Mycological Magic

Crackly Cap Boletes and Chantrelles in the frying pan make a delicious fall treat for us to eat. It’s best to cook these friends- and most mushrooms, for about 10 minutes on med/high heat to “sweat” out excess moisture. Don’t pour off the broth- it’s fantastic, in reduction, as added flavor. Add some oil after the sweat is over (butter is always best); salt to taste. Cook the mushrooms in oil until desirable texture is reached- I treat chantrelles and most boletes like onions, wishing them to be caramelized, but not scorched. Simple cooking brings out the best flavor, but mushrooms can also be incorporated into almost any dish.

There are many amazing mushroom cookbooks, and the online world of recipes adds endless possibility. Often when wild harvesting, you come across a large cash of fungus, so knowing the best way to preserve mushrooms can be helpful. Most either freeze or dehydrate well, but check an experienced source for specific verities. I just learned how to process Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus), which involved blanching before freezing the “meat”. It was a little more processing, but worth it for the two large (gallon) bags now in the freezer for a winter treat. Knowing the freshness of your harvested treasure is also crucial in both eating and preserving.

Chicken of the Woods has a fast and furious bloom, often getting too woody for palatable pleasure within a day. Learning to see and feel the ripe nature of a mushroom is an art form in its self. Laetiporus‘s common name refers not only to the taste of this saphoridic (wood eating) fungi, but also includes texture. In the picture below you can see how a fresh fruit tears apart like tender chicken. If the mushroom is overripe, it will break apart like brittle chalk. The tactile experience of working with mushrooms adds to the fun, as well as reinforcing proper mushroom processing. I think sometimes people have “bad” (taste) experiences with culinary mushrooms, because they were not harvested or prepared properly. Experience is the key to ensuring a yummy taste, so spend time with the fruit, and read up on other first hand accounts.

tender chicken
overripe chalk

Mycology is a deep knowledge- constantly changing as we learn more about these amazing lifeforms. Eating them is an adventure, though to be clear- only a few species are easy to identify and prepare correctly, so go with someone who you trust as a knowledgeable mushroomer. With that in mind, there are a couple of great edible picks here in The Pacific Northwest, which many people enjoy, so don’t be shy about asking experienced pickers. If you are a newbie to the field, please don’t assume- for instance, chantrelles are said to not have any dangerous look alike species (in some circles), but I have taken numerous first timers out and asked them to bring me examples of what they think chantrelles are. I’ve had all kinds of mushrooms brought to me as potential chantrelles- from sulfur caps to jack-o-lanterns, basically, anything that looks yellow/orange.

Finding a mushroom takes a trained eye, and new pickers really don’t have myco-vision yet. There are endless subtle differences between species, and some, like spore shape and DNA, cannot be identified with the naked eye. The academic world of mycology is ever expanding, and as we learn more, we discover that human understanding is, as usual, grasping at just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge. But to enjoy a good feast of mycology, you only have to know one or two good eating mushrooms well. So don’t be hindered by fear- find a mushroom picker friend and forage together for some good learning time. Also feel free to take samples for identifying from any species you find. Just be disciplined about keeping edible mushrooms you pick in a completely different container/basket to prevent any mixing.

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