Mushroom Season

I’ve never had a green thumb. And it’s never been for a lack of trying. Plants just sense something in me that’s, I don’t know, less maternal or something, that’s expected from a woman of child-bearing age. Now, we don’t have to go through my whole history of plant and plant project obituaries, but there is just one story that will effectively prove my point.

My father had 5 hibiscus plants – mini trees, really – in the front window of his house. He was away on business a lot, for days on end. Just before leaving on one of his trips, he’d sit my sister and I down and give us strict instructions on what to do with the hibiscus. Water them every day, he said, and keep the radio on for them when you go out. No hard rock stations – either classical or easy listening. Pick out the dead leaves, and the flowers as soon as they fall. And don’t forget to water them.

My sister and I did this, to the word. We watered them every day. Played our least favourite radio station while out, AND while at home. We took care of them, but they wilted. That is, until my dad got back. He would walk into the house and you could see them beginning to perk up, even over him sighing and saying exasperatedly “I told you to water the hibiscus!”. There was no convincing him that we had.

My sister now has a very green thumb, and is in fact at this moment trying to kill a plant because it’s gotten so big (despite her deliberate neglect), she doesn’t know where to put it when the weather is too cold to have it outside. Which, where she lives, is about 9 months of the year.

Such luck has never been passed on to me. I've convinced myself that it’s hopeless, I'll never be a gardener or tender of a lovely, bountiful vegetable plot. But last year, my neighbour introduced me to mushroom hunting the foolproof wild mushroom. The cepe. Or, if you prefer Italian, the porcino.

Although the use of the term “wild” in Holland could be debated, the country really has the ideal conditions for mushroom growing: i.e. it’s perpetually damp.

Now, it just so happens that I live not too far away from prime cepe territory (and no, I’m not going to tell you where it is), and so, with all the rain we’ve had this summer, it was no surprise to spot a few tall-standing mushrooms on my ride to work the other day, and I went back on a day off to scope things out.

Let me reiterate that I am not a protégé of Martha Stewart. In fact, all I can muster to put in my larder each year is more good intention than actual food: a couple of jars of jam, and some pickled things that I’ll never make again,

and some kind of hooch which I almost always give away (a couple of weeks ago, I gave a colleague of mine a bottle of rhubarb schnapps, which the rest of my foodie colleagues, it must be said, clearly enjoyed in one short half hour of my absence).

But back to the woods. It felt a bit too early in the season to be looking, but I had seen those fully-grown mushrooms on the way to work… after a couple of hours of searching, I found only two, but they were big enough to make a side dish, or put in a sauce, and they were beauties: pale brown, perfectly rounded half moons for tops, insect- and worm-free. There weren’t any other mushrooms around, not even deadly ones. So, happy with the two I had, I decided to head home.

And then, just as I’d stopped looking, I saw it.

I knew as soon as I did that this would be the biggest cepe that I would ever find. Even if I have another 50 years to live.

Now, big in the mushroom world is not necessarily better, but I can assure you that it was worth a couple of hours of tramping through the forest and not finding much else (though that’s always worth it, in my book).

And sometimes you have to take what’s given to you.