When Fear Mushrooms

By Jeffery Cohen

Though my father was born in the city, he was a real farmer at heart. He would patiently wait out winter, anxiously anticipating spring. Once he was sure the last frost had past, he would pull out a shovel and start turning over the soil in his garden where he’d plant row after row of every kind of vegetable. Our table was always full with shiny red tomatoes, crunchy green peppers, cucumbers, green beans and more squash than we could give away.

When my father wasn’t busy in his garden, he was out sampling nature’s bounty. It wasn’t unusual for him to come home from work at night with a baseball cap full of wild blackberries picked from bushes he happened to notice on the side of the road. While neighbors were busy squirting weed killer on the emerging dandelion that began invading their lawns, my dad was harvesting those same sprouts and using the leaves in a fresh spring salad. But his favorite outdoor excursion of all was a stroll through the nearby woods in search of wild mushrooms.

He would tramp though a thick carpet of fallen leaves until he came upon a hollow log or a worn tree stump. Dad would reach inside, feel around and pull out a handful of tiny tan mushrooms. After careful examination he’d smile. “These are the ones. Beautiful.” He’d sigh, then gently lay them in a pail and continue his search. When my Dad passed away some years ago, I’m afraid his mushroom picking expertise went with him.

Last fall, after a pretty good rain, my lawn was dotted with newly sprouted mushrooms. I was overjoyed and pretty certain that these were the very same mushrooms my father used to pick. But to be absolutely sure, I took out all eleven of the mushrooms books that the public library had on the shelves and compared my find to the pages of photos without a match. After a two hour search on the internet, I learned that there are over five thousand varieties of mushrooms. Mine didn’t exactly resemble any of them, so I decided to call the county agricultural department. I tried to describe what my mushrooms looked like over the phone.

“Wild mushrooms?” an agricultural agent interrupted. “If you ask me, no variety is safe to eat. Do you know that if you ingest the wrong kind, they can destroy your liver in a matter of minutes? A horrible death!” He shuddered.

“But I think these are the ones my father used to eat,” I reasoned.

“Then why don’t you ask him if they’re good?” he suggested.

“I can’t. He died,” I explained.

“Probably the mushrooms,” he grumbled and hung up.

Now, I really began to worry. So I brought my mushrooms over to a neighbor – an old Ukrainian woman who had been picking mushrooms ever since she was a kid in the old country. She looked, she touched, she sniffed them, then shrugged. “I think they’re good. You can try them.” I thanked her and began to leave with a new found confidence when I heard her mumbling behind me. “Did you hear about the woman who poisoned her whole family with bad mushrooms? Such a shame.”

As a last resort, I went to see a professor at the State University who was supposedly an expert in the field of mushroomery, or whatever it’s called. I was greeted by a gentle, elderly man with a warm smile and an extensive knowledge of the subject.

“Ah yes,” he said holding the clump of mushrooms up to the light. “Amarellius Melleria. Honey mushrooms.” He nodded, obviously sure of himself. “Very common. And…they are edible.”

“I knew it. I knew that I was right,” I cheered. “So, I can eat them?”

“Oh, I never eat wild mushrooms. Who knows when you may have an allergic reaction? Nasty business, that,” he said, shaking his head.

It seemed that everyone I talked to was trying to scare the fungus out of me. So, I took my mushrooms home, washed them and fried up a batch with onions, just the way my dad used to. Then I stood there staring at them in that pan for over an hour before I finally turned to my wife.

“I sure hope these aren’t poison.”

“Why take the chance?” she said.

Yeah, why take the chance? I thought…three seconds after I swallowed a forkful.

I guess I’ll never really know if the following three days of nausea came from the mushrooms or my imagination. But there is one thing I’m certain of. Any mushroom picking I do in the future will be done from the produce isle of the neighborhood supermarket.

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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2 Responses to “When Fear Mushrooms”

  1. Alice Muschany says:

    I’m surrounded by family and friends who love to hunt and eat mushrooms. Myself, I’ve always been too afraid. We set out a cemetery on Halloween. My favorite tombstone is, “These Are The Good Mushrooms!”

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your columns make me smile. Morrels are big in the Midwest.

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