Know Your Mushrooms


Mushrooms were plentiful in Pennsylvania after the early spring rains. Many were edible and their presence was a welcome sight to the residents or the patches. Ma and Grandmother knew which were safe and which should be left alone. We often accompanied them, and each outing was a teaching experience. This was a craft handed down from one generation to another.

Both Ma and Grandmother liked a special brown mushroom that grew in clumps and had a spongy dark brown underside. The brown spongy mushrooms could not be washed. If washed they formed a slime and would readily spoil. Instead they were brushed and then strung together and hung behind the stove to dry. Once dried, they would last for months and could be used at any time.

Just before using them, the mushrooms were soaked to re hydrate them and cleaned.0 They were rarely served sauteed in butter or bacon fat and with meat-- this would have been a rare treat. The mainstay of our diet was a big bowl of a hearty soup --and Ma had a zillion recopies stored in her head. I don't remember her ever looking at a cook book. And so it was with the mushrooms, Ma would make a delicious soup. First she would fry the mushrooms with onions in bacon fat. Then she would transfer all this to a larger pot to which she would add water spices and pieces of slab bacon or fat back. It's true, we didn't worry about cholesterol in those days--no one ever heard of it. After the broth had simmered for a time, potatoes were cut and added along with barley and occasional spinach or radish greens when available. Served with a large slice of crusty buttered bread, it was wonderful.

There is an old wives tale that if you are unsure of your mushrooms-- just throw a silver coin into the pot as they cooked. If the coin doesn't turn black, the mushrooms are safe.

Years later when I moved to Florida, I learned the fallacy of this tale. fortunately I lived to warn others.