Photo by William Morgan
The farmers market in downtown Bath, Maine, along the shore of the Kennebec River, is small. Yet the seafood, organic vegetables, and exotic plants found there are not ordinary fare. Mushrooms, for example, include a range of culinary and herbal varieties, from the Sicilian Nebrodini to the basic gourmet Shiitake.
We New Englanders tend to take such agricultural richness for granted. But, as with beer, it was not so long ago that mushrooms came in cans and lacked flavor. Cream of mushroom soup was a somewhat daring sauce at home when I was kid. Food has become international — Hen of the Woods mushrooms are known as Maitake in Japan and as Signorina in Boston’s North End. A display of mushrooms like this implies a clientele of committed locavores and serious cooks.
There is nothing more serious than hunters of wild mushrooms. The Finns are tremendous connoisseurs of these fungi, but tend to be very protective of their hunting grounds. A friend’s mother had a secret mushroom patch in the woods near her summer place in Finland’s Åland Islands. On her death bed, my friend asked her mom where she harvested her morels. The location went to the grave, unrevealed.
William Morgan is a contributing editor to Design New England magazine, and has most recently written “Maine Event.”