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It happens every year. After six blissful months during which I almost forget that I have sinuses, a little bit of blustery weather comes along and boom, it’s back – that persistently annoying if not terribly severe, stuffy-runny-nose common cold. It’s nothing to miss work over, certainly not swine flu, but is genuinely annoying nonetheless. And, in this day-and-age of in utero organ transplants and prescription drugs for gambling addictions, it seems a bit surprising to me that there’s still nothing doctors can do about catching a cold. That’s modern medicine for you! I’m guessing there’s more profit to be made keeping us “in colds” than keeping us healthy.
Back in Buff the other night, I was on the couch nursing my nose, cuddled up with the The Times and a box of tissues, when I came across an article on American Perigord truffles – the same genus and species as the insanely expensive and delicious French variety that some entrepreneurial Southerners are starting to grow right here at home. The tricky thing about cultivating truffles, of course, is that you can’t grow them, they have to be found; in this case, with the aid of some persistent little dogs with culinary inclinations. With truffles, you can plant the right sort of trees in the right climate at the right time of year, but after that, you just have to cross your fingers and wait.
It’s part of the magic of fungus (and I don’t mean that kind), and it’s a magic that truffles share with mushrooms of all stripes. Even today, while there certainly are big, industrial farms that produce white buttons and portobellos by the ton, lots of local, more interesting mushroom varieties are not so much grown as cultivated. And, even better, some fungi are actually foraged – dug up by scruffy men wearing Wellingtons and flannel, tramping through the underbrush (or so I like to imagine). Foraging may be the last remnant of the nearly vanquished hunter-gatherer impulse, and one whose existence I find comforting during these days of iPhone apps and over-the-counter drugs. I sorta like knowing there are some things we just can’t control, like growing truffles and curing the common cold.
Fortunately, what we can do is head down to our local farmers’ market and buy the mushrooms that others have gone out and harvested for us. I did exactly that this week at the Willimasville Mill Farmers’ Market, and while I’m yet to see any market selling $600/lb black truffles, I found bountiful bunches of other, cheaper ‘shrooms to pick from. You’ll have to wait ‘til spring for my favorites, honeycomb-shaped morels, but fall is primetime for loads of delicious mushroom varieties: wavy chanterelles, hen of the woods (or maitake, as they’re sometimes labeled) and big beautiful king oysters. I had a mini-foraging session of my own across all the different booths in Buff and headed home laden with fungi.
That night, my own little chanterelle harvest ended up pan-roasted with a drop of sherry, a dollop of butter, and a diced shallot, the perfect side for my roast chicken dinner with Mamma. It was a scrumptious meal, and one that made me grateful for the still-wild mysteries of the world. The rich umami goodness of the dish did more to perk me up than any over-the-counter meds ever have. And tomorrow I’ll use the bones to make chicken soup, a surefire remedy for the soul, if not the common cold. Now the only thing I need is an iPhone app that can wash the dishes.