The Deep, Dark Mushroom Surprise

`DOWN here, Poobie!''

Oh no! It was Emma calling to me from down in the basement of her house. Emma's mother, Mrs. Mack, grew all sorts of mushrooms down there in the dark. Grew them and sold them, every last one. Mushrooms. Why, the kids in the neighborhood almost never went down there, for who knew what creatures were hiding under all that dirt? Besides, the place smelled like an overturned chemistry set. And you could hear things growing from the top of the stairs, where I was now.

``Come on up, Emma.''

``No, I need your help down here.''

Down? The basement door was open, and up came a fungusy green light. My whole body started to itch. I made a face.

``Is your mom down there?'' I asked.

``No, but she'll be back soon. Hurry!''

My best friend sounded worried. Down I went, trying not to touch anything, not even the railing, which was sure to be slimy. The place was warm and damp.

``Over here, Poobie.''

I followed her voice around to the back of the stairs, where she was standing in front of long rows of what looked like wooden window boxes on a table. Two light bulbs shone down from the ceiling, making everything green - even Emma's face, her cobweb earrings, and her baseball cap.

She was wearing a pair of gardening gloves. ``Careful not to touch anything,'' she warned.

``Don't worry,'' I said.

How could I with my hands inside my pockets?

``So, what's up, Emma?''

``It's like this,'' she said in a rush. ``My sisters' birthday is tomorrow, and Mom told me to make them a mushroom pie, only I'm not sure which mushrooms'd go best, be tastiest.''

The funny noise that came out of my mouth stopped her. ``Emma, er ... a mushroom pie? For a birthday? Even teenagers don't like mushrooms that much, do they?''

I was confused, and so was Emma.

She said, ``Got me. I wouldn't eat it.''

Her twin sisters were weird, but not that weird.

``You said your mom told you to make this?''

``Yup. She told me to do what was on the note while she went shopping; she'd be back by lunch. The note's on the kitchen table. Only, we don't have much time.''

I gulped, ``We?'' Did she mean me? She did.

``You'll see,'' she said. ``But what about the mushrooms, which ones? Help me look.''

I'd been trying hard not to, but now I did, and what I saw made my breath wzzzzzzzz out.

Mushrooms. Thousands of them, every shape and size, greenish in the fungusy light: fat doorknobs, oyster shells, pancakes, loops, plungers, arrow heads, and blobs. Furry marbles on stems to flatties the size of dinner plates. They had streaks, splotches, and spots on their backs. They were bubbly and crunchy and ... alive.

No wonder you could hear them growing! They were poking up out of the black dirt, stuck to the walls and bookcases, twirling around stacks of carton boxes, hanging down from the ceiling attached to the spidery network of wires. Mushrooms. Everywhere.

``Are they poisonous?'' I asked.

Emma made a face. ``They're not toadstools. Mom sells `em.''

``I know,'' I said. ``My mom always buys some.''

``See. Now help me decide. Then we'll make the pie.''

I looked around. ``What about these mini-doorknobs?''

``Agaricus bisporus?'' Emma's face brightened. ``You're right, Poobie! I knew I could count on you. AB's grow in cereal. The next tastiest ... enokitake? No, probably the pleurotus. Yup, perfect. Help me pick some.''

She handed me a pair of gloves.

``How do you know what they're called?'' I wanted to know.

Emma laughed. ``Guess,'' she said.

I could. If your mom grew mushrooms in the basement....

It took us about five minutes to fill up a little wicker basket, and then the two of us headed upstairs - fast. Curious, I went right to the scribbled note:

make bd pie

w mushrooms

heavy cream

cold asparagus

dill pepper

yogurt fruit

``You're right, Emma,'' I said. ``But what's this little `w' mean? And how come there's a space between `make a pie' and all the rest?''

Emma shook her head. ``W'' is Mom's way of writing `with.' I'm not sure why there's a space, but she said to do what was on the note, and make a birthday pie's the only thing to do with the ingredients.''

``Oh,'' she continued, ``have you seen my sisters? We want the pie to be a surprise.''

``I saw them in their bathing suits out back.''

``Good,'' Emma said. ``Probably working on their tans.''

She emptied the basket of mushrooms into the sink and told me to wash them while she got out the rest of the things - a large metal pie tin and an electric blender.

``Put the mushrooms in the blender,'' Emma said. ``All except three big ones. We'll save those for decoration.''

I did as she said, then watched her add the rest: raspberry yogurt, orange slices, a brown banana, a whole container of cream, lemon juice, a pickle, horseradish, mustard, salt, and a spice called oregano.

``Emma,'' I said, ``it didn't say to add those things.''

She was scratching her chin.

``I know,'' she said, frowning. ``But except for the yogurt, I couldn't find the other stuff. There's no heavy cream, only light. Horseradish is sort of peppery. In place of dill I used a dill pickle. An orange and a banana were it for fruit. Oh, and the lemon. Forget asparagus, it's not there.''

``What about the mustard?'' I asked.

``Well,'' she said, ``I've seen people put mustard, salt, and oregano on mushrooms. Other spices, too. Only I forget which ones, so I added those for taste. Have a smell.''

She held the now-full blender under my nose. Mostly it smelled like that horseradish stuff I'd never eat and the lemon. You could smell the pickle, too.

Something told me we'd messed up. ``But didn't the note say....''

``Here goes,'' Emma said.

She switched on the blender and pushed buttons until it made a high-pitched whine, like a baby who wants to be fed. The mixture turned a brownish red, probably because of the raspberries.

Next, Emma poured the syrupy goop into the pie tin, filling it to the brim. She sliced what was left of the mushrooms and placed them on top in the shape of a `16,' her sisters' age-to-be. She covered the pie with some silvery foil, made space for it inside the freezer, and, careful not to spill, put it in.

``It'll be hard by tomorrow,'' she assured me.

I wasn't so sure.

Then, about to wash the blender in the sink, she stopped. ``Have a taste?'' she asked.

She could see I had my doubts. My face was a wrinkle.

``Be brave,'' she said. ``Cooks have to try.''

The two of us used our fingers to scoop out a liquidy glob. I took a deep breath and put a drop or two on my tongue, while Emma did the same. ``Yeetch!'' we both said at the same time. Together our mouths puckered.

The taste? Imagine eating the sweat from someone's gym shoes, lumpy dishwater, and wet cat food all rolled into one.


``Happy birthday, teenies,'' I said.

We both started laughing.

``But the note....'' Emma said, out of breath.

Where was it? There, on the floor. I picked it up - ``make bd pie w mushrooms'' - then by chance turned it over. ``Er ... Emma. Better look at this.''

She did. On the back of the note it said:

``Emma, clean your room. Don't forget to vacuum. Love, Mom.''

We gave each other a look good friends know.

``Invite me over when you cut the pie tomorrow,'' I said, just as the back door banged open and in came the sisters in their bathing suits.

``Hey, you two,'' one of them said. ``What's for lunch?''

Emma, with a big grin, said to me, ``Why wait till tomorrow?''

Then I headed for the freezer.

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