When we say giant mushroom, we mean it - a two foot long, 30 pound mushroom found in Salem.
But when we say Mario, we don't mean the video game hero known for turning super after ingesting a fungi or two. We mean Mario Mollica, who owns Salon 99 in Salem and also runs the company Tours to Tuscany. A mushroom forager for decades, Mollica is the one who found the delicacy known as "hen of the woods" on an oak tree not far from where he works. Despite the name "hen in the woods," he says he finds more mushrooms near old roads than in forested areas. "It grows underneath large oak trees," Mollica explains. "Not so much of a wood area around them, it likes more open areas."
He says the mammoth find, combined with the dozens of other hefty mushrooms he recently gathered, means he has about a hundred pounds of mushrooms on his hands. When he finds mushrooms, his 90 year old mother cleans, boils and pressurizes them in Mason jars - an intense process, but it means they'll have mushrooms for a long time to come.
It's the same traditional process his family used growing up in Southern Italy. "Mushrooms [were] a way of life for us," Mollica says. "You live off the land. And then, during the year, when you are in the mood for mushrooms, you'd pick a jar of mushrooms and eat it. And pretty much it's the same way over here."
He could sell some - Mollica says hen of the woods sometimes sell for $16 a pound - but he plans to eat the big find. Probably not in one sitting, though.