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A N.H. author’s picture book invites children into the world of mushroom foraging

Melany Kahn holds a copy of her book, "Mason Goes Mushrooming".
Kevin O'Connor
/
Brattleboro Reformer
Melany Kahn holds a copy of her book, "Mason Goes Mushrooming".

A new picture book written by a New Hampshire author invites children into the world of mushroom foraging with a guide, a handful of recipes and a collection of vibrant watercolor illustrations.

“Mason Goes Mushrooming” was written by Melany Kahn, who is based in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire, and Brattleboro, Vermont. It tells a story of her son, Mason, and family dog, Buddy, as they forage for mushrooms around New England. It’s available in bookstores and online now.

Kahn spoke with All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa about the book. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Transcript

Julia Furukawa: Melany, "Mason Goes Mushrooming," this is a children's book, and the main character is your son, Mason, and your family dog, Buddy. Why did you decide to go with the format of a children's book and include these two characters as the main focus?

Melany Kahn: Well, Julia, "Mason Goes Mushrooming" is actually essentially a true story. I'm a second generation mushroom forager. My son Mason would be a third generation, and as a family, we would spend many weekends in New Hampshire going out with our local mushroom clubs and local mycological groups learning how to forage for wild, edible, culinary, delicious mushrooms, and Mason and my daughter Allie, were very enthusiastic foragers from a super young age, as was our family dog, Buddy. So we've been mushrooming as a family since my kids were really, really young.

Julia Furukawa: You could take Mason and maybe not Buddy, to the local supermarket and have him grab one of those little baskets of mushrooms with the Saran wrap cover on them off the shelf in the produce aisle. You could do that, but you could also take him out on an adventure like this. What's the value of doing this kind of activity outside and finding these mushrooms on your own?

Melany Kahn: Julia, foraging at its heart is, in my mind, an essential activity, not only because of the value of potentially finding some hidden treasure, but also because it ultimately really connects us to our land and to nature. And for children, it helps them to have a personal and direct relationship with the place that they call home, which at the end of the day, I believe leads to them caring about this planet that we call home and ultimately wanting to conserve and preserve it.

Julia Furukawa: In your book, Mason and Buddy seek out several different types of mushrooms, but there are some mushrooms out there that are not good mushrooms to eat, and a parent giving this book to their child, or maybe a teacher in a classroom, might be a little bit worried about a child going out in foraging on their own like Mason does in the book. What would you say to them? And how do we exercise safety precautions when it comes to foraging?

Melany Kahn: Julia, I would say that’s absolutely 100% accurate. This hobby, like many other hobbies, is not one that you go out and learn on your own. The best way to go mushroom foraging if you're a beginner or just becoming interested in it is with a local mycology group. It's not one that I recommend that folks just go out and start doing using either the internet or a 'I think it looks OK' sort of style. No, it's like if you were going to go learn how to go hunting or fishing or even gardening, there's a certain amount of knowledge that you need to bring to that.

Julia Furukawa: So, I have the book here with me in the studio, and I've been looking through it over the past couple of days, and these illustrations in here, they look like they're watercolor. Is that the medium it was?

Melany Kahn: Correct.

Julia Furukawa: And they're very vibrant, lots of colors. We've got scenes with fairies and wildlife and an underwater picture. One that really stood out to me, though, is this sort of quintessential New England scene where we have Mason in a Fourth of July parade. And behind him we've got fireworks and then a classic New England covered bridge. So, what makes foraging here in our home state of New Hampshire and in Vermont as well, what makes it special in this region?

Melany Kahn: I love that you pick that particular image. Ellen Korbonski, the artist, used the covered bridge in West Brattleboro, Vermont, as the prototype for that. And the parade, the heifer parade and the Fourth of July parade, which every one of your listeners can relate to a small parade in one of our New England towns. So that image is from the sense of place that we have here in New England. And mushroom foraging here in New England is very popular. It's way more popular than you even know. There's a really vibrant community of foragers out there. It's one of those things that once you get into it, you realize, oh, this has been going on all around me for a long time. I just just arrived at the party, sort of, so to speak.

Julia Furukawa: For our listeners who might be wanting to get into foraging, whether by themselves or with their children, what's the scene like in New Hampshire? Are there any spots we should know about that maybe you're willing to divulge or are those things you keep close to your heart?

Melany Kahn: What I would tell folks here in New Hampshire is we have an outrageously wonderful system of national forests and parks and recreational lands, and mushrooms are everywhere, meaning they're in your local cemetery, they're sprouting up in the pile that you got from the compost. They're there in the playground that your child plays in. They're also in the forest, obviously. So finding mushrooms is there. They're actually quite ubiquitous. And I like to say once you start seeing mushrooms, you can't unsee them. They are literally all around us.

Julia Furukawa: Along with the stories of the four seasons that Mason looks for mushrooms in, there's also some recipes included in this book. One that stood out to me, and maybe I'm thinking of it because I haven't had breakfast yet, is the morel omelet. Is there a recipe in the book that stands out to you or that you would particularly recommend for a reader?

Melany Kahn: Well, I'm with you on the morel omelet, Julia. There's kind of nothing better. It's also the same time of year that wild ramps are out and fiddlehead ferns and the beginning fresh spinach that comes out of the garden so you can make a spring omelet. That is pretty first class.

Julia Furukawa: All right, time for me to run home and make one of those before I get on to broadcast. Well, Melany, anything else that I didn't ask you about that we should know about your book?

Melany Kahn: I think for some people, there's this idea that you have to be an expert before you try on a new hobby. And I think mushroom hunting is one of those things in which you can begin at any age, as you can see from the book, and you can keep doing it and gain a single mushroom a year of knowledge. I still add one mushroom a year to my, what I call, repertoire of mushrooms that I know because there is an endless, boundless supply of information about mushrooms that I never grow tired of learning about.

Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
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