Mushrooms occupy a strange place in our palates. Neither part of the plant or the animal kingdom, they are an oft-feared addition to any meal. Yet the little decomposers beneath our feet have tremendous health benefits for our bodies and for our planet. In the spirit of reviving the good name of mushrooms everywhere, Dear Food presents an in-depth look at the good, the bad, and the just plain weird of the mushroom world.
Latin name: Amanita muscaria
Other names: Fly Amanita
Disclaimer: Look, I know this is a food blog, but please don’t eat this mushroom. It’s probably more important to know what mushrooms you shouldn’t eat than the ones that you should, and this is one that you most definitely shouldn’t.
But isn’t it pretty?
When I am not busy cooking or, you know, doing the things I need to in order to graduate college, I am a pottery student. One weekend every term, the pottery students journey into the wilderness to fire a big ol’ three-person kiln.
Okay–by “wilderness,” I mean Christmas tree farm. But they’re still trees, so it counts… right?
Christmas trees are important: among other places, Fly Agarics grow around Douglas firs. So every November we find these enormous red and white mushrooms growing all over the place. And they are big. They start out looking exactly like a Sierran Puffball (do not get those confused) and wind up with a fleshy cap the size of a Frisbee. Basically, Fly Agarics look like they’d be delicious.
Unfortunately, it is both poisonous and hallucinogenic. Those who are curious can find many accounts of people who have eaten it, most of which recommend that others do not. A large deterrent may be the nausea and intense stomach cramps that are normally experienced when eating them. Or the fact that, according to David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified, Fly Agaric properties vary from place to place. What I’m saying is, it’ll take a braver person than me to eat a Fly Agaric.
And no, I didn’t throw any Agarics in the kiln either.