The Sulcho is a full-flavoured, giant mushroom which grows well in moist, low-light conditions. It is a favorite of the Thergerim and is almost exclusively cultivated and traded by them.
Appearance. The average wild Sulcho is about a palm and a half long - 12 to 15 nailbreadths - which is already large for a mushroom, but the dwarven-cultivated Sulcho can range from a palm to nearly a fore long - almost the height of a man's knee! In shape they are stocky, with a heavy spreading base that tapers slowly till just under the gills. The cap is an irregular dome, almost an exact half-globe but not perfectly spherical.
Image description. A bunch of Sulcho Mushrooms growing in a dwarven mine shaft. Picture drawn by Faugar.
The entire mushroom is a pale ivory colour, with deeper salmon-pink gills fringing the underside of the cap, and the delicate spores it releases are a light peach. A faint suggestion of shagginess coats the stalk, but the cap is smooth and almost silky to the touch. An earthy, slightly musky smell hangs about the raw mushroom which is intensified in cooking. In texture the Sulcho is chewy but not stringy, rather like a very tender steak. Indeed, if spiced carefully and cooked with Togenael (Rootweep, the dwarven name for any member of the allium or onion family) it can simulate steak most effectively, with its meaty consistency and rich earthy flavour.
Territory. These mushrooms grow well in any moist climate with little or no sun, but the underground caves of the Thergerim seem to be their favorite habitat. Cultivated on beds of bat droppings and horse dung, or so it is bruited, under the unearthly light of the dwarven glowglobes, they reach their peak of size and flavour. One such mushroom makes a meal, with its wrist-thick stalk and cap the size of a half-melon.
The Low Fore mountain ranges, west of the Ancythrian Sea, in Southern Sarvonia are one well-known location of the Sulcho: they also flourish near the east coast of Santharia, in the rainshadow of the Mithral Mountains. Most tribes grow enough for internal consumption, but these two locations are prolific enough to export to the human market.
Usages. Completely comestible, the Sulcho is used in the preparation of a variety of dishes by a number of races. Humans like to chop and fry the mushroom, mixing it with other vegetables and serving as an accompaniment to meat, while some elves will soak it in a spice and onion-juice solution overnight before roasting it as a very convincing meat substitute. Dwarves will eat their 'shrooms any way, from raw to roasted, fried to stuffed, dried and powdered for a snack, or creamed into a delectable Sulcho Soup. For further information, see the Cookery section.
Being so delectable, it seems to need no further utility, but experimentation has discovered that the fungus does indeed have other qualities. Its inner structure, like most fungi, is spongy and absorbent; the Sulcho, however, has the unique quality of being able to draw out and filter impurities. (Perhaps this is one reason the Thergerim have no compunctions about growing it over horse dung...)
If a large mushroom is sliced across the stalk about a nail's breadth apart, just under the gills, a thick cross-section can be removed. The section can then be laid over a boil or other pustulent infection of the skin, and will draw the impurities and festering matter out into itself. The section should be changed frequently, and the used pieces immediately burnt. The Sulcho is not disinfectant in nature, though, and so care must be taken that the mushroom is externally clean and no disease-causing organisms are transfered from the outside skin to the inner surface on the blade of the knife, for example.
And last, the Sulcho can be dried, as noted above, shrinking by about two-thirds and becoming resilient but woody. In this state it can be carved or worked, as human artisans have discovered, and used as a novelty item. However, care must be taken that the resultant sculpture is exposed neither to flame nor to moisture, as in the first case it will burn as easily as wood, and in the second will immediately rehydrate and start decaying.
Reproduction. The Sulcho at reaching mature size should be harvested within the week, or it moves into the reproductive stage of its life cycle. The stem begins to dry and shrivel, while the cap takes on a crusty appearance, and the gills become darker, swelling and opening to release clouds of pinkish spores. These spores can cause allergic reactions in many races, so the Thergerim usually set 'sporing beds' apart with sealed canvas sacks, gummed on the interior with plant saps and resins, over the individual mushrooms which are becoming dry. They can collect the released spores in safety (particularly important in an underground environment) and after cleaning out the bed and refreshing the organic growth medium, they slit the sacks from end to end, open them flat, and lay them with the inside down against the bed, thus both protecting their lungs and giving the spores a warm dark environment to take seed in.
Myth/Lore. The practical and devout dwarves claim that the Sulcho was, like most things in their lives, a gift from TolBarol (Urtengor), their smith deity. More liberal Thergerim, who at least are willing to admit the possible existence of other gods, say that Jeyriall, Mistress of the Earth's Bounty, owed TolBarol a favour in the beginning times. She wanted, they claim, a Cup that she might carry as she walked the earth, out of which she might pour her gifts to the sentient races. So TolBarol stroked his mighty beard and looked at her with a glint in his eye. "Make me," said he, "oh lovely one, some food for my people, who live out of Injèrá's glowing face. Make me a foodstuff that will grow and feed them in their caves, that they may eat and bless me, and I will make thee thy Cup."
Jeyriall agreed, but knowing that she would receive no praise from the Thergerim, who worship TolBarol alone, expended no great effort on the appearance of the plant, molding it out of a lump of white clay she had to hand. Two simple shapes, like a child's drawing, a long cone topped with a half-sphere, she made, and sang a spark of life into it. She gave it rich flavour, and health-bringing qualities, and even scent, so that TolBarol could not complain of his bargain.
She brought it to him, and he showed her the Cup he had forged her; a lovely deep-throated goblet set with starry gems, double-handled and amply curved as her hips. He laid it before her, a smile rolling behind his beard.
Then quickly behind her back, feeling perhaps a twinge of guilt in her goddess's spacious heart, Jeyriall drew her nails along the underside of the Sulcho, stroking deep flutings and grooves of flesh, like the hidden folds of a girl's petticoats - humble beauty made out of her divine fingers. She held it up and lifted it to her lips, kissing it that it might flourish and grow for the sheer love of her, a last quick gift.
And so it was that the Sulcho Mushroom came to the Thergerim - made for them out of love, or given in a godly duty - you may choose which story to believe, if any. For me, I think it was a bit of both, and perhaps the Sulcho was not the only one to receive a kiss that day of creation. But I will eat and enjoy it without further ado, and so should you!
Information provided by Bard Judith