The weather predictors told us early on that we were going to have a dry winter. They may yet be proved right, but in the meantime, we are relishing the flush of seasonal mushrooms that has sprung up in the wake of the rains that graced us at the beginning of the month. Some fungi, like crimini and oyster mushrooms, can be grown in, or "under" cultivation, but others have always defied domestication. Chanterelles and boletes, for instance, are some of the most esteemed edible mushrooms, but they have resisted all attempts at cultivation. Their refusal to be tamed, their biological insistence on existing only in relation to the root systems of complex ecosystems, is both mysterious and inspiring. They know what they need in order to reproduce and thrive, and will not settle for the pale facsimile of interconnection that modern agriculture has offered. This stubborn insistence of theirs can be seen as a kind of invitation, to look closer at what constitutes wholeness. We may never be able to artificially replicate the conditions that these fungi need to sustain themselves. What does that mean for our understanding of ecosystems? Does it change how we value "wild"or "unused"spaces? It's something to think about, certainly, in this season of eclipse and reflection.
The mushrooms that we eat are harvested from a complex web of relations that exist, largely invisibly, beneath the surface of the soil, or within the darkness of a rotting log. The mushroom is only the fruit from this intricately branching tree; a mushroom is the apple, as it were, and not the entire woody tree itself. The mushroom, like a flower, is a fruiting body, a fleshy, blossoming, transitory creation, designed only to reproduce and then to fade, to be eaten or to decay back into the substrate from whence it sprang. We intercept, and sometimes even aid this spore dispersal mechanism, when we harvest wild mushrooms, transporting them (as we carry them home from whatever wild area we have harvested them in) from their environment of origin into other areas which they might be able to colonize.
It goes without saying, of course, that harvesting wild mushrooms is only to be undertaken by those who have "done the work" to educate themselves. What is poison and what is sustenance, and how to tell the difference. Luckily, this information is readily available, in books written by local foragers and scientists. (Consider this a book recommendation for Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast, by Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz.) For those who are daunted, constrained by time or access to wild spaces, there is a thriving network of local foragers who sell to grocery stores in our area; keep your eyes peeled for imminent harvests of various boletes and other wild edible mushrooms. Even a farmed mushroom is an invitation to look deeper at the invisible, essential processes that sustain our world, and poffer up our appreciation for them. This appreciation is another kind of root, or seed, or spore; something almost contagious, that spreads in networks, connecting disparate beings into the thriving webs of integration.
No matter what mushrooms you might choose to forage or purchase, this is a great time of year to make the mushroom broth featured in this week's newsletter. It makes a delicious base for risotto, soup, or gravy. It is a delightful way to integrate the flavors of our bioregion into your cooking, your tastebuds, your experience of wholeness. May you be nourished and inspired by this connection, by the way that the earth offers the fruits of her wholeness, again and again, to all those who share this time and place. As we prepare the foods that grace our tables for celebratory feasts or solitary dinners, may we be reminded of their transient blessing and their enduring value. Impermanent and essential as the gifts of rainfall and soil, may we remember to give wholehearted thanks for them, and for the fragile, resilient wholeness that sustains us all; mushrooms, vegetables, microbes, and animals, our way-back kin from ages of co-evolution.
By Jessica Tunis