“Nature alone is antique and the oldest art is the mushroom.”
From her earliest memory, Ava Chin took comfort in the earth and since then has sought psychological and physical sustenance from it, especially when parental nourishment was scarce.
As a child, digging with a spoon “in the mostly concrete courtyard” of her mother’s apartment building, Chin would unearth worms and coins, and field garlic. Guided by her grandparents’ cooking and marketing, Chin learned to look at, taste, and smell her environment, from the the spitting wok manned by her grandfather to the earthy bins of dried shitakes–dong gu–at the Asian markets.
She extended this attentiveness to the mysteries of her own family and in this memoir, she documents her search for a place in her parents’ lives. Her father left when she was a child, and her abandoned mother was on her own search for love and security. Some things can never be resolved, but even in winter, the earth can yield a few sheltered green stalks, and in the spring, life returns with mushrooms, mulberries, and lambs quarters. The book weaves her searches together–ultimately finding life, with her family and in the city earth.
Along with the emotions is food, including the obligatory wild mushroom fears (and some really good information about the spore tests used to identify edible mushrooms, though I still will rely on expert identification). There is something very comforting knowing that even in the most seemingly barren of earthscapes, you can find something to eat.
You’ll never look at your backyard–or a public park or that strip of grass along the sidewalk–the same way again.