No, not those kind of mushrooms – but the edible, wild varieties that are treasured by chefs and foodies alike. In fact, it is estimated that twelve to twenty-five thousand different fungi grow in Alberta, with new species found and recorded every year. That was only one of the many, many things we learned that night from Martin Osis, amateur mycologist and President of the Alberta Mycological Society (AMS). His passion for mushrooms was evident, and though we probably reached our personal mushroom knowledge threshold by the end of the two hour lecture, it was a pleasant ride because of his enthusiasm for fungi.
Prior to the session, my orientation to wild mushrooms was one of extreme caution – growing up, who didn’t have a parent who instilled an acute fear of deadly fairy rings? Unfortunately, after the session, I feel much the same. Though Martin showed us photos of a vast array of edible mushrooms – from the beautiful comb tooth to the western giant puffball (it apparently tastes like tofu) – fungi appear to be like the English language: ripe with exceptions to the rule! It seemed every generality Martin provided (such as, all Portobello mushrooms are edible…), he later countered with an exception (…except those with a yellow stalk and a bad smell).
Still, there is hope for fungi neophytes like myself! Martin recommends going with an experienced picker (the AMS organizes forays, for example) and enrolling in a mushroom course (offered locally by the Devonian Garden). Of course, joining the Mycological Society would be a great start as well, in order to connect with other interested individuals.
Martin and Thea pose with dried morels
What fascinated me the most was how a mushroom foray seemed comparable to a treasure hunt. Martin listed several visual markers that signal the beginning of morel season (which was right around the time of the lecture, actually) – blue violets start to bloom, dandelions appear, fiddleheads multiply – and I could see how exciting and caught up one could get looking for the clues. In June, oyster and red tops (soon to be Alberta’s provincial mushroom) can be found.
As Thea noted at the end of the evening, Slow Food and the Mycological Society share similar values and goals, and of course, a love of learning more about what we eat, which makes such partnered events such a natural fit. Thanks to Darren for putting the session together, and to Culina for hosting!