The drizzly rain softened the layers of fallen leaves, making the ground feel spongy and hollow. My chilly red nose was filled with the clean, refreshing smell of rich black earth. Tromping around in the woods was high adventure. This day, we were looking for mushrooms around our New England homestead. We were not disappointed.
High on the side of a sugar maple tree clung several large shell-shaped mushrooms. They looked like stair steps, perfect for a squirrel to use...if a squirrel needed steps. We pulled them down and examined them. One side was woody feeling and the other was soft. Mom showed me how to take a sharp twig and press it into the soft side to draw on it. We stood around making marks on the mushrooms until there was no drawing space left on them. These were not edible mushrooms, of course. I took some home to draw on later.
Further into our wooded walk we came upon a frilly log. It appeared frilly because it was covered with bright orange mushrooms.
These were called chicken mushrooms.
Now, adults often think it is funny to tease a child with lies, so I was reluctant to believe this mushroom was really called a chicken mushroom. Mom assured me it was so, and she always respectfully never teased. We put them in a sack and continued to explore.
Our final harvest was a mushroom that grew on another fallen mossy log. It was white and not as frilly as the chicken mushroom. It was an oyster mushroom.
On the way back from the walk I hadn't made my mind up to actually eat our harvest. This was like no other food I had ever eaten, or even seen. But mom knew me, and injected enthusiasm and adventure in the prospect of trying something new. I was primed and ready by the time we reached home.
We took our sack of chickens and oysters back to the farmhouse and spread them out on the enamel tabletop. A little time was spent brushing the mushrooms clean of rotted wood and slicing them to a uniform cooking size.
I loved helping to build the fires in the cast iron cook stove. It was a monster black beauty that heated quickly, but needed plenty of attention. There is a real art to cooking on one of these. We tossed the mushrooms in a hot black and buttered skillet where they sizzled and softened in no time.
If these mushrooms had not tasted better than anything I had eaten by the ripe old age of four, maybe I would have forgotten this experience. But they were delicious beyond description. I couldn't wait to go mushroom hunting again.
Sometimes I feel I should end every entry I make about our homesteading experience with three words..."Thank you, Mom."