“The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” – Richard Louv
Cèpes persillade is a near mythical dish in my family. Over the years phone conversations with my mother always centered on food. Eventually every call got to the point of discussing the joys of eating cèpes persillade and the merits of a true rabbit civet properly thickened with fresh rabbit blood. Cèpes are more commonly known by their Italian name, porcinis. I fondly remember eating them often as a child, usually when visiting favorite relatives. Mushroom persillade became my rite of passage from child to epicure.
Beau joined me on several walks in the damp forests collecting chanterelles, black trumpets and hedgehogs when he was really small. He enjoyed playing in the pine needles, puddles and hills of Northern California while I scoured for unseen mushroom flushes. I felt it important to maintain daily direct connection to the natural world. Not only to exercise both our body and imagination while breathing in fresh air but to unplug from the virtual world and think for ourselves. The modern landscape has made it increasingly hard to maintain that balance. There are too many diversions in the form of smartphones, video games and IPADs than when I was a child. Less and less we see children playing made up games in the streets.
“We tend to block off many of our senses when we’re staring at a screen. Nature time can literally bring us to our senses.” – Richard Louv
In his 2005 ground breaking book, Last Child in the Woods, child advocacy expert Richard Louv discusses the staggering divide between children and the outdoors and directly links the lack of nature of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. I was completely absorbed by his premise and example after example of how this is playing out in real life.
I started paying attention to the divide when we lived in La Quinta, California. A palm tree lined community surrounded by a vast desert landscape loaded with cactuses, mysterious creatures and craggy hilltops to explore. The streets were always empty, littered by unused basketball hoops, stationary bowls and dormant bicycles. Children did not play outside. Instead, they could be seen mesmerized by movies, video games and limitless access to the net. Children stopped playing with each other and instead retreated into a solitary electronic world. Reading books used to be the norm. According to a YouGov/Huffington Post survey of 1000 US adults interviewed September 27 – 28, 2013 on reading, one-third of Americans have not read a book in the last year. Author Richard Louv explains, “Unlike television, reading does not swallow the senses or dictate thought. Reading stimulates the ecology of the imagination. Can you remember the wonder you felt when first reading The Jungle Book or Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn? Kipling’s world within a world; Twain’s slow river, the feel of freedom and sand on the secret island, and in the depths of the cave?”
“I remember the games of my childhood-the dark and golden park we peopled with gods; the limitless Kingdom we made of this square mile never thoroughly explored, never thoroughly charted. We created a secret civilization where footfalls had meaning and things a savor known in no other world. And when we grow to be men and live under other laws, what remains of that park filled with the shadows of childhood, magical, freezing, burning? What do we learn when we return to it and stroll with a sort of despair… marveling that within a space so small we should have founded a Kingdom that had seemed to us infinite-what do we learn except that in this infinity we shall never again set foot, and that it is into the game and not the park that we have lost the power to enter?” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
As Beau ripened to the old age of four, I wanted help him foster his imagination and creativity with more direct connections to the natural world. Foraging offered an edible bridge to his families past, along with an adventure hunting mushrooms in a pathless forest. It offered the joys of finding mushrooms alongside learning to deal with frustrations of not finding anything.
Here’s how my family cooks our wild mushrooms. The recipe is reprinted from my upcoming book Cuisine of the Sun and is available for pre-order at my site EatTillYouBleed.com
- 2 pounds wild cepe mushrooms,
- ¼ cup duck fat or olive oil
- 8 fat garlic cloves, sliced thin
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- Trim the bottoms of the mushrooms. Rinse any dirt and pine needles off.Slice lengthwise.
- In a large saute pan heat the duck fat and garlic over medium heat. Keep stirring to ensure even
- cooking. When garlic is amber colored remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
- Sauté sliced mushrooms over high heat till lightly browned.
- Add the garlic and parsley and continue cooking for a few minutes.
- Season with sea salt and black pepper.