It’s hard to imagine another form of earthly life that has affected human beings as much as the kingdom Fungi. Seeking the taste and perceived medicinal benefits of mushrooms,human beings followed a path from superstition to science: from foraging to farming, from medieval old wives’ tales to modern clinical trials, and from food eaten to ward off starvation to haute cuisine. In other words, the three Cs – cuisine, cultivation and canning – in large measure drove the twentieth-century shift from mycophobia to mycophilia, at least in the West. ~ Mushroom: A Global History*
I looked, of course, for mushrooms everywhere I went, but I didn’t find many of them, at least not in the part of Indonesia where I was, North Sulawesi. One sighting of a shelf fungus (see below) in the rain forest and that was it, none in the open-air markets. A quick perusal of English-language Indonesian cookbooks brought up few or no recipes using mushrooms. Even Sri Owens’s book on regional Indonesian cooking scored no hits.
Yet in the enormous, modern Hypermarket in Manado, I saw rows of vacuum-packed pouches filled with button mushrooms, looking like sacks of candy.
These pouches, backlit by fluorescent lighting, testify to a certain truth: somebody is cooking with these modernistic, if not sterile, cousins of mushrooms from the field and the forest.
One of the many onerous and unpleasant tasks that beset an author, at least these days anyway, is that of publicist, promoting their work by any means possible. Because I find self-promotion somewhat difficult, I am sharing these pictures from my recent trip to Indonesia and Singapore, as a way of getting the word out about my upcoming book, Mushroom: A Global History. None of these pictures appear in the book.
*A press release from Reaktion Books reads as follows:
Known as the meat of the vegetable world, mushrooms have their ardentsupporters as well as their fierce detractors. Hobbits go crazy over them,while Diderot thought they should be “sent back to the dung heap wherethey are born.” In Mushroom, Cynthia D. Bertelsen examines the colorfulhistory of these divisive edible fungi. As she reveals, their story is fraughtwith murder and accidental death, hunger and gluttony, sickness andhealth, religion and war. Some cultures equate them with the rottenness oflife while others delight in cooking and eating them. And then there arethose “magic” mushrooms, which some people link to ancient religiousbeliefs.To tell this story, Bertelsen travels to the nineteenth century, whenmushrooms entered the realm of haute cuisine after millennia of beingpicked from the wild for use in everyday cooking and medicine. Shedescribes how this new demand drove entrepreneurs and farmers toseek methods for cultivating mushrooms, including experiments indomesticating the highly sought after but elusive truffles, and she exploresthe popular pastime of mushroom hunting, with numerous historic andcontemporary recipes. Packed with images of mushrooms from around theglobe, this savory book will be essential reading for fans of this surprising,earthy fungus.
© 2013 C. Bertelsen