of risky mushroom-eating experiences. “Poisonous mushrooms are an issue for gatherers,” Ms. Bone admitted.

And what’s an allergy-causing reaction can vary from person to person. She once ate some red ones with white dots that caused her to fall into an extremely deep sleep that some might call a mild coma. “There are some species of mushrooms that will kill you,” Ms. Bone said, “but there are a lot more that might just make your lips tingle or give you a touch of diarrhea.”

Some mushrooms, she said, are not at all poisonous, but are merely bitter and don’t taste very good.

No book on wild mushrooms would be complete without a chapter on magic mushrooms, or “shrooms,” as they are still called. It was pretty bold of Ms. Bone to include in that chapter a description of taking some herself. “I chose to report on it because I had three choices,” the author said. “I could either not trip and talk to others who did, but as a journalist, it seemed like that would be a cop-out. I also didn’t want to cheat the reader by pretending I didn’t do it when I did.”

Of her actual taking of magic mushrooms, she was very timid, she said. “I took a very small amount. I had a little taste of what the experience was about. “

On Thursday, Dec. 1, Carla Gambescia, the proprietor of the Italian restaurant Via Vanti! is holding a special dinner and book signing for Ms. Bone at her restaurant.

“We will begin with two Via Vanti! signature thin-crust pizzette — the first featuring portobello and mushroom duexelle with taleggio, and the second with black olives, speck and caramelized onions and then drizzled with truffle oil,” Ms. Gambescia said. “Eugenia and I conceived the special menu together. The pasta course is one of our Via Vanti! seasonal pastas. The warm salad of scallops and miatake/hen of the woods (exotic domestic) and the main chicken with chanterelles and black trumpets (wild) will all be available fresh in early December. Personally, I love mushrooms — from my early days. They’re such an interesting sensory experience! I love the look, taste and textures and smell [of truffles]; I may have been a truffle dog in a former life. I’m also very keen about hen of the woods, their look and texture.” For more information and to book a reservation for the dinner, call Via Vanti! at 666-6400.

Ms. Bone has created a new website devoted to mushrooms. “It’s called www.mycophilia.com, she said. “I’ve included about 60 of my favorite mushroom recipes. I fall in love with different mushrooms at different times. One of the mushrooms that really opened my eyes is the Candy Cap from northern California. Via Vanti! is serving them at the dinner with dessert. The concept of a sweet mushroom is really radical. They have a really rich, woodsy, maple syrup flavor that is delightful over cheesecake.”

A special note she added is that eating Candy Cap mushrooms will make your perspiration (at least for 12 hours) taste like maple syrup. “The fresh crop of them comes in December in northern California,” Ms. Bone said. “But you can order them dry from www.farwestfungi.com.” That is definitely something worth checking out.



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November 25, 2011