Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fungi

Things I like about Sydney No. 59: Fungi

It is difficult to think of anything I like about Sydney at the moment, the weather has been so unremittingly foul. For almost two weeks it has been raining constantly, sometimes lightly, sometimes with a violence scarce to be believed. Our towels are permanently damp, the washing hung under the eaves refuses to dry, a black mould is spreading across the bathroom ceiling and white mould is appearing on the spines of my books. Even my clarinets, safely ensconced in their case, have a light powdering of mould. Being perched on the edge of a creek obviously has its disadvantages. Some days I feel I could wring myself out.

However, there is one thing that thrives in such damp conditions. The weather may be foul for folk but it is fabulous for fungi. Mycologists throughout Sydney must be having a field day. On a single walk yesterday Sniff and I discovered green, orange, brown and blue fungi, as evidenced below:






















My friend Tania used to refuse to eat mushrooms because they grew in the dark. I'm not sure whether she has managed to conquer this phobia or not as she is now, like me, a somewhat reluctant exile and has lived in Boston for well over a decade (in reality probably two decades if I were only to admit to the real passing of time) and we've had few opportunities at our last meetings to discuss the finer points of fungi. Nevertheless, if she is still avoiding the mushroom she is of course quite sensible, for these things can kill...

The Australian National Botanic Garden has an extensive website dedicated to fungi and it devotes an entire page to the Deathcap. This innocuous-looking mushroom contains enough poison in one cap to kill a healthy adult and less will be enough to kill a small child and/or Sniff. You cannot remove the poisons by soaking, cooking or drying the mushroom and they are found throughout the cap, gills, stem and spores. It looks like this (courtesy the Australian Botanic Gardens Fungi website):





click to enlarge

Daniel and I came across these monsters which, if they happened to be Deathcaps, would be enough to kill a small army. Daniel kindly thrust his hand into the picture to give an idea of scale...



















The finely coloured fungi that Sniff and I found on our walk exhibit the standard mushroom shape, but some of the fungi we found were different. Many mushrooms grow straight out of rotting and fallen wood often with a semi-circular cap attached by its upper side.  This was a particularly beautiful specimen:



















Just around the corner were these little beauties which grew in stalk-like clusters. They are perhaps an example of the so-called Coral Fungi.



















Then there were these, small but perfectly-formed.



















And I cannot leave this subject without re-visiting the most disgusting fungus I've ever seen which Daniel and I found on the edge of a golf course last year. I have done my research and can now reveal that it is called Aseroe rubra, commonly known as either the anemone stinkhorn or starfish fungus. It is distinguished not only by its remarkable appearance but also by its foul odour of carrion with which it attracts flies which then spread its spores...Lovely.



















An afterword: Tania kindly got in touch to clarify her current position on mushrooms and I think we can safely say from the following that they still aren't her favourite thing to eat...

"Well, it's not just that they grow in the dark. That's only the start of it really. It's that they grow so fast and they are so pale and the dreadful slipperiness of them when cooked. And their meatiness - both too much and not enough of the animal - a horrible boneless quality that manages to be both firm and flabby at the same time. And the fact that they have gills like a fish and appear so suddenly you only have to turn your back and there they are, fully formed. They don't smell right...they smell old, like something that should be dead but isn't. Plus they are related to athlete's foot - how can anyone eat something related to athlete's foot. Or a yeast infection for god's sake. Nasty silent things. Nasty."

I understand the vehemence she displays here and regularly inflict such myself upon aubergines...





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