Have you ever sliced into a fresh mushroom, put your nose down next to it, and taken a deep breath? When I do, I’m instantly transported to a lush, evergreen forest, covered in moss and fallen pine needles, a damp, earthy scent filling my nostrils, just a hint of the chill of the air in such a place cooling my fingertips as I pause between slices.
It’s easier than slicing through soft butter, cutting a mushroom. Light as a marshmallow with none of the cloying residue, a mushroom seems simply to fall open at the lightest trace of a blade. The stems break off with a satisfying pop. It’s as though Nature, in all her wisdom, anticipated that one day I’d be making this soup, these omelets.
Mushrooms inhabit a kind of natural magic space, being not only one of the more subtly sensually appealing foods available out there, but also a kind of nutritional superhero. Studies have shown that mushrooms are a vital source of protein, vitamins, unsaturated fatty acids, and dietary fiber, as well as promoting heart health, lowering cholesterol, and functioning as a prebiotic, encouraging the growth of “good” bacteria in the colon. For a human being’s internal ecosystem, then, mushrooms are worth celebrating.
So, too, for our external ecosystem, it seems. Mycologist (that’s “mushroom scientist”) Paul Stamets gave this enlightening talk lauding, among other things, the ability of mushrooms to repair fragile ecosystems after oil spills and other man-made pollutants. Here’s the video:
For vegetarians and vegans, mushrooms are also a handy source of different texture, and substitute well in place of red meats in many recipes (including Stroganoff, burgers, and stir fry, for instance). Basically mushrooms are just fantastic.
So last night I made cream of mushroom soup from Julia Child’s recipe, and while the butter, broth, and mushrooms simmered and bubbled and steamed on the stove, I felt a bit like a witch brewing a potion in her cauldron. Double, double, indeed.
This piece originally appeared on Meghan’s other blog, dumbleadore.com, on October 4, 2011.