Photo by KdB1/Flickr CC
A news story about a Ukrainian woman and her adult son who landed in the hospital after eating mushrooms they'd foraged reminded me of the pleasures and perils of mushroom-hunting, a hobby I've pursued on and off--mostly off--since taking part in the hi(gh)jinks at the annual Telluride Mushroom Festival, sponsored by the Telluride Institute. Every year, over three summer days, there are mushroom expeditions, seminars, and of course feasts. One of the founding guides and cooks was Andrew Weil, who was there the year I hiked and ate and learned.
I came back eager to go on the hunt in New England, and one of my early expeditions was in the wet woods of Vermont with Barbara Kafka, who as usual had read numerous field guides and scholarly reference books and taught herself much more about mycology than I had after my mountain-high-energized reading. Also, she'd been at it a long time--the counters of her Vermont farmhouse were from spring to late fall generally covered with chanterelles, porcini, and various boletes drying on paper towels--and had seldom suffered any ill effects.
Until we listened to an Italian guest who came along, experienced in the dry scrubby hills of northern Lazio but not the wet underbrush of Vermont, particularly near a stream with extremely active beavers. He urged Kafka to serve thin slices of the boletus edulis we found raw in a first-course salad with shaved Parmesan--standard practice, but incautious by a busy-beaver stream. By that night we knew we all had giardia, the water-borne parasite that, the Kafkas said, is locally called beaver fever.