Yesterday was pelted in thunderstorms and drenched in flash floods but we braved the lightening, the evening rush and hauled in a variety of mushrooms from an East Asian Market a long distance away. Supper therefore, was a bit exotic, saucy, even green, all quite literally so. Mushrooms deserve a special place in poetry so I wrote a poem for them. They were all chopped before it occurred to me to take a photo of each individual species, so I borrowed some from Wikipedia instead.
The king oyster mushrooms turned meaty in the cooking; they were also meant to develop an umami flavour but the soy sauce beat them to it. Pleurotus eryngii is the largest species of oyster mushroom and the specific name is simply because it grows in association with the roots of Eryngium campestre or the Watling Street thistle which feels like the oddest association of organisms; the thistle being a thorny and spiny plant as opposed to this soft, smooth sponginess .
The delicate Enoki or Flammulina velutipes, grows on the stumps of the Chinese hackberry tree (Celtis sinensis) which is a species of flowering plant in the hemp family, Cannabaceae. A most unique aspect of the cultivated enoki are the long thin stems that arise because of the carbon dioxide rich environment they are cultivated in and the lack of exposure to light which produces their distinctive white colour. Wild mushrooms apparently display a dark brown colour and have short thick stems .
The shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is an edible mushroom and its Japanese name shiitake is composed of ‘shii’ (Castanopsis), for it is the tree Castanopsis cuspidata, that provides the dead logs on which it is typically cultivated, and ‘take’ (mushroom). The specific epithet edodes is the Latin word for ‘edible’. The Castanopis cuspidata is an evergreen, that is related to the Beech and the Oak and the dead logs are a great substrate for shiitake .
I have a background in Mycology hence the sweet overwhelm of scientific names, but the emphasis on fungal nomenclature is more to showcase the association of the three types of mushrooms with varied species of plants.
It’s a privilege to know where food comes from and why it is, the way it is. Supper was a delicious team effort.
The Mystique of Mushrooms in a Stir Fry
There's no wild to picking mushrooms anymore. It's quite safe to troop them off the shelves, along a sedate aisle.
Those days of dead logs, spiny leaves and fissured bark seem like from a Grimms' Fairy Tale, where arose fairy rings, in grey grim woods alongside the thistle.
When the Enoki were sliced to slumber on a bed of green, it struck me as ironic, that they were deathly pale since breathing in what I breathed out. I asked myself, has this mushroom suffered to grow so in darkness?
The Shiitake, we wiped with a kitchen towel, not that they were weeping, but wallowing in tears would have weighted them like a wet sponge of sorrow.
Shii is simply the Castanopis tree in Japanese and they are called other things umami and we like the flavour of sultry summer supper. And so do they, as they spirit out the decay of woody crust in a fungal exorcism where life eats death; where the faded memories of gnarled bark are spent like currency in circular thought.
The king oyster 'shrooms seek thistle companions in a morbid coevolution. They are the most mushroom of them all; thin stipe and large cap, a perfect parasol for a sorceress who believes little in mirrors.
But their sunshades have gills, now stressed for low light and barely breathing*, white as a sheet on meaty stipes, making way to a seasoned wok. The human palate is rarely aware that it finds edible the grotesquely transmogrified.
I set out to write a tribute and ended up with an elegy instead. This one felt more like an autopsy. It’s simply how the words flow and I have attempted another one that is palate worthy, I think. I have added notes below about the saprotrophic nutrition of Shiitake and Enoki mushrooms, both are wood decay saprotrophs. The king oyster mushrooms on the other hand establish a mycorrhizal connection with the Thistle. Mushrooms are fruiting bodies of the fungal mycelium that runs through the substrate.
The Mystique of Mushrooms
Dainty parasols peeped through
the undergrowth, like fairies
preparing for summer rain.
Hands reached forth
to sever stipe from
for death begets life
in a world like ours.
And those fissures in bark -
a desultory carapace,
for sturdy trunks,
are rife with
that will seed
sustenance in a broth
meant for supper.
Spongy sunshades, outpost
the underground meanderings
of mycelial whispers
to a filigree of life.
Bounty of soft pickings,
unfurl in awareness
of what lies beneath,
in an undercurrent
in leafy detritus,
but meaning emerges
in spongy clusters
Notes: ** Shiitake and King Oyster mushrooms are Saprotrophic. Saprotrophs are decomposers that live off decomposing dead organisms. Saprotrophic mushrooms grow on dead and decaying wood. They are able to break down plant matter and convert it into nutrients, and they accelerate the decomposition of their host in doing so. These fungi have a key role in breaking down plant matter, where most of the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is to be found. The action of the fungi helps return much of this carbon to the atmosphere as CO2. There are two sub-categories of saprotrophic mushrooms: litter decomposers, and wood decay fungi. Litter decomposers break down plant matter and are often found scattered across the ground in the woods. White button mushrooms are an example of the several saprotrophic species which are litter decomposers. As their name implies, wood decay fungi break down the wood on trees. Shiitake mushrooms are an example of wood decay fungi. There are other types of mushrooms that are mycorrhizal, parasitic and endophytic