Friday, January 1, 2010

The Other Celia

 The January wind is shudderingly cold and the ground is hard as steel. Walking to a frozen pond with our skates over our shoulders, my wife and I muse about the resilience of life-forms other than human: were we to spend the night naked on this earth, we’d be dead before sunrise, and no amount of spring thaw would regenerate us.

Things are different with plants and fungi. Many plants die, its true, but trees drop their sap and stand tall, springing back to green-ness after winters so hard their branches freeze and pop. Fungi may appear to have died, but all those beautiful mushrooms decorating the forest in September were but the fruits of fungi. The body of the thing – mycelia – twist and twine in microscopic plentitude, filling soil and rotting wood with countless kilometers. Winter kills them not.

Mycelia occupy terrain that freezes solid. But within a few months – 4.6215 months, more or less, but who is counting? – dirt and trees are frost-free, and the first fruitings occur as if ice had never plagued the land.

Thus are the thoughts of fungal-philes occupied: counting the days until the first harvest. Which, for those of us living in the Northeastern US, means morels.

But my intent today is not to write another homily to Morchella esculanta. Rather, it’s to describe my third big project for 2010: a mushroom cookbook.

The New York Mycological Society (NYMS), of which I’m a member, has approved my authoring a cookbook in the NYMS’ name. What I’ll be doing is collecting recipes and mushrooming stories from our wonderfully talented members, then adding some of my own and creating a cookbook.

Sounds simple, right? Ha. I’m a few weeks into the project and I can testify it’s not. It’s real work.

But what, you might wonder, does a mushroom cookbook have to do with sourdough bread?


If it wasn’t for fungi, bread as we know it would not exist. Those yeastie-beasties we count on – they’re fungi. If you’re a bread lover you are therefore a fungi lover.

There’s more.

I’m interested in fungi because …. Well, I’m not altogether sure why. I think they’re plain damned interesting. The fact that they taste great is a bonus. Writing about them as food gives me a chance to glorify them. Just like writing about non-gluten grains and the great things we breadmakers can do with them glorifies that process too.

Lastly, I’m into sharing. Food, whether fungal or grain-based, is good. I want to share what I know about it, what others know about it, how we create and find and enjoy it. The distance between this blog and a cookbook is actually microscopic.

As 2010 advances I’ll post my progress on all three project fronts. In the meantime, I have my midwinter vacation to enjoy. Last night, Leslie and I arrived in Alamogordo New Mexico for a visit to White Sands National Monument and the surrounding area, which for us is terra incognito. Tomorrow you’ll find some photos here.

‘Til then, Peace.

Today’s tip

An instant-read thermometer is another key to perfect bread. Loaves that reach 195 degrees interior temperature are too moist for immediate consumption but slow-staling and excellent after 2 days, while those that are just 5 degrees hotter are perfect for the moment and less-than-perfect tomorrow. A good thermometer should cost less than $30. And, if you’re a ‘shroomer, you can use it to measure soil temperature too. (Morels crop at about 57 F) 

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