Sunday, June 17

A Fungi in the Kitchen

“Mushrooms are like men- the bad most closely counterfeit the good.” Gavarni

Jaunty cap rakishly off center, pungent otherworldly odor, single minded stalk rising from the depths of Hades- mushrooms captivate. Whether conjuring up childhood fantasies tucked within the bewitching illustrations of Arthur Rackham’s dreamscape, stumbling upon a few sleeping beauties cozy against the forest floor, or dining on buttery Beef Wellington swaddled in a Duxelles blanket of luxury, mushrooms offer winsome charm as well as dark humor*, elegant rusticity, and knowing wisdom gained through mutuality.

My appreciation for fleshy spore-producing fungi stemmed from my yonder years combing through a thin stand of trees which ribboned past my backyard demarcating home and allegiance, propriety and things feral, suburbia saddled against the great unknown. This forested strip provided nutritive fodder for another education and wandering imagination. Polypores, puff balls, and clustered honey hued specimens proliferated from shadowy dank corners, proof of a well maintained ecosystem, invisible handshakes deep into the night.

Yet like pictures of partially unraveled mummies in Britannica or the unexpected discovery of a writhing silk bag of tent worms, fungi both fascinated and repelled me. No small part due to the company they kept: pill bug infested logs, rotting leaves, nefarious trolls and poison tongued frogs. Hesitantly I poked at live spongy flesh which exuded the natural damp glow of perspiration. They looked rather like disembodied parts, cherubic cheeks and bottoms or perhaps cartilaginous ears dead and partially buried. Earthy, rank, feeding off the dead, mushrooms-of-the-forest looked nothing like the pristine white buttons slivered upon my Gino & Joe’s pizza and at the end of the day I was divided.

But this strip was a liminal space where the natural world amplified and sang its marvelous tune. In the end, that which was remarkable, extraordinary and beautiful began to show itself in every face, angle and turn. The concentric rings of shelf fungus mimicked the strong interiority of a slow growing tree. Razor thin gills, soft as down feathers radiated its graceful symmetry, under carriage to an umbrella perfect for tiny woodland characters. Perhaps most importantly, fungus helped me to look more unflinchingly at death, as another phase in the cycle of life to be transformed and ritualistically fed to the next in line.

The forest was my first playground and the fungi world reigned supreme with its diminutive but powerful stature. All that was hinted at only became more evident as an adult ready to appreciate its many uses. Otzi the Iceman (circa 3300 B.C.) was discovered with two species of polypores on his body presumably to use medicinally and to make fire. Scientists are now confirming what ancient cultures knew about the health benefits of mushrooms like Reishi, Cordycep, and Maitake. Certain mushrooms have also been used in religious and ecstatic rites because of their abilities to induce a hallucinogenic state. Think of the potently cheery Amanita muscaria which has been burned into our consciousness through fairy tales and legends. Yet again we can also turn to the transformative magic of yeast and mold mixed in with foods to create breads, brews, cheeses and pickles. Not to mention the sensuous enjoyment of truffles, chantrelles, shitakes and even the common button mushroom. More recently with the help of visionaries like mycologist Paul Stamets we can learn from our fungi friends about their impact upon our ecosystems in the relatively new fields of mycofiltration or mycoforestry.

These handsome fellows are symbiotic creatures whose survival skills depend upon exchange and communication with the environment. Like good boy scouts they leave the place better than they came- which is something that is becoming more urgent for us to learn. Not just fun or exquisite to look at, these guys have depth and diversity (mycelium spread far and wide) and embody an earthy sensuality. For me eating mushrooms is a bit like a sacrament, food for the gods but one still bound to the ground. Like the persimmon which Persephone ate upon entering the underworld which kept her tethered for all of eternity, fungi keep us intimately wedded to all of the cycles and spheres of life. And that is good enough reason to appreciate a fungi in the kitchen from time to time.

Seven Generation Salad: This is my submission to Lis and Kelly's Salad-Stravaganza. I heartily stand behind anyone’s desire to improve their health, win back vitality and gain some killer legs to boot. Good foods are both healing and soulful at the same time. Appropriately this salad includes shitake mushrooms which are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and help to improve cholesterol, blood sugar, and stress levels. On the macrocosm, fungi can assist in creating good health in the body and blood of our planet.

Baby watercress, butter lettuce, torn radicchio cleaned and dried
Paul & Dusty’s Killer Shitake Recipe (below)
Roasted Poblano Chili, cut into strips
Crumbles of goat cheese
Toasted Hazlenuts
Virginia's Dressing (below)

Directions: Place a full pile of greens in a pretty bowl. Lightly toss a few tablespoons of Virginia's Dressing onto the greens to dress. Use a delicate hand; do not over saturate the lettuce as there are plenty of flavors in the salad. Assemble the remaining ingredients on top and enjoy.

Paul & Dusty’s Killer Shiitake Recipe:This is an adaptation of a recipe off of Paul Stamet’s website. I have fussed and played around with this recipe and have determined it is unbelievably good with almost any variation in proportion. Just make sure to use shitakes.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
4 Tbsp. tamari/ Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 Tbsp apple cider or 1 tsp. mirin
1 clove of crushed garlic
Pinch of fresh black pepper
Big handful of shitake, cleaned and de-stemmed

Directions: Shake all ingredients in a jar and pour over whole Shitake mushroom caps, gill side up. Mushrooms should look well oiled. Mix around and put on a baking sheet to bake at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes or until roasted with lightly charred edges. Alternately you can grill these. Set aside a few to throw into the Seven Generations Salad above.

Virginia’s Dressing: This is a light basic dressing, as lovely as the lady who shared it with me.
½ C neutral oil like grapeseed
¼ C rice vinegar
Tablespoon tamari
Tablespoon of maple syrup (or more to taste)
1-3 clove crushed garlic (to taste)

Directions: Shake all ingredients in a jar. Use a few tablespoons for the salad above. Refrigerate the rest for another time.

*Please be careful if foraging for wild mushrooms, be sure to go with someone knowledgable!


Anonymous said...

Ahhh...wonderful stuff. You're writing makes em' pop into my conciousness like the first fall freshet.

Mushroom rambles are such a fine and rare opportunity for the hunter within to enjoy a cadenced, if intermittent and somewhat competetive, conversation with other foragers and not worry about scaring one's intended prey away.

We've an even dozen locally that I like to get after. Perhaps the most intriguing is the Candy Cap. Do you know it from your time here on the West Coast? Baked into candies, or merely dry sauteed, they have the interesting characteristic of infusing all bodily effluvium and exudate with an intensely maple-syrup odor. The more you sweat the more candied you become.

Anh said...

A lovely post... I love mushrooms, and your post shows great appreciation for them!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Your post makes me want to learn more about the mushrooms that grow in my woods. I've always been afraid to harvest them, though I know not all are poisonous. Time to get a mushroom book or, even better, an expert forager to show me what's what.

Callipygia said...

Blatta- I am so intrigued, no I never heard of the Candy Cap but will research them. Have you ever seen the work of Taylor Lockwood?

anh- I know they are glorious to eat and look at.

Lydia- Thanks for reminding me, I wanted to put a cautionary note about harvesting wild mushrooms. Paul Stamet's site has a number of exotic mushroom kits, some indoor- but I think he has a bunch of interesting varieties to innoculate around your garden!

sher said...

Applause! Applause! What a post! I felt I was in the woods, dirt under my fingernails, insects crawling up my arms. That must have been a fabulous salad. (I also had fungi tonight--with poblanos.) :):)

Lis said...

Have I told you lately how much I love you? =)

You've definitely found your groove again.. this was a fabulous post - one of your best! You put me in the middle of a forest, complete with sun dappled leaves and moss covered ground.. you also made me realize how much I did not know about mushrooms and how interested I am in learning more!

And last but not least.. you've made me crave a roasted mushroom topped salad.. you rock, my friend.. you rock. =)

Thank you so much!

Callipygia said...

Sher- We were definitely on the same wavelength with the mushroom/poblano combo. Sometimes you just gotta let the dirt under the fingernails collect!

Lis- Ah, thank you (beam)! I think the salad-stravaganza is a great idea. It is easy to get in the same rut with salad and I look forward to seeing other creative inventions!

Vivian Mahoney said...

The Seven Generation Salad sounds really, really good. This is such a beautifully poetic post. Thank you!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Thanks! This is a fantastic post, rooted in, well, everything.

I'm always looking for a new reason to put mushrooms in a salad as it seems not many folks like them there - only because they've not had them the right way.

Gotta go tend my fungus, as now I want bread tomorrow. With porcinis and olives that is......

Unknown said...

I love mushrooms (and Arthur Rackham!) this sounds like a perfect salad.

Callipygia said...

hipwritermama- The salad is a good basic recipe, it is hard not to add a ton of other things in it as well.

monkeywrangler-you are certainly also a fungi-wrangler too.

laura- Rackham takes us to another place!