Hello, jars of dried leaves. Hello, pickled stonecrop. Hello there, you acorns and hickory nuts that mom mailed from the east coast, you vodka concoctions flavored with every which wild thing. Hello, jars of sliced, dried mushrooms.
It’s been a long time—eight months exactly—since I paused in the pantry long enough to consider the wild and wonderful bounty therein. Instead, I’ve been off in the real world, making a go at a professional writing career.
But two mornings ago, on the first day of my newfound liberation (read: I quit), I found my way there and stood and stared awhile before sojourning to the computer to see what’s been going on over on the other side of the internet where my dear friend Butterpoweredbike maintains her foraging weblog, Hunger & Thirst for Life, and reading her own account of pantry pondering.
“I have some rituals that keep me content during the off-season, when conditions make it nearly impossible to forage. Most days begin standing at the east window, huddled around a steaming cup of nettle tea, while the candied dawn stretches and yawns over the horizon. Next, I shuffle my woolly slippers into the pantry in search of breakfast. Part food storage area, part temple to the growing season past, its shelves are packed with tins of herbs, and jars of pickles and preserves. There is something deeply satisfying about standing in the doorway and scanning the shelves. My preserves aren’t just aesthetically pleasing, they’re a treat to the ancient part of my brain that loves knowing I can feed myself. Also, there are memories stored inside the cell walls of those plants.”
A “word painter,” commented Becki and I agree, bewitched by this and by the recipe for porcini mushroom soy sauce—where the mushies are covered in hot soy sauce and left to steep for 2-3 weeks—that follows. Butter knows I am a sucker for soy-kissed wild food.
Never mind that my tiny porcini (Boletus edulis) bounty is but a fraction of one jar of dried, worm-holed pieces compared to Butter’s gallons. It’s enough.
I collected this batch two years ago, lamenting all the worms that came housed therein until wild food chef Hank Shaw told me to slice and set them to dry and the wormies would just make their exit. This I did, and they did, leaving me with the much-perforated pieces that lived until two days ago in the aforementioned pantry.
I was in a happy rush to play with my plants so I started with Butter’s idea but ended with this version that can be turned around in the same day, and is no longer soy sauce but more of a mushroom sauce with soy in it.
Mushroom sauce #1:
Soy porcini & garlic
To replicate: Powder dried porcini in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and pour into a saucepan. Cover with an equal amount of hot soy sauce and mix into a thick paste. Add dry, powdered (in this case wild Allium) garlic or green onion. Thin with hot water to desired consistency and simmer over low heat for at least a half hour, adding more water as needed. (Note: I didn’t taste the sauce until it had simmered a while, heeding the advice that all wild mushrooms should be thoroughly cooked.) It came out rich and addictive, all flavors fairly represented. Divinity in a pan, I tell you. And this after many failed mushroom sauces of yore.
My manic mushroom experiment happened around 8 a.m. the day after I left my job. I’m zooming around the apartment like a mad woman, concocting things, taking pictures, typing stuff into the computer, chattering my head off while Gregg’s trying to read—but instead of getting mad he looks at me knowingly and says, “I love it when you’re writing your own stuff. You have a different rhythm on your keyboard and a different look on your face and everything.”
Okay, Mr. Perceptive. Just don’t say “I told you so.”
Zucchini omelet with mushroom sauce
To satisfy the immediacy of my need we tried the porcini soy and garlic mushroom sauce first with an omelet. To replicate: Cube zucchini and sauté the chunks until slightly soft, then drizzle mushroom sauce on top and stir to coat, cooking until the zucchini is all but candied. In a bowl, toss a few eggs with a splash of milk and chunks of cheddar cheese, then pour the eggy mixture on top of the zucchini, cook gently and flip into an omelet. Serve with thin strips of cheddar and the flavorful mushroom sauce on top.
Gregg dove into his breakfast and came up incredulous. He said it was quite possibly the best omelet he’s ever had, then happily reminisced about the taste of two summers prior—and also how nice it is to have me back in the kitchen again.
Breaded chicken with mushroom sauce
Last night we went to the Backstage Theatre here locally to see “Out of Order,” which turned out to be a deliciously bawdy show. But first, we made a special dinner of breaded chicken—boneless breasts, dipped first in tossed eggs and then (salted and peppered) breadcrumbs made from food-processed, leftover bread and baked at 375 for like 40 minutes—with the mushroom sauce on top.
This, too, turned out to be the best meal Gregg has ever had. And despite being full, I could not hold myself back from eating a second piece.
Hear that? It’s the sound of me sighing a big, happy sigh. I’m home.