Sunday, November 21, 2010

This Turkey Butt’s for You

Probably every child in America has colored in a turkey at some point in their grade school careers. There is something satisfying in smashing a red crayon to that iggly wiggly wattle. The real artistic bravado, though, comes in choosing colors for the tail feathers, taking those oversimplified lines and turning them into the daring display of plumage. But never once did I wonder what was underneath, what was hidden behind the tail feathers.

It’s surprising considering the answer was one of our most oft used jokes. The joke was, “Guess what?” The other person would invariable reply “what?” Then the jokester would say “Turkey butt!”

The wittiness of this rhyme still tickles me. Eventually “turkey butt” became a comeback of sorts. Sincere attempts to illicit interest were batted away with turkey butts. “No, really, guess what!” the eager sibling insisted only to be slapped with another “turkey butt.”

Yet, in all these years, I never really gave turkey butts any consideration.

Well that’s changed. Thanks to the fantastic fungus Trametes versicolor, known in some circles as “turkey tail,” I now meditate a good deal on turkey butts. And just in time for the ritualistic stuffing of turkey butts nationwide.

There is nothing more ubiquitous to the American holiday season than turkey. And, as it turns out, there is nothing more ubiquitous among woodland polypores than the turkey tail. Once I heard there was a mushroom called “turkey tail,” it went straight to the top of my Fungal Interest List.

Unlike turkey at the holidays, the ubiquitousness of turkey tail is a nearly global phenomenon. Turkey tail is one of the most common mushrooms in the world, but be warned: the false turkey tail is also terribly common. Neither mushroom is poisonous but a false turkey tail (a.k.a. Stereum ostrea for you Latin lovers) is false, it doesn’t even have any pores. Without pores one certainly can’t expect to be invited into a group of polypores. Nor does the false turkey tail have any medicinal properties.

Turkey tail is a heavily researched fungi, found to have both anti-tumor compounds and immune strengthening properties (Stamets, 299). It also made great jewelry for tribal peoples apparently. But if you don’t want to get caught wearing faux turkey tails, guess what… turkey butt.

I’m serious. Look underneath the fungus to determine verity of the variety. Look at its butt. If you can see pores no one can accuse you of donning an imposter (you may need a magnifying lens to see them though).

And if you are preparing this week’s feast, and if stuffing turkey butts makes you squeamish, think of fungal butts instead. Let your mind wander to the forest and be thankful you aren’t eating turkey tail. It takes 62 hours of boiling to render a broth from the buggers… and you thought roasting a turkey took forever (Arora, 594).

Or you could think about other things you’re thankful for.

I’m feeling particularly thankful for my siblings this Thanksgiving.

Hey, Guess what…

[For this post I consulted Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora, published by Ten Speed Press, 1979, 1986; Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets, also published by Ten Speed Press, 2005; Magical Mushrooms Mischievous Molds by George W. Hudler, Princeton University Press, 1998; A Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America, Kent McKnight, Hougton Mifflin, 1987.]

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating... thanks for sharing these fascinating tidbits about turkey tails... and butts.

    Let me guess one of the topics of discussion at your Thanksgiving...

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your siblings.