here’s a little tidbit from the linguistic labyrinth (alliteration unintentional) that is the WORLD OF GASTRONOMY, brought to my attention by our international correspondent E. Burke Horne…
hopefully, because they are delicious, you are all familiar with trompettes de la mort – a smallish, greyish mushroom resembling the chanterelle in appearance, if not lineage or necessarily taste (i find the trompette not quite as exciting, a little earthier, nuttier, less delicate), hence their occasional (mis)representation as black chanterelles. i dare say mis because they really are not chanterelles, and belong to a different genus entirely – craterellus cornucopioides v. cantherellus cibarius, respectively – small potatoes perhaps, the hairs upon them split, but why taxonomy at all, if not for quibbling distinctions such as these?
far more interesting to me however, are the variety of other names the mushroom enjoys. somewhat to my chagrin i realize that i have been calling them trompettes de mort up until now, which falls, slightly less grammatically correct, between trompettes de la mort (trumpets of death) and trompettes des morts (trumpets of the dead). this is a distinction which i find poetically, if not practically, significant – perhaps contemplating whether they are the trumpets heralding the dead or those blown by the dead (to herald themselves? to party?) is a pleasurable component of the culinary experience only for assholes like me?
these mushrooms are also called cornes d’abondance (horns of plenty), ironically, this dual naming seeming to suggest a sort of “just think of the bounty that flows forth from death’s cup” exhortation. but while they don’t (unlike other, less morbidly-identified fungi) actually kill you, it occurs to me just this very moment that the seemingly opposed nomenclature actually says just that – something very apposite about mushrooms in general, the saprophytic (death-eating)* ones at least: that great bounty does, in the form of delicious fruiting bodies and soil/partner-plant-nourishing mycorrhizae, derive from the dead and decaying and decayed. how exciting!
But Then You Had To Go And Bring Race Into It, Didn’t You?
because it all started with this email!
oh, and re: mushrooms, i saw Trompettes de Mort on a deli menu here in York, but they’d changed it to Trompettes de Maures, which means (i just looked this up) MOORS.
which indeed it does! and what up with this? well, no one really seems to know, but the general consensus is that it is probably a combination of typo (it is a homophone, after all) and marketing ploy, because the wary restaurant-goer might be propelled into outright caginess confronted by an unfamiliar death-designated mushroom on a menu (alliteration intentional). or so Les Coureurs des Bois suggest, and i on my part believe, because they say it so well: “dans le but d’adoucir son nom rebutant” (“with the aim of softening their off-putting or repugnant name”).
although forgive me if i at first glance find the association of black mushrooms with black people faintly more hackle-raising than the merely macabre, but i am a bit of a PC metalhead (thus more pro-death/anti-racial insensitivity). in fairness to les trompettes des maures, however, there is such a thing as a moorish trumpet, called an agnafile or añafil, and it bears still more resemblance to the mushroom in question than does a “regular” Western trumpet! (i just found this out! put that in my pipe and smoke it!)
(observe the fluted rim, right?)
and yes, i was listening to The Magical Mystery Tour while writing this post.
PS: ugh, i could not help but think while writing this post (indeed, all too often when i heard the word “Moor“) of the opening lines of Orlando:
He- for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters. It was the color of an old football, and more or less the shape of one, save for the sunken cheeks and a strand or two of coarse, dry hair, like the hair on a coconut. Orlando’s father, or perhaps his grandfather, had struck it from the shoulders of a vast Pagan who had started up under the moon in the barbarian fields of Africa; and now it swung, gently, perpetually, in the breeze which never ceased blowing through the attic rooms of the gigantic house of the lord who had slain him.
which, for the movie were exchanged for a scene of young Orlando writing poetry under a tree in the idyllic English countryside.
how’s that for l’adoucement de la rebutant? (not to mention a pretty significant change of mise-en-scene for a book/movie all about gender dis/ambiguity and transition…)
* while writing this it struck me that i didn’t know exactly how widely the designation saprophyte applied. i mean, if saprophytes are merely eaters of death, then would not all carnivores and many herbivores (herbivores being slightly more likely to consumer their food while it is still “alive”) be saprophytes? or more correctly, saprophages?
saprophyte – organism, usually plant or fungus, that survives of dead or decaying organic matter.
saprophage – organism which “eats” dead or decaying matter.
saprotroph – organism which derives its nutrients from dead or decaying matter (a saprotroph is thus a kind of heterotroph, which must derive its nutrients from other sources, as opposed to autotrophs, which can manufacture their own nutritional requirements chemically, from the sun and soil. like you know, most plants.)
so then i’m thinking Oh, Maybe It’s Specifically Decaying (not merely dead) Matter? but as far as the numerous not very detailed definitions can tell me, No, It’s Not Specifically Decaying Matter. my suspicion, which has yet to be validated, is that it is intended to refer, or refers de facto, if not de jure, to organisms which derive their nutrition from dead organic matter by secreting some sort of digestive enzyme or something into the material and then reabsorbing components of the matter, thus participating in its decomposition. this seems scientifically sloppy, but it’s the closest i can get to a designation that makes sense.
hey Science Friends, a little help?