If mushrooms are the gateway food to vegetarianism, the Bird, Tree & Garden Club might be an enabler.
BTG’s biennial Mushroom Sandwich Sale starts at noon today in Smith Wilkes Hall. Each grilled mushroom sandwich costs $8 and comes with a slice of watermelon, a bag of chips, lemonade or water and a cookie. The Dixie Lakesiders, a local Dixieland/New Orleans jazz band, will provide live entertainment.
The Mushroom Sandwich Sale tradition began in 1965 as a way to raise money for BTG, but according to board member Marjorie Gingell, the club does not raise much money from the event. The primary fundraising event for BTG is the Chautauqua House Tour, which replaces the mushroom sandwich sale during the “even” years — 2012, 2014, etc.
“[The sandwich sale] is a lot of work for not very much of a profit,” she said. “We try to keep the price of the lunch down so it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
According to former BTG board member Toni Douglass, it takes eight to nine hours to prep and cook the sandwiches. She estimated the group of BTG board members, usually eight or nine women per shift, prepares about 400 sandwiches for the sale every year, all of which are sold by the end of the lunch hour.
Since the sale began, some of the club’s traditions have been modified. Originally, the unusual recipe used to cook the mushroom sandwiches was kept secret, Douglass said, until BTG published it in its cookbook a few years back.
The main reason BTG has the sale, Gingell said, is to bring the community together.
“It’s a unique event that people probably would not experience anyplace but at BTG,” she said. “We do it for fun and camaraderie.”
This is not the first time this season BTG has brought mushrooms into their programming. On Tuesday, Walt Sturgeon, an amateur mycologist, spoke about the biology of mushrooms, how to spot edible mushrooms in the wild, mushroom folklore and other related topics.
Though his focus is in mushroom photography, taxonomy and fungi’s relationship to the ecosystem, Sturgeon emphasized the high level of variety among edible mushrooms, and estimated he has tasted more than 100 varieties.
“Many of them are bland, but others lend themselves to a variety of cooking techniques, like mushroom sorbet, which is just ice cream with mushrooms instead of milk,” he said. “Some kinds lend themselves to frying, others are better dried and fried later on.”
Gingell said the reason BTG sells the sandwiches is because mushrooms are a part of nature, which ties into BTG’s emphasis on environmental stewardship and appreciation. She said mushrooms, even commercially grown mushrooms like the ones they use at the sale, are an earthier, healthier alternative to many more conventional lunches.
“Rather than serve egg salad or chicken salad, we thought this is a unique thing people will really enjoy,” she said.”But if someone does not like mushrooms, we’ll make them a grilled cheese sandwich instead.”