Staten Island, NY. I found this wild relative to the most cultivated mushroom in the world—the white button—last fall off an inner road on the college campus where I teach. It was the envy of several mushroom lovers that season.
Turns out Agaricus bernardii is relatively rare in NYC. Dennis Aita, vice president of the NY Mycological Society, has only ever seen it twice in the city. While most mushrooms crop up year after year, A. bernardii is unpredictable. What seems to be the key to its emergence? A generous dose of road salting the winter before.
As mycologist Dr. Richard Kerrigan (Agaricales of California. Vol 6. Agariceae) told me recently, A. bernardii favors alkaline and saline environments.
This hefty beauty, which I profiled most recently in the Urban Forager, reminded me of the dense and chocolatey portobellos which I love to grill in the summertime—albeit with a distinctive seaside aroma and a fleshier consistency under the fork. So I wasn’t surprised when I learned that robust Agaricus bernardi is indeed related to the portobello (a white button grown to Nigella Lawson proportions).
Note: A. bernardii has dark brown-black spore prints and bleeds red (classically redder than what is pictured here). As with all wild mushrooms, make your spore prints, and consult with mushroom experts and field guides, like Gary Lincoff’s National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. I personally would never eat a mushroom that hadn’t gone through all of the above.
With this year’s liberal road saltings all around the city, I’m hoping to find more Agaricus bernardii next autumn. Check back in October for updates.