The featured mushroom for August 2011 was...
Agaricus campestris: Meadow mushrooms, pink bottoms, or even pinks
The Agaricus campestris is the closest mushroom in the wild to the white button mushrooms of the supermarket aisle. Pink bottoms are grassland mushrooms thriving in pastures. These are the mushrooms the knowledgeable soccer/baseball/softball mom/dad will pick in the fields while their offspring are on the bench (they will be watching the game when offspring are playing, of course).The gills of immature meadow mushrooms are pink leading to the two Michigan common names for these mushrooms. Meadow mushrooms are sometimes found singly but they are usually grouped in small clusters and fairy rings on lawns or pastures. The mushrooms fruit from late spring to mid fall whenever the weather cooperates (sufficient rain mostly).
Mushrooms in the genus Agaricus are notoriously difficult to differentiate from one another as they are very variable in size, shape, color, etc. To properly key an Agaricus species one must note staining reactions of fresh mushrooms in the cap, stem, flesh of the cap, flesh of the stem, and even the flesh of the base of the stem. Odor is very important in differentiating Agaricus species with three important types: mushroomy to mildly fruity, phenolic like ink, tar or carbolic acid, and sweet smelling like anise or almonds. The bad smelling agarics, phenolic odor, are bad tasting and often mildly poisonous. The agarics with a sweet smell are edible and often are choice. Agaricus campestris smells of almonds or anise. Additionally veil characteristics are important in distinguishing between Agaricus species. The veils can be singular or double with distinct patches of veil on the lower surface of the upper veil. The rings can be skirt like (hanging down over part of the stem), sheath like (upper stem seems to grow out from the ring being of lesser diameter than the lower stem) or intermediate (ring at a 90 degree angle to the stem with upper stem of approximately the same width as lower stem).
The cap of the pink bottom mushroom is 1 to 3 ½ inches across, convex and white to dirty brown at the center of the cap. The gills are free, pink when young and chocolate brown when mature. The stems are 1 to 2 ½ inches tall and ½ to ¾ inches wide. The ring is thin and intermediate in shape and is often almost absent. Odor and taste are pleasant. The flesh is white. The spore print is chocolate brown.
Like its store-bought cousin (Agaricus bisporus with common names white buttons, cremini, portabella) the meadow is very versatile in the kitchen. The taste is similar to the commercial mushrooms though the wild mushrooms are more flavorful. Any mushroom recipe for the commercial species will work for the wild and your dish will be enhanced by using the more flavorful wild mushrooms.