by John Ryan
As mushrooms mature, spores develop. The gills on closed up mushrooms are a pale pink because the spores are immature. The gills on portobellos are chocolate brown.
To make a spore print, twist the stem off a portobello and set the cap, gills down, on a sheet of white paper. Put a bowl over the mushrooms so air currents don't disturb the spores and leave it undisturbed overnight. The next day lift the bowl off and gently pick up the mushroom. The delicate pattern is a spore print.
Okay, so what?
From a culinary standpoint this shows you that the stuff you sometimes see on portobellos...the stuff that looks like cocoa-powder are spores from a portobello that was sitting above. You'll know that it's not necessary to scrub the spores off.
And next, you'll only get a good print from a fresh mushroom. If you don't get a print, it's probably because the mushroom is slightly dehydrated. For the best print, you want a just-picked port, like one you would get at a farmer's market.
As for science, you learn three small lessons. First, you get to see spores. Spores are the mushroom version of seeds. Normally they are out there with pollen, pollution and whatnot making some of us miserable. Next, spore color is a characteristic used to identify mushrooms. For instance, the toxic Amanitas (which go by such charming names as Destroying Angel and Death Cap) have white spores.
And finally, science isn't all equations and slimy stuff under a microscope. Scientists are fun-guys and fun-gals who make spore prints.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This page created 1997. Modified August 2007.
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