Local forager, educator, and children’s book author Melany Kahn started hunting for mushrooms at a young age, learning from her parents, the artists Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason. As she got a little older, Kahn said, “We’d be driving somewhere and my dad would pull over and say, ‘I’ve got to go draw that barn.’ So part of foraging was also having something to do when my dad was drawing. I don’t remember ever not foraging.”
On Sunday, October 1, at 3 p.m., Kahn, in partnership with the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC), hosts “Forage to Feast,” a local expedition to look for—and eat—edible wild mushrooms that are abundant in New England every autumn. All ages and levels of mycology experience (the study of fungi) are welcome. Participants will explore the woods around Kahn’s West Chesterfield home; identify and taste a black trumpet, chanterelle, or other seasonal mushrooms; and learn how accessible and welcoming the world of foraging is. The foraged mushrooms will become the star ingredient in a homemade pizza dinner that Kahn promises will convert even the most wary fungi-taster. Participants will also receive a complimentary autographed copy of her book, Mason Goes Mushrooming, courtesy of BMAC.
Mason Goes Mushrooming
The book is a collaboration between Kahn and artist Ellen Korbonski, whose ethereal watercolor illustrations lend a magical quality to Kahn’s story of a boy and a dog hunting for mushrooms in the woods. Kahn explained that the book was born out of scarcity. “I’ve done mushroom education with kids for a long time, and I always thought it would be great, especially with a younger group, to have something to read to them,” she said. “I looked for a mushroom book for my own kids when they were little, and I couldn’t find one. Nobody was speaking to children about the joys of foraging.”
So Kahn wrote from experience, having taken her son Mason, now 20, on foraging outings all his life, just as her parents had done with her. Since the book was published a year ago by Green Writers Press, Kahn has led groups of children and adults across the country on “mushroom meanders,” as she describes them. The BMAC event will include about 45 minutes of non-strenuous walking and foraging, followed by a discussion session with Kahn around a mushroom identification table featuring specimens found by participants and others supplied by Slipstream Farm of Newfane, Vermont. “There’s so much to talk about in the woods right now,” Kahn said. “It’s been a really prolific year, and the mushrooms are fruiting like mad.”
Which also means there are lots of them to eat. With homemade mushroom pizza, Kahn said, reluctant tasters should prepare to be converted. “There’s always somebody in the crowd who doesn’t like mushrooms,” she said. “But then I make them pizza or a crispy chanterelle with butter and sea salt and they say, ‘This tastes like bacon!’”
While Kahn goes into the woods with decades of knowledge and experience, she said her favorite things about foraging are the element of surprise about what she’ll find, and the moment when the new foragers she’s guiding develop what she calls “mushroom eyes”—when they begin to see the mushrooms and are soon finding them everywhere.
“Kids, especially, are very good at it,” Kahn said. “They’re smaller and closer to the ground, and for them, it’s like a treasure hunt, like they’re looking for Easter eggs or seashells on a beach. And when they start to understand that they’re also foraging for food, it just amps up their enthusiasm. I just love going in the woods with kids.”
Admission to “Forage to Feast” is $45 for adults, $25 for children 13 and under, and includes the expedition, pizza, and an autographed copy of Mason Goes Mushrooming. Purchase tickets at brattleboromuseum.org or by calling 802-257-0124, ext. 101. The event takes place on Sunday, October 1, at 3 p.m., rain or shine.
Brattleboro Museum & Art Center
Founded in 1972, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center presents rotating exhibits of contemporary art, complemented by lectures, artist talks, film screenings, and other public programs. BMAC is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10-4. Admission is free, courtesy of M&T Bank. Located in historic Union Station in downtown Brattleboro, at the intersection of Main Street and Routes 119 and 142, the museum is wheelchair accessible. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit brattleboromuseum.org.
BMAC is supported in part by the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Brattleboro Savings & Loan, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, and Whetstone Beer Co.