Fungi are your friends 

 

After the heavy winter rains, in the fields and on the mountains throughout the island, the wild mushrooms will grow under the shade of rotting old trees. You’ll need to be an expert to know which ones to pick, of course, otherwise you’re risking a horrible death.

 

If you know anyone who is an specialist at picking mushrooms or if you have the chance to order some in a local tavern, try them- char-grilled, then drizzled with olive oil and lemon or bitter orange juice and sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

 

Sometimes you can find fresh wild mushrooms in the stores. Often you can find cultivated oyster mushrooms which are the next best thing and are much tastier than the insipid variety more commonly found. Me, I also like buying dried porcini, oyster and morels from Alio Olio on Gladstonos and using them in my risotto, my pasta or my sauces.

 

Of course mushrooms have other uses too. People have been using them for eons as psychedelics- it is even likely that the ancient Greeks took ‘magic mushrooms’.

 

Mushrooms also play a part in an old joke that goes something like this:

Two women who haven’t seen each other in ages are chatting when one remarks that she has outlived all three of her husbands. Her friend is quite shocked and asks how they all died.

“The first one died from eating poison mushrooms” the widow gravely replies.

“My goodness!” says her friend. “How did the second die?”

“He died of poison mushrooms too.”

“Good heavens! And the third? Did he die the same way?”

“No” states the widow bluntly. “He fell down the stairs and died of a fractured skull.”

The friend is shocked: “Oh my word, that’s terrible! How did that happen?”

“He wouldn’t eat his mushrooms”

 

Mushrooms are, of course, part of a very large family of living things called fungi, that are neither plant or animal. Like plants, they do not move anywhere. Like animals, they produce no food of their own but rely on others for their nutrition. There are a few people who are like that too. Biologists call them saprophytes. The rest of us call them spongers or leeches.

 

Fungi give us lots of weird and wonderful things. They turn boring old grape juice into wine and make beer using nothing but mashed up hops and barley. Fungi put the sparkle in sparkling wine and in the eyes of those who drink it and they produce the smelly blue veins which render your Roquefort so deliciously tasty (and stinky). Without fungi, we would have no bread. Nor would we have drugs like penicillin or cyclosporine, used to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs. And food lovers will know that truffles are fungi too. Aren’t fungi wonderful?

 

Not always it seems. Fungi also cause potato blight, the cause of the 1854-6 Irish potato famine. And fungi are responsible for grey rot and hundreds of other plant diseases. Fungi also cause ringworm and athlete’s foot as well as thrush, and yeast infections. The less said about the last two the better I think.

 

In an article on mould growth, America’s Roofing Contractors Association warned “Fungi aren’t fun”. I say it depends. If you have them growing in your house or on your body then I imagine they can’t be a barrel of laughs. But chargrilled and seasoned on a plate, that’s another story.

 

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