9.16.2009

Toadstools A Plenty







jamaica, vermont
On Sunday, after the wedding, we woke up in the Three Mountain Inn in Jamaica New York, an inn I picked not only for their plush featherbeds, but for its proximity to Jamaica State Park, one of Vermont’s finest. After breakfast, we took a little walk down to the park for some exercise before hitting the road for home, and within minutes inside the park, we found a path lined with plump, fresh mushrooms. Fat white ones with conical caps, brown speckled ones, and lots of LBMs {little brown mushrooms}.
Normally, one has to hunt for mushrooms. They must have a nose for these things, uncovering blankets of pine needles and rotting logs to discover their treasures. I couldn’t believe how easy this was!
But we had just begun our hike, so I left our loot behind as we hiked along the riverbed with a promise of plenty of fungi waiting for us on the way out. When we circled back, I found our stash and gave them a deeper look. I had never seen this variety on a plate before, but the fat stems and meaty caps promised something rare and scrumptious.
“We could make a fortune in this forest!” I announced. I bent down to take another look, and a local whizzed past on a bike.
“Don’t eat those!” she called out.
“See, I told you,” András said. “We can come back and pick when we know more. I’ll get you a little mushroom book for our anniversary.”
A mushroom book was not what I had in mind for our first anniversary, but I appreciated his appreciation for my interest in foraging.
“But, who knows when we’ll get back up here.” I said. “Let’s just take these, and we can get them examined by an expert. It’s not like they are purple or oozing poisonous puss!”
To my surprise and delight, András gave me the hat off his head to use as a basket. “You’re right. Let’s take a chance.”
We picked heaps of mushrooms, carried them back and drove straight to the Three Clock Inn to find Serge, who I knew from our conversation the night before to be an avid forager. We found him in the kitchen with young Francoise next to him, perched on the countertop, decapitating haricot vert.
I placed the hat full of mushrooms under his nose.
“Aha, excellent!” He exclaimed passionately through this thick moustache.
“Come, come, you must sit,” he said. He shooed us out of the kitchen and to the nearest table set for two out in the yard under a tree. A half an hour later, Serge presented us with a local trout topped with creamed mushrooms with a meaty flesh that gave between our eager teeth. This followed with sirloin and crispy roasted mushroom caps more woodsy than anything I’d experiences before. It was a magical little slice of life, an experience our curiosity had unearthed, rewarding us ten-fold. We ate like Louis XVI, proud and headless, before…
----
“Sarah, are you listening to me?” András said, snapping me out of my mushroom high. “I said, we can come back and pick when we know more. For now, let’s live another day.”
“Awe, you’re no fun,” I said. “You never let me take mushrooms from the woods!”
And that’s how it really happened. We didn’t pick those mushrooms.
We spoke to the local ranger who assured us that there were delicious mushrooms in these woods, along with hundreds of dangerous ones, but unfortunately, she couldn’t tell them apart.
On the way out, we munched on handfuls of sour-sweet green apples we found hanging off a wild trees. Then we drove ourselves to Manchester and ate ourselves silly on Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts and Stewarts insanely delicious Peanut Butter Pandemonium ice cream and Vermont Grafton Cheddar cheese. After our feast, we headed south, stopping at every farm stand in hopes of satisfying my agrarian urges.
Just past the Vermont border, we hit the town of Hoosick, NY where across from the local country deli, I spied a house hidden by overgrown shrubs and a sign on the barn behind it that read “Dog Ear Book Barn.”
The barn belongs to a crotchety gentleman who sat buried beneath hundreds of dusty rare and out-of-print books. He virtually ignored me while I made myself at home among cookbooks, children’s books, and storybooks, piling my arms with a first printing {1906} of Heroes Every Child Should Know, and the 1960’s cookbook Cooking with Love and Paprika. As the stack in my arms outgrew my budget, I tempted my wallet with one request.
“Do you happen to have any mushroom books?” I asked.
“Eh, I can’t hear a darn thing. Did you say Mushrooms?” The gentleman said. “I have hundreds upstairs, but down here I just have one.”
That one book, a 1970 copy of Blandford’s Mushrooms and Toadstools In Color appeared before me, a tiny 5 X 7 guide with the loveliest illustrations inside and out. I would have bought the book for the illustrations alone, especially considering its $3 pricetag, but what the illustrations told me were far more valuable. I flipped through, page by page, noting the hundreds of colors, textures and shapes, until I found them, on page 59 listed under, Lactarius Vellereus.
205 Lactarius Vellereus
cap 4- 8 in. across, convex at first, then depressed and funnel-shaped, downy-woolly, margin inrolled at first. Gillis distant, uniting to form a network, slightly decurrent. Stem white wooly, short, thick. Milk white, later reddish, taste burning sharp. Grows in beech-woods. August-November. Fairly common. Poisonous.
I suppose I learned quite a bit from this little experience, but mostly I learned that I loved old books, and that I may enjoy writing fiction. After all, the fictional version of this story was quite delicious.
P.S. I’m rather proud of my little $3 mushroom book, and I thought you might like to see it too, because it has such pretty little illustrations.


9 comments:

Holly said...

this story is so funny! What will your husband buy you for your anniversary now that you already have a mushroom book?

Meredith said...

I can just picture it! You guys are too cute and I'm glad that he was with you that day and didn't let you pick those mushrooms, yikes!

jennifer said...

oh, I can see myself doing this. We have berries on our bushes in our yards and the kids always want to pick and eat them. We actually did have to get a book too to see if they were poisonous and guess what, they weren't! So eat away kids....they aren't exactly like the mulberries on the tree when I was a kid but are sure fun to stick in your pockets on a sunny florida day!

Jackie said...

Sarah, it’s the dreamer in you that thinks you could charm a perfect stranger into turning your forest foraging into an alfresco lunch for two. But it’s the pragmatist in you who knows to scoop oozing custard from a baking pan, pile it back into the crust it came from, and call it quiche. I love you both.

JJPickford said...

The book looks so neat -- I want to frame those illustrations for my kitchen. Thanks for sharing good tips on woodsy finds and keeping us all from getting poisoned!

daniegil said...

I laughed out loud when your story snapped back to reality! I love your wild imagination. And actually I would have believed that part of the story if you hadn't told us it wasn't true. If it did happen that way though you might never have found that precious mushroom book!

Tara said...

In my fictional tale, my dear husband would love mushrooms like I do, and we'd sit and feast. Maybe if I took him directly to this beautiful source, he'd be swayed...

morgan said...

mmmmmmmmm.....I know that trail! it's right behind my old grammar school! There is great camping there too......oh happy memories......

Anonymous said...

this post literally made me laugh out loud. i felt like i was there with you in the woods! love it.

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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.