November is not my favorite month as I am a spring and summer lover. However, I must admit that I enjoy November in Coastal Georgia more than back in the land of my birth. This is because the November sun sets in London, England about 4.30pm, and it is normally cold, wet and foggy. It is also a long slog to the Christmas holidays since, remember, the Brits do not celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK. They don’t benefit from that wonderful late November break from work and treasured time with family that Americans enjoy. In fact, Thanksgiving is now one of my favorite holidays. During my past 15 years of living in the USA, I have been asked a number of times if the British celebrate Thanksgiving. Usually my answer is a simple “no”, although I have been known to occasionally say: “No, the British don’t celebrate the anniversary of when the Native Americans saved the lives of the Puritans who didn’t like England so set off for the new world on the Mayflower in 1621”.
Did you know that fall, especially September through November, is prime time for mushroom foraging in the UK, across northern Europe, and here in Georgia and many parts of the USA? I have only come to enjoy cooking with and eating mushrooms in recent years and frankly I don’t like thinking that they are not plants but instead are fungi, more related to mold, mildew and poisonous toadstools. They live off dead and decaying matter such as wood and leaves, but on the bright side they are full of nutrients and low in calories.
The history of edible mushrooms goes back at least 7,000 years as there is evidence that they were eaten by Egyptian Pharoahs. For centuries, mushroom consumption was limited to the wealthy, and it was not until the 17th century in France that the cultivation of mushrooms in caves began. In the USA mushroom farming became popular in the early 20th century with the first commercial mushroom farm established in Pennsylvania in 1896, and this state is still the USA’s leading producer of mushrooms. In the 1920s, European immigrants to the USA brought experience, know-how, and new technologies which allowed year-round growing, thereby reducing costs and creating widespread availability. I regularly use them in a range of recipes and my favorite varieties are cremini (white button mushrooms), shitake and porcini. Mushrooms can help reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, are beloved by vegans and those following a plantbased diet, are a natural pesticide, and research is currently underway on creating a mushroom-based insulation material. Collecting wild mushrooms for food and fun is known as foraging, although personally I worry about mistaking a poisonous mushroom for an edible one as they can kill or cause permanent damage to organs. Some brave and well-informed people love mycology – the study, collection and cultivation of fungi. Therearenearly100local mushroom clubs in North America with members arranging foraging walks and sharing advice and expertise. Woods and forests are the best place to find edible wild mushrooms and the exact location of a foragers’ favorite spots to find mushrooms are often closely guarded secrets. Apparently, foragers look for mushrooms around tree trunks and roots as well as downed logs and stumps because some mushrooms love decaying matter.
Truffles are sometimes confused with mushrooms. Truffles are the edible spores that grow as an underground fungus, and they are technically a completely different species than mushrooms. Mushrooms grow above ground, while truffles grow underneath the surface. Trained pigs are sometimes used to find truffles, and some truffle hunters say that is because truffles emit a smell similar to pig sex hormones. But apparently mushrooms don’t. Yum!
There is a lot more information at www. mushroomcouncil. org I like this quote from mid-20th Century Louisiana Congressman, Charles E. McKenzie, “Advice is like mushrooms. The wrong kind can prove fatal”.
God Bless America and enjoy your November!
Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at email@example.com or via her full-service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr. com