Food Nerd for Aug 17-23, 2006

Fun-gal Andreae Prozesky meets fun-gi.


There is a big paper bag of wild mushrooms on my kitchen table. Chanterelles, picked by my friend Rob. Free, local, wild food: totally my kind of thing. Except that they’re mushrooms. And I have problems with mushrooms.

One warm, wet autumn day, when I was about two years old, my mother took me out to the back yard for some good, wholesome romping. However, rather than skipping out onto the grass like a normal child, I took one look into the yard and started screaming as though I might die.

There were mushrooms!

Mushrooms had, well, mushroomed, in my back yard overnight. They had not been there before. Yesterday there was green lawn, a few coloured leaves. Today, great bulbous yellow-white blotches had insinuated themselves into my world. Where had they come from? What were they doing? What did it all mean? Under the cover of darkness they had invaded, with an unearthly kind of silence. They were creepy. They were the undead.

I decided then that mushrooms and I were not going to be friends. Ever.

And because of this, I was probably seventeen before I went anywhere near a mushroom. Of any kind. Even your standard, white, grocery-store variety creeped me right out. I spent my childhood diligently picking beige, tinned mushroom pieces off of pizza. Then, as a teenager I moved in with my father, and he likes mushrooms. In salads. Raw, ghostly white, squeaky-under-the-paring-knife mushrooms. There I am making supper, slicing button mushrooms into salads and all I can think is that these mushrooms must have exactly the same texture as zombie flesh. Were one to be thinly slicing a hunk of zombie to put atop your iceberg lettuce and mealy winter tomatoes.

Then came university. One of my first (and best) room-mates was my dear friend Anna, who loves mushrooms like mad. She attributes it to being Polish. The Polish do love mushrooms. Mysterious, foreign-language-imprinted jars of vinegar-packed mushrooms would appear, and disappear, in our refrigerator. I tried not to be horrified. At the same time, I discovered Montreal’s Chinatown, and did my best to develop a love for musky dried shitakes. I would soak them and slice them and make some kind of delicious soup or noodle dish, and then pick them all out and load them onto the edge of someone else’s plate with my chopsticks.

Over the years I have learned to eat mushrooms, and cook with them, sure. But I just can’t love them.

My friend Marie makes these portobellos fried in butter with red peppers and they’re really good. But they’re still a little creepy and weird.

Then again, my mushroom experiences have been creepy and weird. Consider these run-ins with the mushroom world:

1998, Montreal: my black-and-white kitchen floor sustains nasty water damage, and mushrooms sprout forth, peeling back the tiles. Since our landlord lives in Portugal, it was up to me to vanquish the monsters, and I try (using a MacGyverish combination of bleach, a hair dryer, and a screwdriver) but fail. The floor has to be taken up.

2003, Yellowknife: mushrooms start growing out of an old chair that I have been using to hold the water canisters in my little pink shack.

2006, St. John’s: having relayed all this to a friend who said that my fear of mushrooms was the most hilarious thing he has heard in ages, I go home to find that fluorescent yellow mushrooms have begun to grow in the soil around my favourite houseplant.

The universe is trying to tell me something. What? I don’t know. But it’s trying.

So when my friend Rob asks me if I want a big bag of chanterelles that he’s picked, I say yes, of course. I know the value of a bag of chanterelles. I have cookbooks with many pages of recipes for wild mushrooms. It is time to face my issues once and for all. I will eat the chanterelles. I will enjoy them. 

– Andreae Prozesky

Liquid Courage Mushroom Chowder

2T butter
1/2 cup onion
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 cup chopped chantarelle mushrooms
¼ cup Irish whiskey
1 russet potato, chopped
1 T unbleached white flour
1 cup vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 cup milk
Sea salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until they begin to soften. Add garlic and chanterelles. Sauté another 5 mins, until onions are translucent. Add the whiskey and cook, stirring, until liquid has reduced by about 1/3. Add potato and stir. Sprinkle on the flour and stir again. Add stock and bay leaf. Cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potato is cooked through – about 20 mins. Add milk and heat on low, stirring occasionally for 10 mins. Add salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf. Serves 2. 

3 comments

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  1. rachel · February 27, 2008

    is that a hooka smoking span worm?!

    is genius spelled g e n i u s?

    either way, my gosh!

  2. The Scope · February 27, 2008

    It’s actually an old illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. John Tenniel drew the most famous ones…