Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/108

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gills, and stout, short stem. But two others (Russula emetica and Russula rosacea) resemble it so closely that, to this day, as I wash them, I invariably put a little piece of the stem of each into my mouth, in order to avoid all possibility of mistake.

I am in hopes to establish the truth of this theory: namely, that no fungus which, unspiced, being plainly cooked with dry heat, commends itself to the taste, can be dangerous to human life.

I advance this proposition with hesitation, because many people have so little sense in such matters. Mushrooms are mixed with gravies, fried in batter, simmered in fat, seasoned with black pepper or parsley-leaves, and their delicate flavor destroyed by compounding them with other food. The cook, thereby, disguises the very alarm which Nature has placed at the gateway. One of the most common signs of hurtful fungus is a stinging sensation affecting the tongue but little, the throat and tonsils more, and probably having the most effect upon the stomach and bowels. Let the mushroom absorb fat enough to cover this, or disguise the taste either by spice or by mixing one variety with another, and you may easily eat enough of a poisonous fungus to cause death.

Julie and I have tested perhaps forty varieties of toadstools; of these, we eat regularly, whenever found, considerably more than one half, and are daily making additions to our bill of fare. Yet, I would not have the reader infer that we act carelessly. In whatever cause, reckless disregard of consequences is not bravery, although no two elements are oftener confounded. After tracing a specimen to its family, we broil it with the addition of salt and butter (no pepper), and eat a small piece on an empty stomach. We then increase the quantity in successive experiments until we feel perfectly safe, or experience unpleasant sensations. Usually, the non-edible fungus discloses its character over the charcoal: nauseous slime weeps from the stem, a grassy and disagreeable odor arises as it heats, or, on being tasted, there is no desire to take another mouthful. The intuition of woman, the cleverness with which the feminine mind grasps at an idea over which the stronger sex will reason mentally for hours, is nowhere more valuable than in the pursuit of this study.

We have never yet been deceived into making a meal of poisonous fungus. From the sparkling coprinus (Coprinus micaceus), a little toadstool very common about old stumps, and one or two other kinds, we have received evidence that condemned them as esculents. But we were once poisoned by some common mushrooms contaminated by being sent in a box containing a large number of another kind. The latter (Coprinus deliquescens) were in a state of decomposition. They eventually turn to ink, independent of contact with any fluid substance. In passing, I would say that the manuscript of this article is written with the result of such deliquescence. We had scarcely swallowed the edible ones before we felt the effects of the poison.