My new Bookslut Column is up: The Magic of Mushrooms, in which I gush even more about mushroom hunting, and review the following books: The Complete Mushroom Book: Savory Recipes for Wild and Cultivated Varieties by Antonio Carluccio, MUSHROOM FEAST: A Celebration of all Edible Fungi, Cultivated, Wild and Dried, with Recipes by Jane Grigson, and The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
There they are — the first morels of the season. The Sweetheart and I found them up behind his cabin yesterday — eleven of them, nearly 12 ounces total (yes, I’m a nerd, I weighed them). It never gets old, the thrill of finding a mushroom in the grass.
I also found a couple of nice clumps of early oyster mushrooms. Little bitty ones, which sauteed up beautifully. So last night we had mushroom pizzas — one with morels and red onion and sausage and one with greens from the hoop house and sausage and both kinds of mushrooms (someone doesn’t like the oyster mushrooms, he only likes the morels).
I’ve written about mushroom hunting so often that I’m sure you’re all bored with hearing me blather on about how it’s my favorite outdoor activity. But it is. You get to hike very slowly, you’re outdoors, in some cases, like yesterday morning, you’re with someone you really like, and then you get to come home and cook delicious mushrooms in lots of butter and garlic. Here’s a shot of the oyster mushrooms cooking down:
Because we are all impatient for spring to arrive, here’s a link to a terrific article over at Civil Eats about morel hunting for novices.
Morels are a good first mushroom to learn to forage for since they really don’t look like anything poisonous. The closest character is the false morel, but once you’ve found some true morels, that one is pretty easy to spot. And it won’t kill you, which is good.
So, while we watch the snow fall outside, again, we can dream about tables covered in beautiful morels, skillets filled with morels sizzling in butter with just the tiniest bit of garlic, chicken and morels in cream sauce, and the heady smell of a house full of drying mushrooms. Sigh.
When my stepmother Susan was here last week, we went mushroom hunting. It’s been an uncharacteristically wet summer, and we really cleaned up. We found this gorgeous big bolete, which was nearly entirely clean of maggots (not always the case with these big ones), as well as a bunch of smaller boletes. It was a good haul and we only had throw out one of these for being too maggoty.
But the big excitement, at least for me, was that we found nearly five pounds of Chanterelles. I love chanterelles and this was the first summer I’d paid enough attention to the tiny clues mushroom people drop, and managed to find out where they grow around here.
They take a little time to clean up, since they tend to grow very close to the ground, so they pick up a lot of lichen and pine needles. Some people say not to wash mushrooms, but I always do. There’s so much dirt and stuff to be cleaned off, and since I’m going to sauté them up anyhow, I don’t worry too much about picking up a little extra water. I’d rather that than a big old pine needle in my mouth.
Chanterelles need to be put up differently from the boletes. We sliced the boletes and arranged them on cake racks, as I usually do, but chanterelles don’t dry well. So the way to put up chanterelles is to sauté them in butter until they give up all their moisture, then freeze them. What could be more festive than this sight?
Chanterelles sautéing in butter? Yum. You have to cook them down for quite a while — they’ll go from that bright orange to a sort of dull ochre, and they give up a lot more moisture than you’d think.
Of course you can also put some aside, as we did, and make a nice dish of Chicken with Chanterelles and Cream:
- 1 chicken, cut up
- 1 pound chanterelles
- 2 shallots
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 small bunch thyme
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup cream
Salt and pepper the chicken and brown thoroughly on all sides. Remove from the pan and add the shallots and chanterelles. Sauté until the chanterelles have given up most of their moisture, then return the chicken to the pan, add the garlic, the thyme and the wine. Simmer over low heat or pop into a 325 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a platter and keep warm. Add the cream to the pan, bring to a boil and cook until the sauce just thickens. Pour over the chicken and serve with rice or noodles.
We went on a little camping expedition this weekend, and it wasn’t until the afternoon of the second day that I managed to find any of these beauties. Boletus Edulis. Also known as penny buns, porcini, cep, and steinpilz (depending on which European grandparents you had …).
I’d been finding plenty of other boletes — especially the scabre stalks (Leccium Insigne), but I’d been skunked on the real prize, the delicious, aromatic, marvelous porcini.
Part of my problem this year is that my secret spot burned up in a forest fire two years ago, so I’ve had to start over, but it’s been raining off and on all summer, and it’s a marvelous year for summer mushrooms.
This picture actually only shows about half my stash. I cooked up the small ones the first night we got home (although my sweetheart, he-who-doesn’t-eat-vegetables didn’t really like them. Oh well, more for me). These were the big ones, that I suspected might harbor …. hitchikers
They were pretty clean though. Some of the really big ones, I had to strip the spongy “tubes” out of (it’s how you can tell a member of the bolete family, they have a spongy layer of tubes under the cap instead of gills). There were a few little worms, and I did have to throw out two big mushrooms altogether because they were just too far gone, but for the most part, they were clean, and lovely. So I sliced them, cleared a shelf in the pantry and there’s now three stacked cake racks with drying mushrooms on them.
And the summer is young yet. There are still mushrooms out there to be found. I can feel them growing …
Here they are — the first morels! (I always want to sing that to the tune of The First Noel.) The Carpenter and I had a great time this weekend finding morels up behind his cabin — mushroom hunting is SO MUCH FUN! I get SO excited when I see one sticking up out of the duff (he laughed at me as I splashed through the irrigation ditch in my haste to get to a patch of three on the far side).
Saturday night we had morels sauteed in butter with onions and garlic over steak, and last night I made a baked macaroni and cheese with morels. And there are more out there — it’s been intermittently rainy and sunny for a week or so, and we haven’t had any snow in almost a week.
Spring! Morels! Delicious delicious mushrooms out there waiting to be found — like presents from the universe.