One of the great things about fall (besides the sunny brisk days, changing leaves, and slower pace) is the abundance of free food just lying about the forest floor. The cycle begins with morels in the spring, oyster mushrooms throughout the summer, shaggy manes, myriad boletes, then chanterelles and lobster mushrooms, and finally blewits. That’s a lot of foraging! Go slowly and start with the easy ones, we add about one mushroom per year to our repertoire. Last year we picked morels and chanterelles, this year we added shaggy manes and lobster mushrooms. We’re still working on the boletes (there’s hundreds of them – not all good) and blewits. Puffballs are also a good mushroom, but Keith doesn’t seem to like them so we’ve stopped picking them. Do give them a try!
Of course you can’t just willy nilly pick whatever mushrooms you find and pop them into your mouth so a little research and hopefully help from someone who’s picked, eaten and lived to tell the tale. Remember there are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but no old, bold mushroom hunters. Start with a few good mushroom books, we prefer ones with pictures instead of line drawings, and a couple of handy websites. The co-op and our local bookstores have a pretty good selection. We carry (that’s the ‘royal we’, the dog carries the books, containers, extra bags, mushroom knife and brush in her pack!) The Pocket Guide to Mushrooms and Common Mushrooms of the Northwest. I like All That the Rain Promises as well. The co-op is also a good source to purchase (or inspect) wild mushrooms which can help you identify them in the wild.
Pacific Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus formosus
Some websites with useful information are:
Fungi Perfecti (Paul Stametz, our local PNW guru, whose books are a must read on the topic)
Morel Mania (check ‘Sightings’ to help with timing and lots of articles under ‘Information’)
The Great Morel (another specialty site)
Edible Wild Mushrooms (good ID reference)
Rogers Mushrooms (good ID reference)
MushroomExpert.com (another good ID reference)
Northwest Mushroomers Association (Bellingham group, good ID links too)
Now that you’ve got your books and some websites, mark your calendar for October 19th and get up to Bloedel-Donovan Park in Bellingham for the 2008 Fall Mushroom Show put on by the NW Mushroomers. $5 gets you entry and lots of information about mushrooms, tastings and even identification of any mushrooms that you bring along! We’re not doing much driving these days, but this is one worthwhile event. Carpool anyone?
Once you’ve picked your mushrooms, you need to do something with them. Not all mushrooms get the same treatment so keep that in mind. I learned this when I bought a lobster mushroom so we could taste it and found that it tasted nasty. This year I picked some, did a little research, and then cooked them differently and was very pleasantly surprised! Live and learn.
Chanterelles on the chopping block
Morels, oysters, chanterelles, shaggy manes: Chop coarsely, place them in a dry pan and sweat over medium heat without crowding. Once they’ve given off all their moisture, douse them in butter, garlic and maybe cream. Alternatively, cool them and refrigerate for later meals or pack into vacuum bags and freeze.
Shaggy mane mushroom - Coprinus comatus
Shaggy manes don’t store well so pick them and cook them right away or they’ll turn black. It doesn’t hurt anything, but does make everything muddy so it’s best to just work quickly. Also don’t use any wine in the cooking or drink any alcoholic beverages before, during or after eating shaggy manes.
You can see the ones on the left are blackening and should be discarded
Lobster mushrooms: Lobsters are actually a short-stemmed russula that’s been colonized by another fungus. I’ve noticed that they tend to be kind of dirty and bug-infested so the best strategy is to pick about 3 or 4 times as much as you need and then rinse them thoroughly. I cut off any questionable parts until I’m left with nice clean white interior with no tunnels. Slice the lobsters very thinly and quickly saute in butter and garlic. Serve over pasta, in risotto or on a salad. The flavor is delicate and very much like lobster! They give off a lovely red-gold color so you can use extra butter and drain it off to use in other dishes too.
Lobster mushrooms - Hypomyces lactifluorum & Chanterelles
Apparently boletes taste best if they’ve been dehydrated before using. I still haven’t positively ID’d edible boletes so I haven’t tried them, but I’ve certainly dehydrated morels and chanterelles for storage. Morels do quite well, but chanterelles get a little tough. The flavors are more pronounced for both, however, so it’s a worthwhile practice. I dry them in my food dehydrator and then store them in canning jars with vacuum sealed lids. Sealing them in jars keeps the moisture out and helps them last much longer.
L-R: sauteed, refrigerated chanterelles, dried chanterelles, commercial mix, dried morels and tree fungus
Finally, even with all this bounty, I can’t resist buying mushrooms. Every once in a while I’ll pick up a pack of fresh button mushrooms, portabellos, or shiitakes and I always have a big jug of dried mushrooms on hand. I make sure to get Pistol River Mushrooms since they’re nearby in Oregon. I get them at Cash and Carry up in Bellingham for about $14 per jug. I try to make sure that I’m not buying mushrooms grown in China unless it makes sense. I happen to have some tree ear fungus from Hong Kong for example. Not shown in the photo above is a large jug of shiitakes also from China.
So what do I do with all these dehydrated mushrooms? Rehydrate! A little hot water and 30 minutes of time will usually yield good results. A little more time and some Sherry or Marsala wine is even better. They can be tossed into stews as is and I like to powder them up in the food processor and use the mushroom flour for flavoring gravies, soups, meatloaf and even bread dough. It’s great wherever a bit of umami is needed!
Vietnamese salad rolls with lobster mushrooms
Besides just being delicious, mushrooms are a great source of vitamins and minerals particularly B6 and iron which are important for vegetarians. They also have Vitamin D making them a good winter food for us Northerners. Hunting mushrooms is good exercise since it gets you out into the fresh air and it also saves you money. This year I noted that morels were $23/lb., chanterelles were $8/lb., and lobsters were $11/lb. I guess they do tend to up the consumption of butter, garlic and cream, but we can’t win ’em all.