I've never understood the passion that my friends have for hunting mushrooms — to be honest, I don't much like mushrooms — but now, after reading this gorgeous and vivacious book, I get it. Victoria Romanoff and her mother fled their native Latvia in 1944, in advance of the Soviet invasion, and it was wild mushrooms that helped keep them alive during their years in displaced persons' camps in Germany.
"Competition was fierce," she writes in this part-memoir, part-cookbook, part foraging journal. "Entering the dark and balsamy woods at dawn we saw several Polish women already emerging with baskets on their heads."
Romanoff eventually made her way to the United States, where she now runs a restaurant with her partner, Sarah Adams (who took most of the photos for this book), specializing in mushrooms.
Her descriptions are mouthwatering, as are her many recipes — so much butter, cream, white wine, olive oil, good crusty bread. She serves mushrooms sliced, sauteed, dried, with potatoes, on top of pizza, bubbling in cheese. Oh, my.
She writes about the joy of the hunt, the excitement when she finds a hoard, the pleasure of cooking. The full-page color photos are occasional playful, showing Romanoff blowing on a black trumpet mushroom, slicing golden chanterelles with one tucked behind each ear.
But mostly they just show mushrooms in their glory. Truffles, shaggy inky caps, puffballs, chicken of the woods — I have to say that (with enough white wine, butter and cheese) I swear I could eat them all.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune's senior editor for books.
Mushroom Foraging and Feasting
By: Victoria Romanoff.
Publisher: Abbeville Press, 127 pages, $25.