I’m delving into ‘shrooms

​For Christmas, my son gave me an incredibly thoughtful gift: membership to Osher Lifetime Learners Institute (OLLI) at Auburn University.  Being a cold weather hermit, I wondered, as he handed me the catalog of courses, if there would be one interesting enough to make me dress in street clothes and leave my warm flannel comfort to attend a class.  

The catalog was filled with fascinating offerings. “Yoga for Beginners” sounded good, but 8 a.m. is a little early for me in February.  “Winter Mysteries,” slated for mid-morning, sounded perfect, but the class was already full.  And then I spotted “How to Recognize Wild Mushrooms” in an early afternoon time slot, and knew that was the class for me.

I’ve been to only one class so far, but I am not sure I will ever be proficient enough at identifying mushrooms to actually forage for edible ones. A class member asked our teacher where we should look for ones that would be safe to eat, and his very sage answer was, “the grocery store.”

But even if I never have the confidence to identify mushrooms in the wild, their common names enthrall me and make me want to learn more: Hen of the Woods, Man on Horseback, Angel’s Wings, Pig’s Ear, Velvet Foot, and, of course, the terrifying Destroying Angel and its deadly sister, Death Cap.

Our homework for week two is to harvest mushrooms for the class to identify at our next meeting.  I’ve spotted a nice patch already, but, of course, have no idea what type they are. I keep thinking back to the simplicity of childhood in Jernigan when we called all of them “toady frog stools” and believed they were rings where the fairies danced.
Marian Carcache welcomes comments at carcamm@auburn.edu