During these soggiest dog days of high summer it seems as if fall is a dream that might never come. But as the fresh foods that appear on the market shelves remind us, the seasons roll on, and soon we will enjoy the crisp fall air and colorful maple and ginkgo trees. The first sign of impending autumn, the noble matsutake (called mattake in some parts of Japan) mushroom, returned to greengrocers this past week, and other fruits of fall will soon follow.

The key to great matsutake is freshness.

The matsutake is the king of all mushrooms in Japan, and — some aficionados would say — the world. It grows wild in large stands of red pine, and is not successfully farm-cultivated as are shiitake and other mushrooms. Matsutake appear naturally in Japan, Korea and China. Wild spores have also been introduced in the American Northwest and Canada, among other areas, from where a large number of these delicacies are now imported to Japan each year.