Stalking the wild: a mushroom hunter shares her secrets.
Maria Marivigna - known affectionately as ''The Mushroom Lady'' - has a special recipe for her favorite ''fungi.'' She carefully glazes them, stands them upright in an oven, and bakes them at 1,500 to 2,000 degrees F. for 8 to 10 hours.Skip to next paragraph
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They come out of the oven just the way she likes them. Perfectly done, hard as rocks, beautiful - and inedible, of course.
Miss Marivigna, you see, is an artist and ceramist of international fame. And when she isn't molding the botanically correct species out of clay, she's scurrying over wood and dale like a little Beatrix Potter creature, armed with trowel and basket, and usually with a string of wide-eyed enthusiasts in tow.
''Come, I show you,'' she says, grabbing my arm and pulling me out into her backyard.
''Look here. When you see the mushroom on the tree like this, it's too late. No tree can survive the mushroom,'' she adds, fingering a budding cluster of Pleurotus ostreatus - oyster mushrooms - on an old elm tree between her yard and a neighbor's. ''They taste very nice. There were some nice big ones here the other day, but someone took them away,'' she says, showing little concern for the loss of the mushrooms or even the tree.
A snooping neighbor may have beat her to this batch, but Miss Marivigna has a nose for sniffing out a mushroom's secret hiding place.
''I get a lot up the street in the cemetery,'' she whispers, her bright gray eyes twinkling. ''There's a lot that grow under the oak trees up there.''
Back in the house, a visitor is never out of sight of something emblazoned with a mushroom motif. On the knotty-pine porch, we sat under a large Italian poster brightly splashed with mushroom photographs.
''Guide per chi va a cercare I funghi. A guide for those who go looking for mushrooms,'' Miss Marivigna translates, pointing out word after word.
''And over on that wall is a plastic shopping bag with pictures of mushrooms. Very nice. From Sweden. No, from Poland,'' she corrects herself. On another wall a mushroom tea towel from France is neatly tacked up. And of course her exquisite ceramics stand in every available niche.
After weekly field trips with members of the Boston Mycological Club, she helps identify the species and saves new varieties to sculpture.
Inedible ones are tossed in the trash. Edible ones are tossed in a frying pan.
''I like to fry them in a little good olive oil very slowly, with maybe just a bit of fresh tomato, basil, and garlic,'' she says. ''Garlic is very good with the mushrooms. Then I eat them plain or put them on the pasta. If I don't use them right away, I just freeze them. They freeze perfectly. Maybe I give you some to take home,'' she says in her soft Sicilian accent.
''What about the common white mushrooms, Agaricus bisporus, found in the supermarket? Do you ever cook with them or substitute them in your recipes? Or the shiitakes, ever cook with either of them in the winter when you can't get out to get wild ones?'' I ask.