Mud Pies and Other Delicacies

I think this is my favorite season. It’s actually an inter-season, when the last of the snow has nearly melted and the reeds of last summer still stand tall and blond and dry.

old snow

winter reeds

And yet… the canes of bushes like these raspberries are reddening.

red canes

Tiny fringes of green poke through rotted leaves.

new grass

You can almost hear the sap rising in the trees. The end of winter. The beginning of spring.

I’m impatient to have the warm weather here. At five in the morning the birds are beginning to tune up. I am ready for the warm-weather mud.

I still think of a book I obsessed over when I was a child, called Mud Pies and Other Recipes. The author, Marjorie Winslow, spelled out instructions that called for raindrops (to make “fried water”) and crushed dry leaves, flower petals and pine needles (for appetizers, to serve prettily in baking cups cut from shirt cardboard). I dreamed over that book.

mud pies and other recipes cover

There was, naturally, plenty of mud. For “wood chip dip” you must “mix dirt with water until it is as thick as paste. Place this bowl on a platter surrounded by wood shavings. Scoop the dip with the chip.” For a kid who liked to build homes out of acorn shells between the roots of trees, this was heady stuff.

The landscape around the Cabin, especially in this inter-season, makes me wonder what magic Winslow would concoct here.

fallen bark

How about a bark sandwich?

bark sandwich

But let’s try to leave babyish games behind.

One of the best-known young Scandinavian chefs, Magnus Nilsson, brings nature into his decidedly grownup cuisine, with meals people travel into the remote Swedish hinterlands to experience. Marigold petals are as much staples of his kitchen as they are in the world of Mud Pies, along with ingredients like birch syrup and moose-meat powder.


He has recently come out with a cookbook, Faviken, that evokes fairy tales through its approach to food preparation. The book delineates the secrets of Faviken Magasinet, the fabled restaurant Nilsson runs, giving recipes with surprisingly narrative titles, like “Marrow and heart with grated turnip and turnip leaves that have never seen the light of day, grilled bread and lovage salt.” He explains, about this dish, that “the main ingredients are a perfectly fresh femur and an equally fresh cow’s heart.” Not something I’m going to try at home, but possessed of a mythic poetry. Or how about this one? “A tiny slice of top blade from a retired dairy cow, dry aged for nine months, crispy reindeer lichen, fermented green gooseberries, fennel salt.”

nillson 1

Magnus Nilsson loves lichen. He loves all the ingredients from Mud Pies, it would seem. A typical recipe: “Pine mushroom, lamb’s kidney, pickled marigold.” Wild plants distinguish his cooking. “Vegetables cooked with autumn leaves.” And perhaps the most spectacular yet absolutely simple preparation: “Vinegar matured in the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree.”

nillson 1 1

I bet I could put together some pretty good acorn furniture for the base.



Filed under Cooking, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Photography, Publishing

10 responses to “Mud Pies and Other Delicacies

  1. Pingback: The Algorithm of Curvy Passion | Jean Zimmerman


    Thanks. It’s one of my fondest memories. This was late September, 2010, when I still owned the house in Pennsylvania, with a glassed-in sun porch and a maple tree that was briliant red, by then. Tessa and I had just read FAIRY HOUSES by Tracy Kane, so we built one. She is my grand-daughter from Chicago; the great-grandmother is my mother, whose funeral we attended that afternoon. The next morning, the holly berries were gone, and *the fairies* had left a thank-you note (my son’s writing).

  3. Evocative. Was that you?


    The Funeral FairyHouse: Late September leaves, multi-colored on the ground, various pinecones and sticks, lots of pine needles, gathered during a quick foray around the back yard, decorated with acorns she’d collected in Chicago and stowed in her Kindergarten backpack the week before, because she liked them, now arranged in the mulch outside the Pennsylvania sun-porch, three red holly berries in an acorn cap to tempt the fairies in. Great-Grandmother would have loved hearing the story… the girl was so much like her… but it was time to go to the funeral.

  5. Snowdrops should be up soon. I wonder if they make you laugh, too.

  6. regina

    I love the in-between seasons. I once saw a small cluster of crocuses in a tiny Cambridgeport front yard. I started laughing. Later, I was told crocuses make you laugh.
    Check also on Marble Terrace with the busy birdsong.

  7. Lori

    Suddenly I hanker for a nice piece of venison grilled gently and then sliced, with butter.

  8. Hack Attack

    Reservation for two at Faviken Magasinet

  9. Moss I like, “soft greenish mass” not so much. Thanks for the cook-lore.

  10. Andy

    “I have already mentioned the moss extracted from the paunch of the reindeer. It is a soft greenish mass of the consistency of thick gruel. The women strain it through a piece of old net. The coarse shreds of moss that remain in the strainer are placed back in the paunch, and smoked for a long time over the hearth. This method of preparation, however, is used principally by the Tungus. The Chukchee throw away the shreds and keep the green gruel, which they use for preparing a soup by boiling it with some blood, fat, and chopped guts of reindeer. In former times this soup formed the usual breakfast of the Reindeer people. The moss-gruel was stored in great quantities and used throughout the summer, but at present tea is gradually superseding the old moss-porridge.” – “The Chukchee ,” Waldemar Bogoras, 1904.

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