Fall calls for mushrooms
And poet/author Catherine Strisik
— as By Christina Stock
There is nothing else that can send me back in time than the scent of a certain dish, flower or perfume. If you have followed my column, you know by now that I grew up in the state of Hess, Germany. My hometown Wiesbaden was bordering forests, vineyards and fields.
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A unique German expression is put into one word: “Wanderlust,” which means the longing to go on a hike, to walk just for the walk’s sake. Exploring one’s surroundings on foot to experience nature and the beauty of a region that is easily overlooked when traveling by car. Throughout Germany are paths for those who love to hike or “wander.” When the weather was decent enough that it didn’t look as if the sky would open up to try to drown us with rain, my family would pack us up in the car and we would head out to our favorite spot, hoping always to have nobody else around and to have the paths all to ourselves. I use the word paths because they are well taken care of and not hiking trails.
We would set out choosing a direction and starting our walk. I remember my passion for nature when I was 11 years old; I would run ahead of my grandparents and family to hunt for unique rocks and leaves. The Rhine Valley is riddled with quartz, one of the most famous are rock crystals, in German: Bergkristall (mountain crystal), which is in its most valued form clear as water. I once even found Katzengold (in German: cat gold) in combination with a crystal. Katzengold is fool’s gold. It shimmers like pure gold, but is a mineral and isn’t worth anything. My grandfather got me going for half an hour convincing me it’s real gold until my mom started laughing and I understood that I was had.
In fall, the biggest treat for us was going into the forests to hunt for mushrooms. The button mushrooms were impossible to get, because they only grew on fenced-in pastures, fertilized thanks to cow patties. The ones we cut — it’s important to cut a mushroom, not pull or it wouldn’t grow back the next year — were the king of mushrooms, the Steinpilz (in English: rock mushroom), which is the big brother of the porcini mushroom. Grandfather would get so upset when he found that amateurs had pulled a mushroom instead of cutting it. We had secret spots where we would return every year to collect our mushroom harvest. There were also other mushrooms we gathered. One had to be careful though, some mushrooms have “evil twins” that look like the good ones, but are extremely toxic. Every year, the headline of our newspaper would say that another family got sick or even died of mushroom poisoning.
I wouldn’t even dare to go hunting for mushrooms in the United States. Instead, I buy them in the grocery store. I don’t know about you, but when I open up a basket of mushrooms, I have to inhale the rich aroma that reminds me of the German dark forests where the enchanted fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm originated.
I hope you enjoy my grandmother’s recipe as much as I do:
Oma Else’s Pilzpfanne
(Grandma Else’s mushroom stir fry)
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as main course
8 oz porcini mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, diced
5 cups of fresh spinach
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup of parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
Check the mushrooms and remove any dirt with a paper towel. Do not wash the mushrooms. Heat the oil in a large pan until it shimmers. Add the onion and garlic and stir consistently until the onion turns golden brown. Remove the onion/garlic mix and set aside.
Turn the heat to medium and add the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms lose their moisture and turn light brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Return the onions to the pan and add the spinach. Stir for a minute and add the chicken broth. Stir until it is well mixed and spinach is slightly wilted. Add the parsley just before serving.
Traditionally, this dish is served with venison or rabbit. You can serve it with potato or bread dumplings or on a thick slice of bread.
Books for comfort:
Catherine Strisik is Taos’ Poet Laureate 2020-2022 and the author of “Insectum Gravitis.” A finalist for New Mexico Book Award, 2020; her other book, “The Mistress,” was awarded New Mexico/Arizona Award for Poetry, 2017; and “Thousand-Cricket Song,” had its second printing in 2016. Strisik is co-founder and co-editor of Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art, and on the advisory board of Pocket Samovar. Strisik has lived more than 37 years in Taos, where she teaches poetry workshops and provides editorial services.
Strisik has been honored as Taos’ Poet Laureate 2020-2022 and is a 2020 Taosena Award recipient as one of eight Women of Impact in Taos because of her literary contributions. Strisik’s poems appear in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Poet Lore, Drunken Boat, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Kaleidoscope, and Tusculum Review, to name a few. Her work has been translated into Persian and Greek. Strisik has received grants, honors and prizes from CutThroat, Peregrine, and Comstock Review, The Southwest Literary Center, The Puffin Foundation, as well as residencies at Lakkos Artists, Crete, Vermont Studio Center and Truchas Peaks Place.
Her book, “Insect Gravities,” features parables in the world of winged and crawling insects. Her critics call her “uncanny” and that she finds dignity, love and desire, which she uses in her poetry to describe what is missing and what is longed for.
A sample of her work in “Insectum Gravitis:”
I am naked against
And generosity of stars
Now silver now
To the tilt
He has no syllables
No sigh for.
For more information, visit cathystrisik.com.