Provenance (from the French provenir, “to come from”), is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of an object. – Wiki
We live in a time where being a great cook is simply not enough. Our clientele has become more knowledgeable and is always thirsting for more. We demand to know the provenance of our food. Its origin story. We crave the connection to the land and water from where we came. My favorite author, Antoine de Saint Exupery once wrote: “The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.” These stories breathe life into our existence and onto our plates. They nourish our wild souls. Edward Abbey said “We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it.” It is a bridge to our wild ancestral past. The more advanced we get, the further from our origins we walk. Having this provenance, this golden communion, provides meaning and soul to our citified life. We may never walk in the woods picking wild boletes (cepes, porcinis) but we can enjoy them and reconnect to ourselves.
Robert “Guy” Wingham was born in Britain and moved to Italy as a small boy. Guy’s father was a nomadic British poet who was invited by Ezra Pound to live in the 13th century Brunnenburg Castle, located in the province of South Tirol in northern Italy. It was here that Guy met an elderly hunchbacked Italian woman who was the queen of foraging porcinis. The village baker would trade bread smeared with melted chocolate and loaves of fresh baked bread for his porcinis. By age eight he became a master of foraging.
Guy’s family eventually moved to Southern California where his father became a professor of poetry and literature. Guy started harvesting fruits from orchards to make a living. One day he found a porcini. Eyes closed, his pressed the bolete close to his face. The smell brought him back to Italy and his youth. The magical time of his life, living in a fairy tale castle and playing in the woods. It was those remembered scents and earthy aromas of porcinis that reconnected him to his past. He gave up picking fruits and returned to foraging for wild mushrooms and berries. Guy is one of the most skilled foragers in North America. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge who understands provenance and its place in food culture.
Cèpes (porcini, boletes) persillade is another near mythical dish in my family. Over the years phone conversations with my mother always centered around food. Eventually every call got to the point of discussing the joys of eating food, like cèpes persillade and the merits of a true rabbit civet properly thickened with fresh rabbit blood. Cèpes are more commonly known in America as porcinis. They can easily be found in markets in the Northwest. Our local farmer’s market has them during the Spring and Fall flushes. I like using another popular Pacific Northwest mushroom called matsutakes, or pine mushrooms. The texture is incredibly similar to porcinis and the flavor is reminiscent of pine needles. Any wild or cultivated mushroom will work in this preparation.
“The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery
It is strange how we organize memories in our head, especially when formed as a small child. I remember touring Oradour-sur-Glane when I was very little. It is the remains of a French town horribly frozen in time from a World War II massacre in 1944. Nazi soldiers entered the town and methodically butchered all the citizens, including several hundreds of women and children burned in a small church. I vividly remember touring the village and feeling the heavy weight of blackness engulf me. I was curious, but desperately wanted to leave. Afterwards, we walked into nearby woods where I instantly felt freed from the terror. I felt as though I had escaped like very few of the townspeople had a few decades before. We collected mushrooms as we walked. Somewhere in my child’s memory is the association of eating cèpes persillade and feeling joyous to be alive.
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more, From these our interviews, in which I steal. From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the Universe, and feel, What I can never express, yet cannot all conceal.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 pounds wild mushrooms
- 8 fat garlic cloves, sliced thin
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- In a large saute pan heat the butter and olive oil.
- Sauté sliced mushrooms over high heat till lightly browned.
- Add garlic and keep stirring to ensure even cooking.
- When garlic is amber colored add parsley and continue cooking for a few
- Season with sea salt and black pepper.
- Reconnect with your wild self.