Magic mushrooms – a culinary brush with death

Yelly (my Dutch wife) has just completed a two-day mushroom-hunting and identification course as a result of which I found myself (with some hesitation) eating various dubious-looking funghi. ‘It’s quite OK,’ she told me, with what sounded like confidence (after all, she had done a two-day course). ‘Only about twelve species of English mushrooms can kill you.’  One of these, apparently, you can munch on quite happily saying things like: ‘Mmmm — what a lovely delicate flavour!’ and such, and then two days later you die abruptly of kidney failure.‘Mmmm — what a lovely delicate flavour!’ I found myself saying, as we both explored the taste of the latest offering, much as one would ponder on the delights of a fine wine. It crossed my mind that. in the interest of business success. perhaps we should have tasted at two-day intervals.

‘Here — try this,’ she said, offering me a fried Puff Ball, a fungus that is so-named because (a) it is round and (b) puffs spores into the air. As I was reluctantly chewing this she said: ‘They’re only poisonous when the flesh begins to turn brown inside — this one looked fine!’ It might be an overstatement to say that my life flashed before me as she spoke those words, but a few pertinent thoughts did cross my mind. First, it did look rather brown inside. This, I was assured, was because it had been fried. The second thought was this: how can you tell when a mushroom is beginning to turn brown? I mean, how can you tell what it’s thinking? And how far into this process does the poison become fatal? And lastly, I wondered for a few terrible seconds whether I had married the Hannibal Lecter of the culinary world and what view the insurance company might take on the matter.

It’s been a few days now. I’m still on the planet as far as I can tell.

As you might guess, this has got me thinking, particular in the light of recent blogs about religious diet. You see, I feel that during the course of my Christian experience I’ve been eating too many tasteless shrink-wrapped supermarket mushrooms. (Didn’t they taste better when they were grown in horse manure, or did I imagine that?) It’s just that I didn’t want to live too dangerously and accidentally believe some appalling heresy, but, perhaps more insidiously, I lived near a spiritual supermarket that only sold one variety of mushroom. Christianity had become a convenience store.

To get to the point, it is my considered opinion that health and safety regulations (which are the subject of a rather provocative blog which as yet I have not had the courage to post) have so conditioned us to avoid danger that we are missing out on much of what God has to offer. Yes, there are twelve deadly mushrooms in the UK, but that leaves about three thousand nine hundred and eighty eight that are edible. OK, they might taste revolting, and even make you ill, but they can’t kill you.

We might stay alive eating the bland supermarket mushrooms, but we’ll miss out on some wonderful tastes if we restrict ourselves to these offerings that are so safe. Theologically speaking, I’ve even come across some wonderful magic mushrooms in the last few months which, contrary to popular opinion, do not distort reality but rather enhance vision.