We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: We talk to Eugenia Bone, food writer and mushroom enthusiast. Her latest book, Mycophilia, explores the world of mushrooms and those who study, search for, and eat them. Read on, and enter to win a newly minted paperback!
Eugenia Bone loves mushrooms. She loves mushrooms so much that she has spent years studying the science and culture surrounding this mysterious class of organism whose mere definition is difficult to pin down. In her latest book, Mycophilia -- which just recently came out in paperback -- Bone describes the world of foragers with warm-hearted amusement and manages to present the science of the mushroom kingdom in a fascinating and readable way.
Intrigued by what would drive someone to dedicate so much time to the study of fungus, we chatted with Eugenia about her favorite food, and the new website that she hopes will unite -- and attract -- mushroom lovers from all over the world.
Give us a brief explanation of how you came to write about this subject. Why delve into the world of mushrooms?
It all started with basic gluttony: I like to eat wild mushrooms very much, but I only knew how to recognize a few.
I eventually recognized that in order to find wild mushrooms, two things had to happen: first, I had to learn why mushrooms grew where they did and when. Second, I had to go where the mushrooms are, which led to my travels all over the USA in search of great hunting grounds. I became obsessed with the weird and graceful biology, the larger subjects of ecosystem architecture and symbiosis, and the totally kooky culture of amateur mycologists. Bottom line, I made lots of wonderful friends and ate and drank myself silly.
Foraging season is almost upon us -- do you have any exciting trips planned?
I’m thinking about the following trips: at the end of May, a hunt with Larry Evans and the Montana Mycological Society in Missoula. We’ll hunt burn morels on the site of last summer’s forest fires, camp, and eat meals by the river prepared by a local chef. Then, in August, I’ll go to the Telluride Mushroom Festival in Colorado to hunt porcini mushrooms in the San Juans at 10,000 feet. And in October, I am hoping to go to the Mushroom Gathering at the Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, where we hunt cinnamon-flavored matsutake in old growth forest, then soak in the steamy natural hot springs.
Of course, in the meantime, I’ll go to the Bronx to gather ramps, I’ll check my oyster spot on the East End of Long Island, I’ll dig the first dandelions from my parent’s lawn in Westchester, and I’ll hunt natural morels in Nyack with my club, the New York Mycological Society.
What is your favorite mushroom to cook with?
You’re killing me. What I really love to do is a forest blend. A combination of mushrooms has so much subtle depth of flavor. But okay: I love maitake (wild and cultivated) roasted, candy caps in sweet applications, black trumpets pickled, and Amanita caesarea (the Italians call it ovoli) raw with olive oil. I love porcini raw, but also grilled, and the white button, in sauces for proteins.
What's the biggest myth or misconception surrounding mushrooms?
There are lots, both in the biological and culinary realms. But let's stick to the culinary. Poisonous mushrooms tarnish a silver spoon: not true. Mushrooms that grow on wood are safe: nope. Mushrooms that animals eat are safe: nope. Mushrooms that can be peeled are safe: no.
There are something like 10,000 species of fungi that produce fleshy mushrooms (out of 1.5 million species altogether). About 400 of them are poisonous, 20 of which are commonly found, and 6 of which are lethal. When mycologists say poisonous, they are including mushrooms that make you drool uncontrollably and mushrooms that make you trip, as well as mushrooms that disintegrate your liver. On the other hand, of the 2,000 species considered edible, 100 are widely gathered and 15 to 30 are commonly eaten.
Tell us about your new website -- what is your vision for mycophilia.com?
Mycophilia.com is a way for me to communicate with my readers, to help them find a mushroom club in their area, to steer them toward the mushroom forays and events that happen all over the country year round, and to answer questions. I get lots of blurry pictures of mushrooms in my mailbox. I also have dozens of mushroom recipes posted, relevant scientific papers, and links to mushroom-related websites. I like to see the website as a funnel: people go in because they read my book, but they go out with access to the greater mushroom community.
We're giving away a copy of Mycophilia to three fungus-loving Food52ers! To enter, tell us in the comments: what's your favorite way to prepare mushrooms? We'll pick the winners at random this Friday, April 12 at 3 PM EST.