Mushroom Memories

Me and my two older brothers: The Palmer Kids
The Palmer Kids

As a Boomer, I claim Ozzie and Harriett, the Beaver and Donna Reed as friends. I whirled away countless hours hula hooping and can recall Jackie Kennedy’s and Priscilla Presley’s bouffant hair styles.

The 50s lifestyle of the Palmer family, my parents, two older brothers and me, smells of times past, perhaps with a pinch of Silly Putty. Our castle was a one-bathroom house and we owned one family car because Mom didn’t drive. We ate dinner together every night when Dad came home from work. And we didn’t know anyone who owned a dishwasher.

Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer vacations were spent at my grandparents in Pittsburgh, PA. Since we lived in Virginia, the drive took about six hours. I’d be squeezed into the middle back seat; an unfortunate decision because I often got car sick riding up and down the mountainous back roads. You’d think somebody would have figured that out but…

I’d arrive looking pasty and feeling olive drab. My maternal grandmother, named Bub, thankfully had the remedy – – homemade mushroom soup. Her concoction bore no resemblance to Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom, a staple my Mom used in tuna-fish casserole.

Almost as short as a Munchkin, my four feet ten inch Bub ruled as queen of her kitchen. Seemed she always wore an apron and was fixing a meal. She’d start by soaking dried mushrooms and simmering marrow bones to make beef broth. Then she’d add gobs of fresh sliced mushrooms, diced carrots, some chopped celery, onion and homemade noodles. A spoonful of the silken broth, with a hint of sweet and sour, produced a heavenly cure.

We smile when we remember her apricot cakes, really more like bite-size breakfast rolls or cookies. She’d make sweet yeast dough, roll it out and cut into rounds. Then she dropped a spoonful of apricot filling in the middle, folded the dough in half, pinching and sealing the edges. She washed each cake with beaten egg, and baked it until golden brown. Just breathing in the foamy aroma of the yeast baking made our mouths water. And, like the old commercial, no one could eat just one.

My grandmother died back in 1966 and my Mom could never duplicate the mushroom elixir, though she did manage the apricot treats. My soupy attempts were dismal failures, weak and bland.

However, about fifteen years ago I came across a “new” cookbook, Entertaining by Martha Stewart, published in 1982. Inside I found a recipe for mushroom soup from Martha’s Polish mom, Martha Kostyra. While not an exact copy, the smell and consistency of her ingredients elicits dear memories of my little grandmother’s big kitchen and hearty soup.


Most families have a favorite dish that defines their holiday dinner. For the Kostyra family, it’s Polish mushroom soup. Martha’s mother made this hearty soup with dried borowik mushrooms—a pungent Polish variety—dried shiitakes, and fresh button mushrooms.

To preserve the flavor of the dried mushrooms, store them in an airtight container and let them soak in water before using. You can substitute dried cèpes or porcini mushrooms for the borowick mushrooms.

Update: Buy the original Entertaining by Martha Stewart as a used book on at bargain prices.

Martha Kostyra’s Polish Mushroom Soup

Serves 8 to 12


  • 5 to 6 ounces (about 4 to 6) dried mushrooms such as Polish borowik or cèpes
  • 12 large dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 quarts beef stock
  • 5 medium ribs of celery, chopped
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Table salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Rinse the dried mushrooms. Place mushrooms in 2 cups of cold water, and soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  2. In a large pot, bring the stock to a simmer.
  3. Add the celery, onions, and carrots.
  4. Strain the dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid.
  5. Add the strained soaking liquid to the soup.
  6. Chop the hydrated mushrooms into 1/4-inch pieces slightly larger than the diced vegetables, and add to the soup.
  7. Add the sliced white button mushrooms.
  8. Cover, and cook the soup until the vegetables are tender, about an hour.
  9. Bring the soup to a boil.
  10. Stirring constantly, add the orzo.
  11. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil, and, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking, cook until the orzo is cooked through, another 6 to 8 minutes.
  12. Meanwhile melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  13. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.
  14. Remove 1 cup of the broth from the soup, and add to the roux, whisking constantly until slightly thickened and free of lumps.
  15. Stir the thickened liquid into the soup.
  16. Add the chopped parsley and dill.
  17. Finish the soup with sour cream: Add 1/4 cup of the thickened soup to the sour cream. Whisk until smooth.
  18. Add the sour cream to the soup, whisking constantly until it is well incorporated, about 3 minutes.
  19. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

My Grandmother didn’t add dill, instead she threw in a little saukerkraut- Debi