I love to cook. But even more so, I love to eat.
I’ve used some of my newfound time to get better at both. I’ve also used the time to learn some basic mycology and go out on short, slow walks in places I wouldn’t normally visit to find some choice edible mushrooms.
I found that I really enjoy this slow, methodical way of exploring an area. I don’t go very far, and I don’t go very fast, but I come out of the woods refreshed and satisfied. It’s like meditating for a couple of hours. And, in addition to finding edibles, you also find a lot of other strange and wonderful things – everything from old garbage to bizarre plants and animals. (Bill alone has collected at least $2 worth of aluminum cans on some of our hunts.)
Before this year, I didn’t really know that much about wild mushrooms that grew in our area. Sure, I have bought dried mushroom mixes for fancy risottos, or splurged on some fresh oyster mushrooms for a stir fry, but I had never thought about them out there, just sitting, waiting to be harvested, until I went moral hunting with a friend last spring. It was hard work and we didn’t find many, but we gathered enough for me to make the Barefoot Contessa’s wild mushroom risotto that night and its tastiness blew my mind. I was hooked.
I bought a few books about wild mushrooms (I recommend “All That the Rain Promises and More…” by David Arora; it’s delightful, even if you’re not interested in other mushrooms) and started doing some research about specific mushroom habitat. Since I’ve been out exploring the Pacific Northwest for over 15 years, it was easy for me to find places with great mushroom finds because I had this latent database of habitats in my head. Previously logged second growth Doug Fir? I know a hundred places like that. Better yet, I like to walk and the further you walk from the easy, accessible places, the better luck you’ll have finding patches that haven’t been found or previously harvested.
This season, the edibles I’ve found include chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and porcini. I dehydrated the porcini for using later, and have either eaten or processed all of the others for eating later. I have had success with this method of processing chanterelles for freezing. They can be stored this way for up to a year.
In addition to the common sense warnings about poisonous mushrooms and not eating something that you can’t identify, I also have to pass on the warning about being unprepared and getting disoriented while looking for mushrooms. All of my SAR friends bemoan how its the mushroom hunters who are always the ones going missing and need to be rescued. Be smart; dress and pack as if you’re going for a hike (good shoes, no cotton, 10 essentials, plus a GPS), let someone know where you’re going, and be aware of your surroundings. It’s very easy to get disoriented in the forest when you’re only looking down. I’ve gotten turned around more than once myself.
You should also be aware that most land managers have restrictions on harvesting forest products, a category in which mushrooms fall. Be sure to check whose land you’re hunting on and know the regulation; sometimes a free or low-fee permit is required. The following are a few agencies and the rules for places around the Portland metropolitan area:
Each time I went out, I found enough mushrooms for dinner with some left over for processing and storing, which means that I have done a lot of cooking around wild mushrooms as the main ingredient in the last month or two. Here are my favorite recipes, from the exceptional to the very good:
1. Gnocchi with Proscuitto, Spring Peas, and Chanterelles
The gnocchi is worth the time/effort involved to make it. It’s the best I’ve had. I don’t understand why the chef paired spring peas with a fall mushroom; we use frozen peas since the two will never be in season together.
2. Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter (aka “Crack Sauce”)
It’s a labor of love if you make the pasta, but oh-so-worthwhile.
3. Leek and Wild Mushroom Quiche
A delicious riff on Julia Child’s Quiche aux Champignons. I just substituted the wild mushrooms for the conventional mushrooms and didn’t worry about browning them perfectly.
5. Polenta with Wild Mushrooms and Rosemary
From Cook’s Illustrated, January 1995 issue or the “The New Best Recipe” cookbook. This Willams-Sonoma version looks good, too.
6. Wild Mushroom Risotto
8. Lobster Mushroom Bisque
It is remarkable how lobstery the lobster mushrooms smell. The soup was good, but I think I prefer real lobsters to lobster mushrooms.
Do you forage for mushrooms or other forest edibles? What are your favorite recipes? I’d love to hear about them!