There’s a market stall here in Amsterdam every Saturday that specialises in mushrooms. That is all they sell.
To walk past it is quite an experience, all those delicate, strangely shaped fungi laid out in their baskets, the earthy smells of forest and moss, of leaves and decay. It’s a dangerous smell, that entices and repels in equal measure.
For me, it is irresistable. The range of olfactory temptation on offer just cannot be ignored. It’s quite simply fantastic.
So it was, this past rainy weekend, that I found myself shuffling round the market stalls, damp and miserable, and in a funk of frustration that the spring had once again decided to retreat and allow winter one last hurrah.
What to do?
Then I smelled those smells. Those dank, mysterious odours of mushroom. An autumnal smell, but extremely pleasurable nonetheless.
The kind of smell that can salvage a wet, wintry weekend in “springtime” Holland.
That was it! If winter would not retreat then I would join her!
I’d wrap myself up in a warm indulgent feast of red wine and mushrooms. I’d light the candles in the livingroom, turn up the heat, put on some music (Korsakov’s Sheherazade I was thinking) and sit out the last of the winter in a cocoon of pleasure.
I purchased with abandon. Shitake, morels, and chanterelles. Seriously good stuff.
And no need to do anything to them either. Keep it simple, that’s the trick, that’s the art to good food. Just some fresh pasta, some sage and oregano, good olive oil, a little garlic, some shallots et voila! A simple, hearty feast.
The morels in particular had excited my attention. It is that kind of mushroom.
That dark shrivelled brain folding in upon itself is a strange sight to behold. It’s as if it really does have the power to think, as if it really is contemplating something, something mischievous, something dangerous. It is a magical specimen, a dark, secret little thing. It intrigues me.
Oh, and it is utterly delicious.
And so the wintry night passed, the wind howled and the rain poured, but I did not flinch. I sat, warm, snug and satiated and later I dreamed sweet, luscious dreams.
Now there are morels and there are morels. Good morels and bad morels. Real morels and fake morels.
I did not know this. Fake morels? As in, not really kosher? How about that…….
They are popular in Scandinavia apparently, these interlopers, where people have been eating them with abandon for years, despite their toxic properties.
Sure, a few folks may get unlucky and die, but on the whole, these wee fakers are really quite safe. And tasty. Damn tasty.
The problem with the fake morel lies in its toxic make up. A chemical composition which apparently resembles that of rocket fuel. That’s right – rocket fuel. As in the stuff they use to send astronauts up into outer space.
As in totally not something you want to digest.
I kid you not.
To quote that article linked above:
“The poison in false morels is MMH, or monmethylhydrazine (a chemical also found in rocket fuel). Though MMH is not understood completely by scientists, there is no question about whether it is poisonous or not. It appears that MMH may occur in different quantities in different false morels (even members of the same species), that its presence may vary according to geography, that its effect on people may vary between individuals, and that its toxicity may be cumulative (raising the possibility of eating false morels safely for years and then, one day, croaking after one bite). Clearly, MMH is not to be messed with.”
I had 50 grams. On an empty stomach. After a long cold run.
Now whether they were fake or not is an issue that is up for discussion, this much I admit as I am no mushroom expert, and cannot for the life of me believe that such a heinous little impersonator could ever make it on to the shelves of my (still) beloved market stall.
But put it this way, I had an “explosive” Sunday and I still ache today.
If it were not for my lack of aerodymanic shape and the vice like grip I maintained on the toilet seat, I think perhaps I could have shot heavenward, bound for Mars, propelled on nothing more than my morel rocket fuel…..
You have been warned.