Learning Much About Mushrooms

Chimney Rock

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal
July 31st, 2013

CHIMNEY ROCK, N.C. – My relationship with mushrooms has been simple: I eat them sauteed at a steak house or kick them over if they are in my yard (I used to find this satisfying until recently when a particular fungus resisted my efforts and made me feel rather humiliated).

I also make the rare “magic mushroom” joke, as if this somehow adds to my sophistication.

Chimney Rock State Park’s Wild Mushrooms Adventure with Alan Muskat ruined my innocence.

Twenty mycophiles welcomed the rain and met at the park’s pavilion to follow Muskat into the woods and forage for fungi. Note: We did not actually forage, since that is against park rules.

Muskat, whose nickname is “The Mushroom Man,” lives and works in Asheville, N.C., providing mushrooms and other wild foods to local restaurants and encouraging people to understand and enjoy the food provided by nature rather than merely kick it while walking to the car.

He has written a book, Wild Mushrooms: A Taste of Enchantment, but he maintains this fact: “The best field guide has two feet.”

After a brief introduction to mushrooms, we set out for the woods, a scattershot of hunters searching out mushrooms then re-congregating around Muskat while he explained the characteristics of mushrooms we had found — what indicated that each was good, bad, regrettable or forgettable.

We did not travel far. Once you look for mushrooms, you begin to realize the world is fraught with fungus, and you start to search for ones you haven’t seen before or ones your comrades haven’t discovered. The foray becomes a game made more exciting by the fact that you get to eat the best of your findings (again, in general, not at a state park).

Muskat also pointed out other edibles, enjoining us to taste the leaves of the sourwood tree (sour). We also found a cure for cancer, discussed the making of a soup and teas and pondered humanity’s changing relationship with its environment.

Two hours later, we returned to the pavilion to pick through the mushroom samples Muskat had brought and to watch his mushroom rap (this must not be described but rather experienced). Thus ended my introduction to the complexity of the mycological world, and a more pleasant induction is seldom to be found.