Mom was nowhere to be seen, but I smelled beef roasting in the oven when I peeked into the kitchen. On the counter next to the stove was a quart jar of mushrooms. Mom canned many jars of them during the fall. When the jars were cool, we placed them on shelves in the basement root cellar. It looked as though mushrooms were on the menu for tonight.
Last autumn Mom and I had picked the mushrooms we were going to have for supper. We had walked down the hill behind our farm buildings. Once we reached our back 40, we crossed over into the neighbor’s cow pasture, which was dotted with the stumps of trees cut down many years before. Each fall, mushrooms grew thickly around those stumps.
We picked mushrooms many times during the week or two that they were in season, each time we filled the wicker picnic-sized basket my mother carried. We never felt chilly as we walked back uphill to the farmyard despite having the wind in our face. I loved the way mom looked in her brown-plaid wool shirt jacket with the basket on her arm and her gray curly hair. I felt like all was well in the world when I was with her.
The aroma of roasting beef evoked images of slices of tender, browned roast on my supper plate, topped with creamy mushroom gravy. My mouth watered. I loved mushrooms. Unfortunately, my brother didn’t share my love of mushrooms. Billy wouldn’t complain at the supper table, because that would be rude to Mom about the food she prepared. He would just quietly pass the gravy bowl to the person sitting next to him. When not at the table though, Billy had often called mushrooms, “slimy toadstools.”
Usually everyone in my family ate and liked all that was set before us. For Billy to be repulsed by mushrooms seemed strange to me.
Billy’s preference to not eat “toadstools” stuck in my mind shortly after my family acquired a television in the early 1960’s and watched a Gilligan’s Island episode.
Mary Ann ate mushrooms found growing on the island. When her companions began to treat her very kindly, Mary Ann thought they were being nice to her because she was going to die from eating poisonous mushrooms. What she didn’t know was that they heard on their transistor radio that her boyfriend had stopped waiting for her and married another woman. Mary Ann fell asleep, and dreamt she was in a hospital. The professor was the doctor in her dream, and he told her she needed surgery because she had a bad case of Roomis Igloomis from eating poisonous mushrooms.
One winter, many years later when my children were quite young, I found a recipe in a magazine for meringue candies that looked exactly like mushrooms. Christmas was approaching and I didn’t have a clue what to get my bachelor brother. I decided the perfect gift for him would be mushrooms that he could enjoy eating.
As the wind whipped up snow drifts outside, I beat egg whites into stiff peaks. Using a plastic bag to pipe the caps and stems onto jelly roll pans was easy. Something didn’t look right though, Billy always said toad stools had freckles. Before baking my candies, I sprinkled cinnamon on the caps. When they were crispy dry later that day, I spread chocolate on the undersides of the caps and inserted the stems.
When the candies were finished, my husband Arnie came into the house. He told me he was going to visit an Amish family in Greenwood who were customers of his. “Would you like to come along with me?” he asked.
I exclaimed, “Sure!” and packed up a few of the mushrooms in a box lined with green tissue paper. Adding a red bow to the box, I explained, “I’ll give these to your customer’s wife.”
When I handed the box of candies to the Amish woman later that afternoon, she looked startled. I realized that they looked too much like real mushrooms. That would have been a strange gift. Gently prompting, I said, “It’s candy. Try one.”
After biting into the crisp, sweet candy, the Amish woman exclaimed with happy surprise, “Oh! ‘tis a bit of the wind!”
I treasure the memory of that Amish woman’s reaction to the little mushrooms that I now make each winter. They are light and airy, like the wind, and are guaranteed not to make people suffer from Roomis Igloomis!