A Q&A with Eugenia Bone, author of Mycophilia
Interview by Adrienne Martini
With Mycophilia, author Eugenia Bone shifts from writing about food to writing about science. But Bone has always flirted with both paths. Her Well Preserved (2009) looked deep into the chemical reactions that stop food from spoiling while providing dozens of recipes to take advantage of all forms of preservation. In Mycophilia, her love of hunting for, cooking and eating mushrooms led her deep into the biology of fungi and what they mean to the ecosystem. The answer is more engrossing than you might think, especially once Bone hits the road in search of both mushrooms and the people obsessed with them.
Edible Finger Lakes: Why aren’t more people hunting wild mushrooms?
Eugenia Bone: I think that we suffer in this country from mycophobia. People are afraid, within reason, of poisoning themselves. But the truth of the matter is, if you go out into the woods with somebody and they say, oh, look here’s a patch of morels, you’ll see some are really small and some are kind of squished looking. Some are sort of Siamese twins. You’ll see enough variation to be confident in your identification in the future. That’s the way to get over the phobia. Using a book is definitely not confidence inducing.
EFL: How should people get started with the art of mushrooming?
EB: The best possible way is to hook up with somebody who knows a lot about mushrooms, hunts them regularly—and who seems to be relatively willing to show you their spots. Sometimes the best way to do that is for you to go with somebody to a new place and you find the spots together. The other really effective way is to join your local mycological association. They’re all over the country. (Bone keeps a list at her website) Also, I say learn one mushroom per season. This year, learn the morel. Next year, learn the chanterelle. Hook in with the mushroom crowd, especially in the Finger Lakes, which is fabulous for mushrooms. That’s how I’ve done it and after 10 years of doing it, it starts to be really fun.
EFL: What should you do if you have more mushrooms that you can store fresh?
EB: Mushrooms can be preserved a lot of different ways and I have recipes at my site. Just about all mushrooms dry beautifully because the glutamate—the amino acid that gives mushrooms that meaty taste—is intensified when you dry. Also, you can sauté them, then marinate them in oil, vinegar and herbs. They’ll hold in the fridge for up to 10 days. Or you can pickle them and water bath can the pickles. In my opinion, pickled mushrooms taste like vinegar. It just kills the taste of a mushroom. You have to pickle something really really strong tasting—and that would not be a mushroom you would buy and would be one that only a more advanced picker would pick. Lastly, mushrooms freeze beautifully but you must either blanch or sauté them first, not just to stop the enzymatic action but also because wild mushrooms have all kinds of little critters living in them—bacteria and little worms and stuff. You want to do the critters in with heat because some of them can survive freezing and they’ll give you an off taste.
EFL: Have you ever met a mushroom you didn’t like?
EB: We at the New York Mycological Society had a Chinese banquet with lots of mushrooms. And twice we were served what the Chinese call the bamboo mushroom but is actually the stinkhorn, which is this nasty, phallic looking monster. The Chinese consider them a symbol of power so they feed them to nobility. I just don’t love the stinkhorns. I’m sorry. They’re not for me. But I like pretty much all of the others that I’ve had. I’m not adventurous the way some mycophagists are. They want to try a hundred different mushrooms, that whole guts of steel thing.
EFL: What mushrooming will you be doing this spring?
EB: I like to go on mushroom hunting trips so there’s two things I’m going to do. One is to go to the Wild about Mushrooms Morel Hunt in the Sierra Nevadas at the end of May—to hunt for big beautiful morels underneath 10-storey Douglas firs. The other thing I’m thinking of doing is hunting morels in Wisconsin, because there’s this guy I know, Britt Bunyard, and he has a debaucherous four-day morel hunting party. You get a hotel room and everybody is sort of plunked around this farm in Wisconsin. You hunt morels during the day and then cook and drink in the evening. The mushrooms don’t get up at dawn; neither do we.
Adrienne Martini writes about running, eating, knitting and parenting at martinimade.com.