Perhaps your idea of a vacation is a river boat trip up Peruvian Amazon, disembarking to explore the dense rain forests with their towering trees and dripping branches – monkeys chattering and birds shrieking – and the sun turning liquid as it finds its way through the jungle canopy.
You’d need a guide, of course, and a crew of natives, because the deeper you travel into the jungle, the more exotic and bewildering it grows. Tribes of Amazonian Indians still live here and practice shamanic healing, conduct spiritual ceremonies, and forage from medicinal mushrooms, seedpods, and bark.
If mushrooms from undiscovered regions are what you crave, you need to know about Gerry Miller.
“I was introduced to the Amazon in the 60’s when I was teaching at Berkeley,” says Miller, who lives a block up the street from the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. “A fellow teacher had an extra spot on a trip to study in Ecuador, and I went.” While there, he followed up on a childhood fascination. He had seen costumes and headgear of the Amazon Jivaro tribe at Yale’s Peobody Museum, and dreamt of meeting them. So he talked his way onto a military transport plane heading for the border of Peru, where he was dropped of to fend for himself for three months until the plane was scheduled to return.
Miller fell in love with the Amazon – with the people, their tribal cultures, the magical medicine trees – and the mushrooms, which are seductive and beautiful. They can conjure, heal, lead, comfort, and nourish. For over 40 years, he has travelled back and fourth between Connecticut and Peru, balancing his work as an artist, collector, and exotic antiques shop owner with his love and respect for wild mushrooms.
Miller and his wife, Chris, still conduct expeditions into the Amazon to explore and search for wild mushroom, but if you’d rather stay closer to home, Miller hosts local forays into Connecticut state parks and forests to harvest edible mushrooms.
“There are hundreds if kinds if mushrooms in Connecticut,” says Miller, who served as president of the Connecticut Valley Mushroom Society for several years, “but you can’t eat them all, and even among the edible ones, you have to know how to cook them.”
A common mushroom that grows in the trunks of old trees can be prepared much like one would cook chicken, and they’re a tasty substitute in vegetarian recipes. Her presents a basket of vibrant orange mushrooms that look more like beautiful seashells, fanned out and lacy. “These,” he announces proudly, “are called ‘chicken-of-the-woods.’”
Note for wild mushrooms enthusiasts: Miller is happy to identify your harvest to be sure you don’t cook up a dinner of poisonous ‘shrooms. Descriptions over the phone (even photos on your iPhone) will not ensure that the mushrooms you have are what you think they are.
For more information you call and arrange to bring your harvest to him. 860-873-8286
Chicken of the woods omelet:
3 Tbsp. Butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Cup diced Chick of the Woods
1/4 cup shredded Monteryey Jack or cream cheese
1/2 cup cream or half and half
2 or 3 shallots, diced
Salt and pepper
1. Melt the butter in a heavy frying pan over low heat.
2. Beat the eggs and cream, add salt and pepper to taste; pour into the pan.
3. As the eggs start to cook, sprinkle the Chicken of the Woods, cheese, shallots, and parsley over the top.
4. Cook for 1-2 minutes more until the egg mixture sets.
5. Fold the omelet over and remove from heat. Cover and let sit for 1 minute.