My darling muse Jody asked me this morning during our daily forage through the woods whether I preferred a wife with mushroom or bedroom eyes? My simple answer is why did I have to choose… after all, the wood nymph has two eyes. How about each!
There may be drought in the great Midwest and food prices may well rise, but here in eastern West Virginia just on the other side of the Great North Mountain which forms the western ridge of the Shenandoah Valley, we have been blessed with glorious rainfall this summer.
And with rain coming down, the mushrooms are popping up!
This past week we have picked over 10 lbs of the most beautiful and tasty Chanterelles your mouth will ever water over. Our three dogs — Hank, Abbie, and Milo — come along but arenʼt worth much at snifﬁng out the fungi. Trufﬂe pigs theyʼre not.
But Jody has the skill, those mushroom eyes, that zero in on the yellow to orange daylilly-like Chanterelles that can be partially covered with leaves and branches and the stuff that duff is made of.
When theyʼre out in plain sight and can be seen from a distance, these Lorelei of the woods beckon you to come join them ever deeper in the forest. We are careful what we pick, though — Morels in the Spring and Chanterelles and Leatherbacks in the Summer. There are also Coral and Hen of the Woods, but we donʼt find them all that flavorful.
As the old song says about certain things, “You can look, but you better not touch.” Or, as with the case of mushrooms, eat. Too many stories of people convulsing after eating the “evil twin” of what they thought was going to be a treat.
But not to be scared. Thereʼs something mysterious and alluring about mushrooming,especially if you do your homework and are fortunate to have had a good mentor. They just come in so many shapes, colors and conﬁgurations that you are often calling to one another to come see the unusual one youʼve just found. Earlier this morning we ran across a large white one with a shiny black top as though it had just been sprayed with a high gloss ebony paint.
Despite lots of stories where they grow best, we see no real discernible pattern. We ﬁnd them along the road in the grass in full sunshine, deep in the shade of the woods, in fern patches, along rotted logs, at the base of Poplar as well as White Oak trees, and cascaded along slopes in a wide pattern as though fairies had sprinkled their magic dust. Most important, though, is that they need heat and moisture.
They are jolly fellows and are gregarious and seldom found sulking by themselves.
You just have to keep those mushroom eyes open and focused.
Once home, we use a pastry brush to wipe off the good earth that clings as well as the various crawly things that also ﬁnd them delicious. After dabbing with a wet paper towel, they get chopped and then sauteed. With a row of ramekins nearby that are cradling the cooked mushrooms, green peppers, and onions,two large brown eggs whipped with a bit of milk go sizzling into the skillet. Before you know it, the omelet is about ready to have the ʻshrooms and other goodies folded into it. A dash of grated cheese and a quick turn of the omelet and a slippery slide onto the awaiting plate. An epiphany! Good as this breakfast was, heaven was yet to come. Later in the day Jody prepared a quiche tart with caramelized onions at the base, a strata of chard from the garden, topped with meaty slices of Chanterelles, all bathed in Gruyere cheese.
As I recently read in The Talk of the Town section of the New Yorker, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert recounted what her great grandmother, the equally acclaimed writer and foodie Margaret Yardley Potter, said after polishing off an especially delicious meal in 1918:
“The ﬁrst mouthful left dull, run-of-the-mill food without appeal forever, and I learned then never to scorn an odd-appearing dish.”
So food prices may rise later this year and the selection dwindle in variety, but meanwhile deep in the wilds of West Virginia we are not going hungry. We are nearly 50 miles from any good sized town, but we are thankful and grateful for the lifestyle we have chosen.
Not for everyone, we know, especially those who sometimes condescendingly say it is “nice” to visit our remote patch of earth but they couldnʼt live here full time because their lives would be empty without the pleasures of “civilization.” We just smile as they leave for home, feeling a bit sorry that they have to return to some vanilla housingdevelopment that resembles thousands of others across the country for the sake of a nearby Starbucks or some upscale grocery store where you can buy old dried Chanterelles for $25 a pound.
Itʼs a tough life here, but someone has to live it.
After our quiche meal, it was satisfying to reread Billy Collinsʼ sensuous poem entitled Osso Bucco in which these great lines appear:
“I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach-
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
you know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.
But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance…”
Now back to whether itʼs mushroom or bedroom eyes…