A Croatian proverb says, "All mushrooms are edible, but some only once." Thankfully, only about five percent of North American mushrooms are poisonous, with another five percent edible and tasty. (The other 90 percent taste like ... well, what they grow on.) And of course there's our good friend Psilocybe baeocystis, which enlivens any family gathering and is native to the Pacific Northwest - but pluck and ingest a look-alike species, and you'll find yourself in dire need of a liver or kidney transplant. Most definitely not Good Eats.
For better or worse, the avid mycologists at the Pacific Northwest Mushroom Festival - held in Lacey July 24-25 - concentrate solely on the versatile ‘shroom's culinary merits. Based on the festival's two previous annual incarnations, we can expect great weather, even better eats, and yes, painful shiitake puns.
Full disclosure: I have an in at the Mushroom Festival. Its founder and chief organizer, Greg Stevens, is my girlfriend's father. (That's Greg's grinning, JibJab-style mug singing on the festival commercial.) I like the fact that proceeds from the event go to philanthropic works via the Hawks Prairie Rotary Club. But what amuses me most about the festival is something I know which most of its thousands of attendees will not: Greg Stevens hates mushrooms. When my girlfriend and I cook for him, mushrooms are on a long list of ingredients we have to hide or even lie about before he'll try the dish. Apparently mushrooms weren't a staple of 1950s Kansas cuisine.
Here's another proverb, this time from the Midwest: "Vegetables are what food eats."
So what's to do at the festival, given tripping your face off in a van will be frowned upon? The big event is the (and I'm quoting the festival website here, so don't get your spellcheck in a bunch) "Hufunguous Amungus Shroom Feast Competition."
That mouthful translates to many, many more: About a dozen local restaurant chefs will prepare mushroom-based delectables and compete for bragging rights and your attention and patronage. How much will it cost you to sample this orgy of fungal sensuality? Five bucks. Five bucks! Good luck scoring a mushroom high for less, even by the gram! That's smart shopping.
There will also be a full "Kidz Zone" for spelling-challenged children, including pirates, piñatas, balloon animals, Ronald McDonald, a Tumble Bus, and (in my perverse imagination, at least) Dr. Timothy Leary. Grown-ups can enjoy live music (Acoustic Union, the Bobbers, Off Boulevard) and cooking demonstrations from such culinary artists as Hungarian chef Kristi Dohring - gombapörkölt for everyone! It's cheap, it's delicious, and you won't do a hard five for Class C felony possession of a controlled substance.
The Pacific Northwest Mushroom Festival sprouts this weekend at the Thurston Country Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey. See MushroomFest.org for more details including maps and, in a perfect world, a diazepam prescription and the safe phrase "I am immortal."
Pacific Northwest Mushroom Festival
Saturday, July 24 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday, July 25 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
two-day $5 admission mushroom buttons
Thurston County Regional Athletic Complex, 8341 Steilacoom Road SE, Lacey