What do you think of when I say mushroom? Do you think of fresh chanterelles sautéed in garlic herb butter, served warm over toasted brioche? Maybe you think of Carl, the mushroom man who purveys his gorgeous shitakes at our local farmers markets. Or, perhaps you aren’t a mushroom lover at all, and you think of having to pick mushrooms out of many dishes. However, when I say mushroom, I think of one of the greatest culinary influences I have ever known, and am overwhelmed with memories. Let me explain.
I was fresh out of college and spending my second season in Wyoming working on a dude ranch. My best friend and other girls my age were cleaning cabins, while the boys were pretending to be cowboys. I, however, was having the time of my life in my first professional kitchen. I will pause here and say that this is another blog for another time, but let’s summarize by saying my experience in the Moose Head kitchen taught me as much as any fine culinary school education ever would have. My mentor, kitchen boss, and friend, was a chef named Steve. In the off season Steve travelled the culinary extremes of the world, and he loved to share what he had learned. One day Steve asked if I would like to go out to harvest wild morel mushrooms. I am the adventurous type (so I’ve been told), and I immediately thought it sounded like fun and literally dug right in. I can still picture picking that first morel, covered in spongy holes and smelling as musty as the Aspen forest floor growing by the Snake River. I can remember the thrill of preparing them in a decadent sauce to be served with lamb, just to us first, just in case the nearly identical and toxic twin had been chosen instead. From harvesting to preparing them it is a special memory, and one I will never forget.
Recently I was reminded of this experience day after day as I grew my own Oyster mushrooms. I was sent a mushroom farm, the cute kind in a box that you grow in your home, perched in a windowsill for the family to enjoy. I was thrilled! I was a little skeptical that it could produce the same gorgeous oyster mushrooms as pictured in just 10 days, but it really did. Whole Foods sells this kit, made by Back to the Roots, and it was so much fun I wish I had bought them for everyone for Christmas gifts. Simply sautéed for a salad or omelette, this type of horticulture is made for all! It would make a fabulous Valentine’s Day gift for the foodie in your life, hint hint!
So here I am now, a mere twenty years later in my Southern kitchen instead of Western kitchens, growing mushrooms in a windowsill, and I couldn’t be happier with the paths my life has taken. There are days when I close my eyes and imagine I am still out West, more than anyone can imagine. But when I open my eyes, really open my eyes to all the greatness around me, all is good. Sometimes the little things, the little memories, can simply mean so much.
Enjoy the best of food and life, and sweet memories.
Listed below are some links to Whole Foods recipes I thought sounded enticing to try using mushrooms….
Pasta with Mushrooms, Spinach and Mt. Tam Cheese
Mushroom, Chard and Caramelized Onion Tacos