Friday, December 21, 2007

Mushroom Advice.

December 21 ...

Marion Harland, American writer of all sorts of books including very popular cookbooks, was born on this day in 1830, in Virginia. She did not like, or rather - “not being ambitious of martyrdom” - she was afraid of mushrooms.

.- Have nothing to do with them until you are an excellent judge between the true and false. .... Not being ambitious of martyrdom, even in the cause of gastronomical enterprise, especially if the instrument is to be a contemptible, rank-smelling fungus, I never eat or cook mushrooms; but I learned, years ago, in hillside rambles, how to distinguish the real from the spurious article. Shun low, damp, shady spots in your quest. The good mushrooms are most plenty in August and Septemher, and spring up in the open, sunny fields or commons, after low-lying fogs or soaking dews. The top is a dirty white, -par complaisance, pearl-color, -the underside pink or salmon, changing to russet or brown soon after they are gathered. The poisonous sport all colors, and are usually far prettier than their virtuous kindred. Those which are dead-white above and below, as well as the stalk, are also to be let alone.
Cook a peeled white onion in the pot with your mush rooms. If it turn black, throw all away, and be properly thankful for your escape. It is also deemed safe to reject the mess of wild pottage, if, in stirring them, your silver spoon should blacken. But I certainly once knew a lady who did not discover until hers were eaten and partially digested, that the silver had come to grief in the discharge of duty. It was very dark, and required a deal of rubbing to restore cleanliness and polish; but the poison - if death were, indeed, in the pot - was slow in its effects, since she lived many years after the experiment. It is as well perhaps, though, not to repeat it too often.
[From: Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery. 1873]

The methods Marion suggests to distinguish safe from poisonous mushrooms were commonly believed at the time – and absolutely none are reliable. I present her words to you out of historic curiosity, not as words of instruction! It can be extraordinarily difficult to tell the deadly, the delirium-inducing, and the delicious apart, and even experts occasionally make mistakes.

No self-respecting cookbook of the time would have excluded recipes for mushrooms however, and in spite of her anxiety Marion’s was no exception. Here are a couple of examples, for your holiday season enjoyment:

Mushroom Sauce.
1 teacupful young mushrooms.
4 tablespoonfuls butter.
1 teacupful cream or milk.
1 teaspoonful flour.
Nutmeg, mace, and salt to taste.
Stew the mushrooms in barely enough water to cover them until tender. Drain, hut do not press them, and add the cream, butter, and seasoning. Stew over a bright fire stirring all the while until it begins to thicken. Add the flour wet in cold milk, boil up and serve in a boat, or pour over boiled chickens, rabbits, etc.

Mushroom Catsup.
2 quarts of mushrooms.
¼ lb. of salt.
Lay in an earthenware pan, in alternate layers of mushrooms and salt; let them lie six hours, then break into bits. Set in a cool place three days, stirring thoroughly every morning. Measure the juice when you have strained it, and to every quart allow half an ounce of allspice, the same quantity of ginger, half a teaspoonful of powdered mace, a teaspoonful of cayenne. Put into a stone jar, cover closely, set in a saucepan of boiling water over the fire, and boil five hours hard. Take it off, empty into a porcelain kettle, and boil slowly half an hour longer. Let it stand all night in a cool place, until settled and clear. Pour off carefully from the sediment, and bottle, filling the flasks to the mouth. Dip the corks in melted rosin, and tie up with bladders.
The bottles should be very small, as it soon spoils when exposed to the air.

Monday’s Story …

Mrs. Pepys’ Pies.

Quotation for the Day …

I confess, that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town. Alexandre Dumas.

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