Wholly Neglected

two passages from 1847

 

Although ourselves intensely English, we are constrained by conscience to admit, that the people of the continent of Europe do… display certain “glimmerings” of sense. We have, indeed, been sorely tempted to entertain the idea, that if any enemy were to institute an invidious comparison between the insulars and the continentals, the verdict of an impartial judge — though, of course, on the whole greatly in favor of the superiority of the former — might possibly, on one or two points, inclined to that of the latter.

To be serious — it does seem strange that, whilst men of other nations should know where to get the materials for a savoury dish, and how to cook them, the English are so blissfully ignorant on such points, that, although their woods and meadows teem with a rich abundance of wholesome, savoury, and nutritious food – from the gathering of which no law withholds their hands — they allow these treasures to perish before their eyes, and go back to their cottages to a half–meal of unattractive fare. Nay, more than this — if one skilled in such lore were to lay on the cotter’s table enough of this good food to supply him and his household for a week, such is the extent of his prejudice, that, in all probability, he would throw the whole of the gift on the dung-heap, and not even suffer his pig to make its supper from it.

We speak of the Fungus tribe. Many of our readers may not be aware that, amongst all the continental nations, funguses afford not a mere flavouring or a delicate dish, or a pleasant sauce or pickle, but the staple food of thousands of the people; indeed, in some places, they are for several months in the year not only the staple, but the sole food of tens of thousands of the inhabitants…

In the markets of Rome, thousands of basketfuls are sold during the season; and so extensive is the traffic in this commodity, that there is a regularly appointed officer for examining the fungi offered for sale. This officer is called Ispettori dei Funghi: he is a botanist, competence to pronounce whether the specimens produced or noxious or otherwise; and if he discovers in the lots submitted to him that there are any either stale or of injurious quality, he sends them under guard to be thrown into the river. Those that are pronounced salable are than weighed, in order that a tax may be levied on them. Quantities under ten pounds in weight are not taxed…

It seems to us a pity that men who have time to spare, nay, who absolutely lack a pursuit wherewith they might fill up some hours of unoccupied time, do not set diligently to work, and fit themselves to act as Ispettori dei Funghi, and pronounce on the character of the specimens which may be submitted to their judgment. It would be a pursuit attended with much interest, and of much utility; pleasant in progress, and important in its end, if it enabled them to bring the rich supply of food which this tribe would afford within the reach of the population of our land; four as matters at present stand, although this yearly supply of vegetable wealth is in one sense within the reach of the poor, in another I cannot properly be said to be so; as one unlearned, who did not know the marks by which the edible species might be distinguished from the injurious, would be unwise to venture on making a meal from any individuals of the tribe among which so many species of deleterious, and some even of deadly qualities may be found.

“Neglected Treasures,” Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 347-8

 

No country is perhaps richer in Esculent Funguses than our own; we have upwards of thirty species abounding in our woods. No markets might therefore be better supplied than the English, and yet England is the only country in Europe where this important and savoury food is, from ignorance or prejudice, left to perish ungathered.

In France, Germany and Italy, Funguses not only constitute for weeks together the sole diet of thousands, but the residue either fresh, dried, or variously preserved, in ail, vinegar, or brine, is sold by the poor, and forms a valuable source of income to many who have no other produce to bring into the market. Well then may we style them with Mons. Roques, ”the manna of the poor.” To call attention to an article of commerce elsewhere so lucrative, with us so wholly neglected, is the object of the present work…

In such rambles he will see, what I have this Autumn myself witnessed, whole hundred-weights of rich wholesome diet rotting under trees; woods teeming with food and not one hand to gather it; and this perhaps in the midst of potato blight, poverty, and all manner of privations, and public prayers against imminent famine…

…as soon as [the reader] is initiated in this class of dainties he will, I am persuaded, lose no time in making the discovery known to the poor of the neighborhood; while in so doing he will render an important service to the country at large, by instructing the indigent and ignorant in the choice of an ample, wholesome, and excellent article, which they may convert into money, or consume at their own tables, when properly prepared, throughout the winter.

Charles Badham, A treatise on the esculent funguses of England, Introduction, 136.