It was my first sleepover in sixth grade and I had an epiphany, my family’s diet wasn’t normal, we ate a lot of mushrooms and olives. Spaghetti was served for dinner by my friend, Karen’s, mom. It was a simple red sauce and spaghetti noodles, no chunks of tomato, no olives, onions, or mushrooms. There wasn’t any garlic bread or salad… and I loved it.
At Karen’s house I came to learn the joy of Campbell’s tomato soup, powdered chicken noodle soup, and Kraft macaroni and cheese. I felt as if I had finally come home, I didn’t have to carefully maneuver my fork through the battlefield of veggies in the food like at my house. I delighted in the bland, season-less dishes, not a bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, or clove of garlic in sight.
Eventually I came to appreciate my Dad’s love of cooking everything from scratch, especially the vegetables. For Christmas when I was fifteen, I asked for a copy of Julia Child’s Joy of Cooking. My Dad and I made omelets and Coq au Vin using Julia’s recipes. Some of my happiest memories are the times spent with my Dad in the kitchen, he was in his element. His attention to aesthetics was incomparable, he would deftly place a rosemary sprig on top of a fish filet being poached.
The kitchen was his domain, rows of herbs in bottles on the wall, copper pans hanging over the stove, drawers full of knives, slotted spoons, and whisks. Our kitchen on the weekend always smelled of bacon, nutmeg, and cinnamon in the morning and sautéed onions and garlic with rosemary and sage in the afternoon. Without knowing, my Dad cooked his post traumatic stress from World War Two away, standing over pans of sautéed herbs was his mood enhancer. Studies have shown that incorporating herbs into your diet is a simple way to boost your mood and support your mental health.
Rosemary has quite an interesting and varied history; from witches and fairies to weddings and burials – this herb is truly a story full of folklore. Many of the historical references and legends surrounding rosemary have grown vague with time.
Rosemary enhances spiritual connection and intuition. It also signifies love and remembrance. According to data gathered by PubMed, rosemary has positive effects on mood, learning, memory, pain, anxiety, and sleep. Greek scholars were known to twine rosemary in their hair when studying for exams in the hope of aiding their memories. In Spain, rosemary was used as protection against witchcraft and menaces on the road. One legend says that the rosemary plant can grow to six feet in thirty three years, the height and life of Jesus Christ.
Rosemary was as popular a Christmas plant as mistletoe and holly until the twentieth century. It’s making a big comeback this year for the holidays, you will find rosemary topiaries and wreaths at garden centers. The attractive foliage makes rosemary a wonderful holiday plant to give and grow. Folklore says that if you smell rosemary on Christmas Eve, you’ll have good luck in the coming year.
Mushrooms hold a prominent place in my culinary life. Cream of mushroom soup, spinach-mushroom soufflé, mushroom gravy, and sour cream-mushroom casserole were in my childhood weekly dinner rotation along with mushrooms in pastas and curries. In my vegetarian life, Lion’s Mane mushrooms have replaced steak, marinated and roasted to its “meaty’ perfection, served with potatoes and asparagus.
In ancient Egypt, mushrooms were a delicacy reserved for the highest royalty. They were often associated with immortality and buried with the pharaoh upon death to support his reign in the afterlife. Mushrooms have a long and fascinating history in folklore and mythology. Often seen as mysterious due to their magical overnight growth, mushrooms play significant roles in the stories and beliefs of various cultures worldwide.
Mushrooms are a common decoration at Christmas time because that is the time of the year that they are foraged in the wild. Known in German as the gluckspilz ( which literally means “lucky mushroom”), the red and white speckled fungi grow deep in the forest. This specific mushroom can only grow beneath certain types of trees, which happen to be those we generally think of as Christmas trees. Besides being found at the base of pine trees, this mushroom is the favorite food of reindeer. Reindeer herders use the mushrooms as treats to keep the herd together and avoid losing any strays.
Originally, the figure of Santa Claus came from Nordic countries. In this region, Arctic shamans doled out psychedelic mushrooms as part of their solstice celebrations. These shamans dressed in red wool clothing with white flecks of fur, similar to Amanita mushrooms. People enjoyed a magical experience and communed with nature on the night of the solstice. Just like Santa enters homes through the chimney, Arctic shamans entered snow-blocked homes through an opening in the roof.
Nordic shamans had a deep connection with reindeer, they were recognized as the spirit animals for the shamans. Under the influence of magic mushrooms, it’s easy to see how someone could hallucinate flying reindeer beneath a beautiful night sky in December.
Chinese medicine has long prized medicinal mushrooms like reishi for their ability to boost immune function. A USDA study in 2021 looked at common white button mushrooms, which were shown to also enhance the activity of critical cells in the body’s immune system. If there’s a multi-purpose medicine cupboard substance on this planet, it may be the mighty mushroom. The benefits of mushrooms read like a checklist for optimal health from boosting immunity to reducing stress.
There are so many varieties of mushrooms to choose from, all with different textures and profiles. Try a few and test out your culinary skills to reap the numerous benefits of these powerful nutrient sources.
Kate Emery General is a retired chef/restaurant owner that was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Kate loves her grandchildren, knitting and watercolor painting. Kate and her husband , Matt are longtime residents of Cambridge’s West End where they enjoy swimming and bicycling.