Morels, hateful to say, exist in a state of non this year, or if they exist they are those yucky little thin and smooth skinned ones that hardly seem to be morels – and those I only saw in a photo on Facebook; who knows if they really did exist. It was that burst of heat a few weeks back that did them in, and the arid May. Morels need a mellow rain preceded by April and followed by a humid heat – a morel-breeder, we call it. And you need to spot one to begin to believe your own eyes, and bend over, and with your nose pointed at the one you saw you let your eyes roam in a circle and they seem to pop up before you. Instantaneously. If you’re lucky.
These eyes have not spotted one morel this year and so my contention is that they do not exist. It is not quite too late, though, and hope still blooms, if dowdily.
Not really as a substitute for morels but good in their own right are the shiitakes I’ve been buying at the Farmers’ Market from Heather and Jim at Foggy Meadow’s stand and, although they are grown purposefully on logs and can be gotten at any time of the year, I’m finding them very tasty. Leo was gone for a few days and, finding myself able to feed myself what and when (not to mention where) I wanted without considering anyone else, one night I fed myself shiitakes in cream, Thomas’s heavy cream, with good buttered toast from the French baker at the Market. At about 8:30 at night. While watching Still Alice – which wasn’t a very good movie, in my opinion, compared to the book.
But, what was I saying?
Oh right. You might think that was a recipe for indigestion and you might be right. I believe I took a teaspoon of Yoder Farm raw cider vinegar in a little glass of water a while after that extravaganza, in the way I’ve come upon to keep the body alkalinity in balance with the stomach’s acidity. All was good.
Speaking of heavy cream – and I did back in October of 2010, in a column about Thomas Dairy– dotter Zoe and I were down in Cape Cod (we left the day after Leo got back from the Northeast Kingdom – which provided a nice vacation from each other for both of us), when she picked up a pint of Kimball Brook Farm Heavy Cream for our morning coffee. We were glad to see an excellent Vermont product on shelves at the Cape, but we did wonder at the print on the bottle – it said it was homogenized! Heavy cream needn’t – indeed, cannot – be homogenized because homogenization means putting back together the centrifugally separated cream and milk in certain percentages to make skim, 1%, 2%, half and half, in such a way that they won’t separate again. It’s done by passing the liquid under high pressure through a tiny orifice, making the fat globules smaller, increasing their number and surface area, which keeps them suspended throughout the more watery substance and prevents the cream from rising to the surface (and there is some evidence that the smaller globules of fat produced in this process are able to get caught on the walls of the arteries and can clog them). Heavy cream has nothing to be combined with so the word homogenized on the carton is nonsensical. Sure enough, when I got in touch with Cheryl DeVos at Kimball Brook I found that the label is standardized, with just the name of the item – in this case heavy cream – differentiated.
It is the process of homogenization that has made me advocate for non-homogenized cream-line milk from dairies, and Kimball Brook offers an excellent one but you have to ask your grocer to stock it. That Thomas’s doesn’t offer one has proven to be less important with the advent of the new raw-milk rules passed by the state in this last legislative session that make it possible to buy raw milk – naturally unhomogenized, naturally cream-line, naturally unpasteurized – at Farmers’ Markets. I bought some Saturday in Rutland from The Larson Farm. Talk about fresh. Talk about creamy. Talk about mouth feel. Well. Quit talking and drink. It’s delicious, and healthy in ways differently from other foods.
If you have a distrust of unpasteurized milk but still want unhomogenized, please ask your grocer to stock Kimball Brook’s cream-line. Because, if no one buys it they won’t make it.
The Cape provided us with a powerful dose of ocean that we badly needed, and we came back from all that beautiful blue to beautiful green Vermont in time to get to the Market where I bought the good milk and even more shiitakes from Heather and Jim. I think I’ll make a pizza with them tonight – sauté them first in olive oil with some of my green garlic, a plethora of them, really; and strew them thickly on the pizza dough (over some fresh oregano leaves) with some added sliced green garlic, then towards the end of baking strew grated parmesan and a few drops of heavy cream over to finish baking. That sounds good, doesn’t it?
So now, a recipe. How about one for
A Cream of Mushrooms
Take the stems from 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms (or other mushrooms, or mixture of mushrooms, but not morels*). Put the stems in a saucepan and cover with water and bring to a low boil or a high simmer and leave them there for half an hour, adding water to keep them covered. Reserve.
Slice the shiitake tops and add them to a sauté pan over medium heat into which—when it’s hot – a knob of butter has been melted with a glug of good olive oil until the oil becomes wavy. Once the slices are added turn the heat to low and let them simmer until they have let off any liquid and, in turn, simmered the liquid back off. Then add a glug – 2 tablespoons, say – of sherry or marsala or port or... something flavorful, and strain in the reserved shiitake stem broth and cook until almost dry. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. By all this adding liquid and cooking it off, we’re concentrating flavor.
Meanwhile, make some good toast and butter it well and cut it into fingers.
Finally, add heavy cream to the mushrooms – as much as you like: do you want a sauce or a soup? – and heat until just beginning to bubble. Grate some nutmeg over it. Stir it in.
Ladle the mushrooms into a sauce dish or soup bowl, scrape the pan out good, place the mushrooms on a tray with a nice napkin. Put the toast on a plate on the tray. Pour a glass of wine or sherry and place it on the tray. Do you have a flower? Take the tray to your favorite space at the moment and be mindful of every bite.
*Morels –should you be lucky enough – should be sliced in half, the critters brushed out of the stem and the craters; dusted with flour, and fried in butter until crisp. That is all. Respects must be paid.