I had a conversation in my local market the other day that a friend who was with me found puzzling. She doesn’t like mushrooms very much but happened to be standing by me when I bought some from a stall holder.
Here in Provence, in southern France, the local markets are full of wild mushrooms in autumn. We get wonderful girolles and chanterelles, lactaires, pieds de mouton and ceps. They go really well with pork, beef, rabbit or chicken, and can be used with minced beef or other meats to stuff pumpkins.
I had a look at the baskets brimming with mushrooms on this particular evening and asked the stall holder:
“Where do your mushrooms come from?”
He laughed and said
“I can’t tell you that.”
“No”, I said, laughing too. “I’m not asking for that reason. I’m asking for the other reason.”
“Oh. No problem there. They’re from way up in the forest.”
We chatted a bit more and I bought some lactaires.
When we moved on to the goat’s cheese stall, my friend asked “What was that about? What were the two reasons for aking where the mushrooms came from?”
The main reason why people ask others where they found their mushrooms is obviously so they can go and find some themselves. In Provence, as in other French regions where you can find very good quality edible mushrooms, the spot where you discover your colourful girolles or chanterelles is often a closely guarded secret. If, like me, you enjoy gathering mushrooms for the pure fun of it, you may tell your good friends where you find them and take them along to help with the hunt. But if you’re a stall holder in the market you clearly don’t want to reveal all to your customers!
But the second reason for asking where mushrooms come from is about pollution and toxicity. Mushrooms absorb all manner of toxic and noxious substances. Even those which are really good to eat and proven to be thoroughly edible will pick up poisons from their immediate environment and from the air around them.
This is one reason why it’s advisable, and in many cases essential, to discard the water edible mushrooms generate when you cook them or pre-cook them. It’s a way of washing out any pollution they may have absorbed.
It’s also one reason why you should never eat too many mushrooms at one time or even during one week. If you eat mushrooms in moderation you minimise the chance of any toxic content building up inside you.
I asked the market stall holder where he found his mushrooms because I wanted assurance that he didn’t gather them near an agricultural area where pesticides and other toxic substances were in use or near an industrial area where pollutants might be concentrated in the air or water.
He had assured me chirpily that they came from forest “not a very long way away from the east side of Mont Ventoux!” I knew what he meant. They were from a reputed mushrooming area on forested hills out in the Provencal countryside. He told me just enough that I knew the general area without him giving away anything at all specific about his secret stock. I told him I knew a wonderful spot in the same general area where a carpet of moss was always studded with girolles in November.
“Where exactly is it?” he asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
“I can’t tell you that!” I said, and concluded the conversation.
**Individual edible mushrooms have different ways in which they must be prepared and cooked if they’re to be safe to eat. Always be sure to check how you should cook any particular variety of mushroom you gather or buy. And always be sure any mushroom you gather is identified by an expert before you eat it unless you are 100% sure you can correctly identify it yourself.**