PURO MOOD for FOOD: The conquerors of the world. Mushroom Wonders by John Cage

Sylvia Plath


Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.


I am looking at a portobello mushroom the size of a side plate and thinking that mushrooms are one of the most beautiful wonders DESIGNED by nature. Oh, those smarty pleats and fans under the cap are like slips discreetly tempting from under skirts; those ruffs of gills – like Issey Miyake’s gowns – indicate edibility and poisonousness; the surface feels like the camembert rind or human skin and the smell, oh, it is sensuous, mossy, damp and organic.

On the one hand, there are expensive morels (protected in Poland) and luxurious, rare diamonds in the form of black and white truffles – an ounce of heavenly taste costing a fortune. On the other hand, we have oyster mushrooms, as massive and fleshy as pork chops, and an available champignon-démocrate, which grows on the ground bearing a specific name I dare not say directly for fear of stirring up our abashed, Puritan thoughts about excretion. Certainly, champignons are unlike golden chanterelles, which feed themselves on the last rays of August sun caught in their caps. Nor are they like fly agarics – reminding of haughty roosters – which grow on a mesmerizingly green moss. How fascinating are all these structures, pores, ridges, teeth, creases, tucks, pleats, reliefs and wrinkles? How fascinating is the number of shades of white, or other colors such as umber, burnt umber, yellow ochre, purple and brown ochre, tempting shades of red, blue, azure, pink, yellow and all the powder mold, which is a fungus as well? The richness of forms that come to life in such difficult conditions as dampness and darkness is, to say the least, enthralling.




Wax-like consistency wrapped up in velvet and enthusiastic reproductiveness. You can have your own DIY oyster mushrooms without leaving home! Yours may be the taste so difficult to describe, the taste that takes on a greater intensity when mushrooms are dried for a traditional Christmas Eve soup, raviolis or fasting cabbage. Polish cuisine has always been multicultural – traditions have been migrating between regions, so that now, a mushroom soup is a traditional dish of the Lesser Poland while cabbage and mushroom pierogi have become a classic dish of Podlasie (a region in the eastern part of Poland).



While preparing Christmas food, during the breaks between stirring and baking, I like looking at the photographs of John Cage leaning over his kitchen table. My mind creates images of everyday, simple and relaxed rituals that must have taken place around this piece of furniture. I have managed to find a few of Cage’s recipes in a brochure on macrobiotics, a diet to which Cage was introduced by Yoko Ono. Some of them were published in 1965 October issue of Vogue. This great artist was not only a composer, visual creator, mentor and a writer, but he was also a fervent mycologist, vegetarian and a member of the New York Mycological Society. The John Cage Mycology Collection is in the possession of the University of California library. In Poland, we pick only 10 out of 200 edible mushroom species. Cage, who, in the era of the Great Depression, survived thanks to mushrooms growing near his house, became obsessed with them to the extent that he made a mushroom ketchup, puffball lasagna (recipe below), and very Christmassy morels served as an entrée with croutons (he served them during Thanksgiving, while in my house, they will be served instead of herring during Christmas Eve dinner).


Morels à la John Cage**

A bottle of flat champagne is the origin of this dish: John Cage suggested serving it either as an entrée with croutons, or with veau en cocotte with dill and fresh noodles. He explained: “In the States, morels grow plentifully in the Midwest, but we also find a few around New York. They need sand, apple trees, and seem to like to be around farmhouses. You can never eat enough morels, so the quantity you give each person depends on what you have hunted.

For 1 pound mushrooms:
1/3 cup sweet butter

½ cup champagne
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

There is much sand in morels and they must be carefully cleaned with soft paper and a fruit knife. Place the mushrooms and butter in a baking dish, cook in a moderate oven (350°–375° F) for 20 minutes. Add champagne and continue cooking for a quarter of an hour. Season, cover with cream, and put back in the oven until the cream is bubbling.



Puffball Lasagna

Treat 1/2-3/4 inch slices of puffball as though they were pasta. Make a mixture of flavorful mushrooms sautéed in sesame oil and then “salted” with tamari (Polyporus frondosus, Craterellus cornucopioides, Marasmius oreades, Lepiotas procera, rachodes, or Americana) and another of tofu mixed with miso to take the place of cheese. Alternate layers of these with the slices of puffball in a deep baking dish.  Place in moderately hot oven until well amalgamated, about forty-five minutes or an hour. I would add a pinch of pepper and lemon zest into the mixture of mushrooms, but it is not macrobiotic, and therefore not preferred by the author, so let’s just keep silent! (as silent as John Cage in his 4'33")

I wish You a calm Christmas, focused on people and things you love the most!



* Plath, Sylvia. 1981. The Collected Poems. New York: Harper & Row

** Recipes taken from Vogue, October issue, 1965

Artist, teacher, author of numerous exhibitions and installations. She works as the Associate Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk where she teaches drawing and at School of Form in Poznań where she gives classes titled The shape of taste. In her drawings and objects she deals with a broadly defined corporeality of a body and the fragility of memory. Her latest works touch upon the issues related to the physiology of taste and the phenomenon of synesthesia.
Photo: Anna Królikiewicz, (1,5, 13, 14, 15), Issey Miyake dress by Irving Penn (3),  Albert Renger-Patzsch, ca 1930 (4), flickr (2, 7, 9,12, 16, 18), blog Cedison (6), Wiliam Gedney (8), John Cage in the kitchen shared with Merce Cunningham at 101 West 18th Street, 1982 photo by Lelli & Masotti, Mitsu Hanna by Robert Wun 2010 (11), Dior dress (17)

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