October 15, 2021
Dear Frenchly Readers,
In France, mushroom foraging is a serious, and sometimes, even dangerous, activity. And right now, until the first frosts of November, is the prime time for foragers to fan out across the country, baskets and mushroom knives in hand, to hunt for cèpes and chanterelles. Later, when it gets colder, the season for black truffles will commence and hunters and their dogs will take off into the fields and woods looking for “truffle trees” (oaks, hazel, pine, or lime trees) where the fungi grow in symbiosis.
I’ve been thinking about France and how popular mushroom hunting is over there because, lately, where I live in Maine, everyone is suddenly mushroom foraging. Ok, not everyone, but a few of us are. And by us, I don’t mean me, bien-sûr. I mean my husband, Dan, is the one who is tasked with pulling on his boots and going out to do some hunter gathering in the wilds of our woods.
It all started last winter when I got sick with an autoimmune storm. My husband, Dan, ever the intrepid outdoorsman, went out and started gathering chaga to make into tea for me. He’d read a ton about this mushroom that grows on birch trees (his favorite tree, mostly for this Robert Frost poem, Birches) and he became convinced that it would help me. I don’t know what it did for me, but I can tell you I drank a ton of it, and I like to imagine that it did help—but that’s a longer story for another Le Weekend.
Hooked already on the treasure hunt of mushroom foraging, when fall descended here in Maine, Dan started wandering into the trees again. We had a really rainy summer and such dampness often yields lots of mushrooms in our piney woods. First, he found some big jack-o-lantern mushrooms which are beautifully bioluminescent (but not edible.) He brought a few home in a box and put them in our bathtub to show our kids at night. They were overjoyed by this exciting and otherworldly discovery.
Before long, though, Dan had hit his foraging stride and was coming home with handfuls of chanterelles and then, one day, a hen of the woods the size of a male turkey.
For the next few days, he’d whack off a hunk of that hen and clean it of grit and then brown it in an intoxicatingly addictive mélange of shallots, butter, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper and serve it to us for lunch. Last weekend, my older son made dinner with a similar concoction, but he decided to deglaze the pan with a little red wine and serve this alongside some of our baby fingerling potatoes he’d roasted with sage and salt.
His recipe reminded me a simpler version of this mushroom bourguignon I saw in the New York Times. I’m going to try it this weekend when my friend, Jen, drops off some extra hen of the woods she wants to share. My friend, Selina, just gave me some potatoes from her garden in New Hampshire, so I’m hoping to make a fabulous fall meal.
Thinking about my weekend dinner plans got me wondering what wines are best to pair with mushrooms. This time of year, I love a glass of good red wine on le weekend. So I reached out to a French wine merchant named Frederick Boelen who lives in Napa, California and imports wines from France (he also owns two shops in Normandy, where he grew up.) Boelen is hosting a webinar on November 5th to help teach people about wines. (You can sign up here, if you are interested.) He wrote back immediately and suggested a lovely Pinot Noir from Burgundy. I love Pinot, so I will follow his advice.
What I am watching ce weekend :
Those of you who have been reading this newsletter know I’ve been hooked on Le Bureau des Legends for a few weeks. My friend, Andrea Meyer, made me screech the other day when she told me she’d actually interviewed the show’s lead, Mathieu Kassovitz, back when he was in that hit movie, Amélie, with Audrey Tautou.
My husband has never—somehow !—seen Amélie and he’s become as much of a Kassovitz fan as I have. So this weekend, he’ll brew us up some chaga and we’ll sit down to watch it.
And for lighter fare, I’ve started watching The Wine Show on Sundance. Sometimes it’s sort of annoying in its insane opulence and je m’en fous attitude about the realities of the world. But it sucks you in and you will laugh despite yourself and enjoy ogling at the gorgeous terroir as well as the amazing wines.
What I am listening to :
Frenchly’s podcast reviewer, Anne-Fleur, has found some fascinating podcasts for us all about mushroom foraging in the woods in France. They are bound to make experts out of us all. Have a listen this weekend and at least go forage at your local greenmarket.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of “Mama Afrika”, or Miriam Makeba, on YouTube while I work—she inspires and makes me so happy. If you’re going to be in New York at the end of the month, you might try to catch the Grammy nominated singer Somi who will be at the French Institute Alliance Française and will, as their website says, “feature a sneak preview of her upcoming album The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba, in an homage to this icon of African music.” I am loving this song, Holy Room, of hers right now:
And here she is at Lincoln Center back in 2018:
What I am reading :
Speaking of wines, I found this really interesting book review from 2001 by Julian Barnes in the New Yorker archive about wine and its role during the second world war in France—check it out here. He writes, “When pleasure meets war, the normal consequence is collaboration.”
If you’re still interested in this topic, this 1945 “ Letter from France” by Janet Flanner delves into some of the same subject matter, but in real time, without the backward gaze of history.
And Frenchly tried to answer an important question: Why is French wine so expensive in the U.S.? This might help steer your wine choices this weekend.
My treat this weekend will be to tuck into this 1939 piece by Ludwig Bemelmans’ (yes, le mec who wrote Madeline) in the New Yorker about the Ile-d’Yeu or Isle of God, off the west coast of France. Oh, if only we could get into a time turner and lie on that pristine beach!
Finalement, what’s making me laugh as the days get shorter :
The bilingual comedian Paul Taylor has had me laughing all week. Catherine Rickman’s great interview with him is on Frenchly this week—and she included some videos, too, and ways that you can see him live or on YouTube. Take a look, here.
If you make something magnifique with mushrooms this weekend, or go out foraging, share your photos with us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
That’s it. Have a good weekend.