Originally created 03/06/03

Food ideas mushroom into new cookbook



From grits to goat cheese and chicken livers with portobello mushrooms, Augusta's Martha Boardman Fleming cooks it all.

Cooking is her life, her passion, her salvation.

The author of The Grits Tree cookbook has written another slim volume, Mycelium Madness! Fun with Portabella Mushrooms, because she likes to show people the possibilities of food, Mrs. Fleming said.

"When I shop, I see people, men and women, looking in the produce," she said. "I said, 'Excuse me, do you ever cook these portobello mushrooms? Do you know anything about them?' Invariably, they said, 'We don't know what to do with them.' So that got me going on giving people ideas on what to do with them."

Those ideas became the basis for her book, which includes recipes such as mushrooms with chicken livers and caramelized onions and goat cheese and portobellos with double-boiler scrambled eggs.

Mrs. Fleming has been one of Augusta's most active hostesses, renowned for her parties during the Masters Tournament, although she has slowed down in recent years.

"Cooking sustains me," she said. "I'm 73, and if I hadn't cooked, I don't know how I would have survived. My husband died when I was 35, and I had three children, and we lived in New Haven (Conn.)."

Following her husband's death, she moved back to Augusta with her children, who were then 5, 9 and 11 years old. Sundays were hard to get through because it was the day families were together, so she would start cooking.

"I would see a recipe that would turn me on, and go to the store and come back and cook," she said. "And you can most always find people who want to eat. That's why I had so many parties. I had lots of parties, just for the fun of planning the menus and cooking."

She also likes to plan party decorations around a theme, she said.

"Probably the wildest thing I ever did was on Columbus Day in 1992, the 500-year anniversary of Columbus," she said. "I have a place at the beach, a cute little house overlooking the marsh. Two florist friends and I, it took us four months to get all the props down there. I pulled out helmets and nets and sails. We hauled all this stuff down there and transformed my little marsh house into the Santa Maria."

About 150 people from the Isle of Palms, S.C., Charleston, S.C., and Augusta came and shared the Italian and Portuguese fare.

"I cooked for days down there," she said. "I had stews, pork things, black beans. I don't know how I did it, looking back. That was the wildest party I ever had. It was a spectacular night."

All of her Masters parties had a theme. One year it was Flora and Fauna, with orchids and animals.

"I like to use my imagination," she said. "I'd do Greek on Wednesday night and doves and pastry on Saturday. Looking back, I must have been out of my mind. I don't do it today. I can't. At this Masters I'll have house guests and close friends maybe come for supper Wednesday night. And then I'm going to do a little brunch on Saturday which will be of a Mexican flavor."

Between now and then, she will be test cooking the Mexican dish she plans to serve.

When she's not working on a recipe or cooking for friends, Mrs. Fleming walks, works on projects, corresponds with old friends, pens her reflections of the past and organizes the files in her office in the cottage behind her Bransford Avenue house.

Currently, she is organizing old photographs for the Boardman family reunion at the end of the month.

"I spend most of my days alone, and I love it," she said.

BY THE BOOK

For more information about Mycelium Madness, call Martha Boardman Fleming at 738-1060.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com



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