News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 18, 2013

RONN MOTT: Mushrooms = Hoosier happiness

Ronn Mott
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — Someone wrote or said a few years ago a statement that would define the word “Hoosier.”  

According to this urban legend, a Hoosier is somebody dribbling a basketball around the Indy 500 while eating a fried, morel mushroom. It did not define me, at the time.

While the adults in my family were happy to be cooking and eating mushrooms, I was not enthralled with the idea. First of all, as a youngster, I found they looked strange popped up out of the ground and in general did not look very appealing.

I was told they are a fungus and the only thing I had heard about a fungus was if it grew on your skin the fungus was not a good thing. To go further with this, at my Aunt Mildred’s one spring weekend, she had a crock full of mushrooms soaking in water. So, I said, “How come you’re soaking these mushrooms in water?” First of all, they explained, it wasn’t just water … it was heavy salt water and the salt killed all the bugs that were growing in the hollow parts of the mushrooms.

Ugly! Bugs crawling out because of salt water! Ooh! Of course, later it was explained that it was a very good way to clean up the mushrooms for frying.

I’m not quite sure when I was finally enticed to eat a mushroom. Perhaps I was 11 or 12 and if I remember correctly, it was at my Aunt Etha’s house in Hillsdale. She had lightly floured the mushrooms and cooked them in butter. Wow! They were really good. Nothing in my childhood’s taste buds could have prepared me for this woodland sensation.

I wasn’t a picky eater, but on the other hand, I had definite ideas about things I liked. And something that popped up out of the ground, soaked in salt water to get the bugs out and is a fungus didn’t fit any memory of good taste in my young life. So, when I finally got around to eating Aunt Etha’s fried mushrooms, I was shocked into what is certainly an eating sensation in the state of Indiana.

If you are what you eat, or if you are what you like to eat, I am sure I have joined the insanity about mushrooms that afflicts the entire state.

I have lived in other states in the Midwest but I cannot remember any of them being as crazed about galloping into the woods in springtime to seek out and pluck out of the ground these tasty morsels called morel mushrooms.

I’m not an expert on cooking, but steak and mushrooms, like steak and tomatoes, or steak and fried onions, or any of those combinations with fried mushrooms seem to be a Hoosier delight.  

I was never any good at finding mushrooms, but I always enjoyed my walks in the woods and the sheer surprise if I found any.

You probably won’t see me dribbling a basketball around the Indy 500, but I’m sure my acquired taste for fried morels could very easily identify me as a Hoosier. I’m sure there are worse things to be and worse places to reside.

So, as I salt my mushrooms, I do so with a happy smile on my face.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.