Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Giant Mushrooms.

Today’s story is for the foraging fungivores amongst you. It is a story from (yet again!) The Food Journal, Volume 1 (1871)

African Foods.
Gigantic Mushrooms.
In an interesting account of the Petras Negras of Pungo-Andongo, published in the “Journal of Travel,” Dr Welwitsch, the Angolan explorer and botanist, incidentally mentions having met with a mushroom of enormous dimensions. He says “among a great number of cryptogenic plants, I shall only mention a gigantic agaric which I found growing in the neighbouring Panda woods, distinguished by the immense side of its head, which sometimes measures more than three feet in circumference, as well as by the delicate flavour of its flesh.”
Wishing to know something more of this extraordinary vegetable production, we turned for information to Dr. Welwitsch’s description of the fungi collected by him, the first part of which has appeared in the Transactions of the Linnean Society, but found that it had not reached the agarics. We thereupon applied to our friend, who, with his usual kindness, readily told us about it; and as it is of special interest to the readers of the “Food Journal,” we have asked and obtained permission to repeat his informaton. It appears that on a botanical expedition in a district called Calungemgo, near Pungo-Andongo, his provisions began to run short, and towards the close of the day’s ramble he came upon some of his men carrying one of these enormous mushrooms home to camp for supper. He had not himself previously met with it, but the natives had; and the short commons on which they found themselves had sharpened their eyes and led to their picking it up. Some idea of the size of the speciimen may be formed from the fact that that single mushroom made soup sufficient to feed his party of twenty. It was as large as an umbrella. Subsequenlty he met with it repeatedly, and also found that it was familiar to all the inhabitants, a  few being regularly, or rather irregularly, brought to market during the season, at the presidium of Pungo-Andongo, where they were sold at 1d. to 3d. a piece, according to size. The natives usually brought them, one or two hanging at each end of a stick, carried Chinese fashion over the shoulder. It is a true agaric, as yet undescribed, but which we hope will not long remain so.

This story set me off on an interesting trail. Mushrooms have been eaten by humans for millennia, and have presumably been added to the cooking pot for as long as humans have been cooking. The question is – when did they become the primary ingredient in soup, rather than simply flavor ingredient? Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery is my primary go-to reference for English recipes of the 1870’s, but it does not contain instructions for Mushroom Soup amongst the thousands of offerings within its pages.

I did eventually find a recipe for Mushroom Soup – in a cookery book published in 1847, in Carolina.

Mushroom Soup.
Put about a pint of mushrooms, well cleaned and washed, and cut into small strips, with three ounces of butter, into a saucepan, over the fire; let them stew until they fall in. To this put two quarts of bouillon, and let the whole boil together half an hour. You may thicken with the yolk of an egg and some parsley; add some nutmeg. Pour the mixture over toasted sippets of bread. Either dried or fresh mushrooms may be used. If the former, they must be boiled first an hour in fair water, so that they may be softened and freed from sand.- German Receipt
The Carolina housewife, or House and home: by a lady of Charleston (1847)

I am most intrigued by the giant mushrooms mentioned in the article, but know nothing about them. If you have some information on them, will you share it with us via the comments, please?

Quotation for the Day.

Strange that mankind should ever have used the mushroom. All the various species of this substance are of a leathery consistence, and contain but little nutriment. The condiments or seasonings which are added are what are chiefly prized. Without these, we should almost as soon eat saw dust as mushrooms.
‘The Young House-keeper’ , William Andrus Alcott (1846)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was going to ask if Alice and her hookah-smoking caterpillar were inspired by the discovery of this giant mushroom, but the journal came out in 1871 and the book in 1865.