SIGH — association people. You know, those people who sit on the various food or dish councils have to keep themselves in business somehow. Where else could National Mushroom Month have come from? But wait — these mycological marvels may really deserve a celebration.
Ferial Welsh — aka “The Mushroom Lady” — can tell you about mushrooms. And if your experience is limited to sliced button ‘shrooms on pizza, thank your lucky stars you’ve got almost a full month left for your mushroom re-education.
At Welsh’s farmer’s market stalls in Penn Quarter, Dupont, Del Rey and Arlington, white buttons and criminis take up a tiny corner of table real estate. The rest of the stall is filled with boxes of colorful knobs, twisty ear-shaped fungi, and big hunks of something that looks like it was ripped straight off the side of a tree. Inhale, and your nostrils fill with the scent of … actually, they smell exactly like dirt, but in a good way. It’s not a smell Americans are used to.
“I was surprised when I arrived in the U.S. — it’s not that popular” to eat exotic mushrooms, Welsh says. She learned to love the mushrooms from her experiences mushroom-hunting in Austria in the 1970s. Upon arriving in the States and realizing she couldn’t find her favorite fungi, Welsh decided to find places where she could buy the mushrooms she loved and introduce them to others. Twelve years later, she’s the D.C. face of Phillips Mushroom Farms and Mother Earth Organic Mushroom Farms, based in Kennett Square, Pa., the “mushroom capital of the world.”
This month, take time to celebrate and savor some fantastic fungi. Welsh sells, in addition to crimini, white button and portobello, varieties like piopini, honey, lobster (smells and tastes like the crustacean, and is “good in a risotto,”), chanterelles and wood ears. Most of these are grown year-round in a mushroom house, but the chanterelles are harvested in the wild, and, according to Welsh, 2008 is a good chanterelle year.
Don’t feel like cooking? Charlie Palmer Steak offers side dishes of both a wild mushroom mix and a “hen of the woods” ‘shroom, which, Welsh says, is “packed with flavor, and health.” Michel Richard’s Central offers “mushroom cigars” — fungi chopped and formed into a tube, then fried — and the appetizer is only $14.
Porcini carpaccio, black trumpet gnocchi, mushroom strudel and more are yours at Nage, which is offering a “flight” of three rotating mushroom dishes nightly throughout September, for $17. And for true mycophiles, PS 7’s is offering a five-course mushroom tasting menu and piping hot mushroom bread.
“I love cooking something,” Welsh says, “that is not ordinary.”