“When I’m an old man and can no longer go foraging,” Strusinski says, “if you hold a chanterelle under my nose, the smell will make me weep.”
People often think that what he does is strange, Strusinski says. He once summarily sent a reporter from the Wall Street Journal out of the woods because she did not understand the pleasure of matsutake mushrooms. “Why not fall in love with mushrooms?” he asks. “It’s always surprising when I see the mushrooms in a new season. I can’t be sure they’re coming back and then they do, and every time it delights me, it takes my breath away for a moment. When I’m an old man and can no longer go foraging, if you hold a chanterelle under my nose, the smell will make me weep.”
That might sound wacky in the context of the United States, he says, but in Italy, for instance, “porcini hunting is not just some light thing. It’s an annual ritual, with the whole family going out.” It’s a way of knowing where they live and even who they are. “People at the train station will stop you so they can smell your porcini.”
Now and then, he says, something like that will happen to him in this country, too. Last summer in Camden, Maine, a group of Korean tourists were walking by, and they caught a glimpse of the matsutake mushrooms in his trunk. “I wasn’t really showing, but I was showing, and everybody gathered around. They elbowed me back like a bystander, and everyone was going through the trunk like it was their own. They were wielding them, they were smelling them, they were doing these little dances with them. One woman got into a parked car with a mushroom, and I went over to see what she was doing and she was holding it up to the nose of an old woman, who was inhaling it reverentially.” Afterward, they put everything back and left Strusinski behind, beaming. “Their pleasure was my pleasure,” he says.
Maybe it’s an impossible dream to think Americans, outside of a few fashionable restaurants, might also feel that kind of excitement. But for a moment, it was almost as if Dot’s Diner had come to him.