Letters would arrive from France, Poland, and Israel, my father carefully removing the stamps before tossing the envelopes. Once in a while, no more than once or twice a year, a package would arrive as well. It was always the same, a cardboard box wrapped in brown paper tied with a rope. It was clear from the handwriting that it was addressed by someone whose native language was not English. A pungent, earthy smell seeped through the box, revealing the contents before we managed to cut the string.
The box contained dried mushrooms, grzyby. They were sent to us by a Polish man who had helped my father during the war, a man who in return for his kindness and heroism, received a small check from my father, every month, for as long as I can remember. They never saw each other again, but the relationship was maintained by this exchange that went back and forth across the ocean, via mail.
In an age where letters are a rare form of communication, and packages often come from Amazon, I miss that feeling of anticipation and excitement that went hand in hand with the approach of a mailman. We say our hectic lives are to blame, but I think about this Polish farmer, whose life I am sure was challenging in many unimaginable ways, going out to the woods to pick mushrooms after a rainfall, then drying them, boxing them, and taking them to a post office to mail them to a man in the United States who he had not seen in years.
It has been rainy and cold (for L.A.) and Purim is around the corner. That means Mishloah Manot will soon be mailed. I have no doubt that there will be various comments about the contents, but I hope that the packages will stir the same feelings that I think my father experienced when those boxes arrived. Knowing that someone is thinking of you, year after year, and from miles away.
In the meantime, it is a perfect time of year to make a pot of mushroom soup.
Dried Mushroom Soup
2 oz. dried Polish mushrooms
1 cup hot water
1 lb small brown or white mushrooms
2 Tb olive oil
1 large brown onion
1 small leek, white part only
1 large russet potato
2 Tb butter
3 cups pareve chicken stock plus reserved water that mushrooms were soaked in.
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 cup whole milk
Soak dried mushrooms in a small bowl of hot water for a few minutes to release any dirt. Then strain and place mushrooms in about 1 cup of hot water for about 20 minutes till mushrooms soften. Peel and dice onion, clean and thinly slice leek, and add both to a large soup pot along with the 2 Tb of olive oil. Saute onions and leeks for about 5 minutes over a low flame but do not allow to brown. Thinly slice fresh mushrooms and add to pot along with dried mushrooms, reserved liquid, and chicken broth. Add potato that you have peeled and diced and salt and pepper. Bring soup to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered, for about one hour. Allow to cool and then purée using an immersion blender. Add butter and milk and adjust seasoning to taste. If you want to reheat, do it over a low flame. Serves 6 – 8