Tomorrow, July 28th, is the birthday of a woman long-dead but still much-loved – Beatrix Potter. In our travels down various internet rabbit holes, we’ve learned a few things about Potter’s life that are worth noting.
- She was a published illustrator before she was a published author, having succeeded in selling several drawings to accompany verses written by others. After she sold a series of illustrations and verses to an art publisher, she became ever more determined to publish her own illustrated stories.
- Despite not having one iota of schooling in business affairs, Potter was an innately shrewd businesswoman who understood the potential for merchandising. It was she who designed and patented the first Peter Rabbit doll.
- Potter deeply loved country life and deeply believed in land conservation. Over the years and with the proceeds from her literary success, she acquired 15 farms that encompassed some 4,000 acres within the UK’s Lake District. After her death, she bequeathed them all to the National Trust, thus preserving much of the Lake District as it is known today.
Another fact perhaps less widely known: before Beatrix Potter began knocking on the doors of publishers with her story about four little bunnies, as a twenty-something her focus centered on the natural sciences and primarily on mycology a.k.a. the study of fungi.
Initially it was drawing and painting them that captivated her, but as time went on she became interested in how fungi reproduced. She continued to develop her illustration skills as part of another project – her theory about how the fungi spores germinated. She combined the results of her experiments and drawings into a paper she submitted to the esteemed Linnean Society.
Her attempt to carve a place for herself in the arena of natural sciences failed. Females were not exactly welcomed into that fold with wild abandon. However, the illustrations she created for that paper are actually still used today for identifying types of fungi. Just as inspiring, Potter dusted off her disappointments and carried on creating, studying, imagining and drawing. Who knows if success in natural science would have meant that Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, Benjamin Bunny and all the other beloved Beatrix Potter characters would have never landed upon a page.
The scope of our fungi expertise is pretty narrow, i.e. what’s on the shelf at Whole Foods or the farmer’s market. However, we’re quite proud of the gastronomic results we’ve found with a standard white button mushroom. To celebrate that and to celebrate Potter’s gutsy pursuit of a natural science niche, we’re sharing one of our favorite stuffed mushroom recipes. (Scroll to the end of this post.)
There must be some kind of magic in the mix of sage, parmesan and prosciutto that gets spooned into the mushroom caps and baked under a hot grill for a few minutes, because it has turned many a mushroom hater into a mushroom lover. There are witnesses….
Last but not least, let’s clink-clink to Beatrix Potter, her wondrous imagination, and her wonderful characters. Happy Birthday, Miss Potter!
♥ Baked Mushrooms with Sage, Parmesan & Prosciutto ♥
(from Fine Cooking, circa the late 1990′s.)
- 1/4 cup/113 gr cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 0z./85 gr prosciutto, sliced and chopped fine
- 1 tsp. minced fresh sage, or 1/2 tsp. crumbled dry sage
- 1/3 cup/75 ml olive oil
- 1 lb./454 gr large button mushrooms, stemmed and wiped clean
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat the oven to 450°F/230°C
- Taste the prosciutto to see how salty it is. If it’s very salty, go easy on the salt in Step 4.
- Combine the Parmesan, prosciutto, sage and 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a bowl. Set aside.
- Arrange the mushrooms, grill side down, on a baking sheet. Combine the rest of the oil with the lemon juice and brush it on the mushrooms. Season them with salt and pepper.
- Bake for 3-4 minutes, turn the mushrooms over, and bake another 3-4 minutes, until the juices run and the mushrooms begin to soften.
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven and spoon some of the Parmesan mixture into each mushroom.
- Return the pan to the oven and bake for 4-5 minutes, until the cheese has melted slightly.
- Serve warm.
* Use the best Parmesan and prosciutto you can afford. In a dish of few ingredients, the quality of those flavors makes a difference.
* For a grilled rather than baked version of this recipe, click here.
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