Monique talks about working with Windward fungii
What could possibly be more fun then hunting for eggs and candy during Easter time? Why, hunting for mushrooms in the fall, or course!
Mushroom hunting has been a part of my life for.... well, most of my
life. My mother was born and raised in Poland, and for the poles, mushroom picking season is paramount in frenzy to that of Christmas shopping for Americans. Although at a young age I wasn't really fond of the taste of the mushrooms themselves, I have always loved rummaging through the fallen leaves, eager to find that prized King Bolete that would make mommy so proud!
Searching for mushrooms is as much about luck, as it is about
knowledge. Certain trees attract certain mushrooms, and certain spots tend to have recurring mushrooms each year. Almost always, mushrooms surface in the fall, and generally large rain falls sprout large mushroom colonies. There are times when one can walk through a forest and simply smell the mushrooms in the air. One to thing to be mindful of, is that once you find a good spot, remember where it is, and never tell a Pole about it!
In order to perpetuate a mushroom colony, it is important that you
harvest them correctly. You should never pull a mushroom out from its root. Instead, cut it with a knife, about 1/4 of an inch from the where it meets the ground. Also, be mindful not to stomp on an area that you just harvested.
Although we have yet to find King Boletes around Windward, we have
found an abundance of a similar mushroom from the same family. Referring to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms, we identified it as a Short Stalked Suillus. Most mushrooms in the Boletaceae family are safe to eat and easy to identify, but it is essential to learn to identify mushrooms with someone who is knowledgeable on the topic.
Mushrooms usually surface are the fall rains, and when they do, they tend to appear in huge quantities, so knowing how to preserve them is just as important as knowing how and where to find them.
My favorite preserved wild mushrooms are pickled ones. Although you do have clean them very well, the process is relatively simple. Unfortunately, the mushrooms that are best for pickling are very small ones, about the size of an walnut and smaller, and all of the ones we found were more like the size of a grapefruit. We had to find an alternate method.
My second favorite way to have wild mushrooms is in a soup. The secret to the rich flavor of the soup comes from drying the mushrooms first, and then reconstituting them and adding them to a broth. Since we had about 10 pounds of mushrooms on hand, drying them all seemed like a great option.
We decided to experiment with a few different methods of drying the
mushrooms; in the dehydrator, a combination of sun and oven drying,
and, in honor of old fashioned poles, hanging them on a string and
letting them air dry.
The first step in preparing mushrooms for drying, is cleaning them.
Contrary to intuition, you never want to wash mushrooms with water, as they tend to soak up the moisture. Once they are cut from the root, they are unable to process the moisture, and they easily rot. For types of mushrooms with slippery caps, including the ones we picked, it is very important to peel the skin off the top of the mushroom. Not doing so may cause diarrhea and indigestion. The top of the mushroom is where most of the dirt and pine needles tend to be
anyways, so it is also the most effective cleaning step. Any other big pieces of dirt can be lightly brushed off with your fingertips or a knife. If there are any parts of the mushroom that have been visited by insects, cut them out. Also, remove any parts that seem browned,
bruised or otherwise damaged.
Once we had all the mushrooms cleaned, we cut them into slices about
1/4 inch thick. With larger mushrooms, it is easiest to cut off the stem and slice that separately from the cap. One they are all sliced up, they are ready to dry.
Our first method, using the dehydrator was both the easiest and the
quickest. We placed the mushrooms on the dry rack, turned it on, and
about 4 hours later they were ready for storing.
When drying mushrooms in the oven, it is very important that you do
not bake them. If you heat them too much, they will begin to bleed out all the moisture, and that can cause them to rot and blacken. We set the oven temp to the lowest setting for about 2 min, then turned it off. After the oven was completely cool, we turned it on again for a few moments. We repeated the process for about half an hour, and then moved on to other activities, realizing that the process was too time consuming. The next day, we placed the mushrooms on a newspaper and
let them sit out in the sun. It's important to bring the mushrooms inside at the end of the day to protect them from night moisture. On the second day, we forgot to do that, and they rotted.
The traditional method of sewing the mushrooms onto a string is probably my favorite method, although it is initially a bit time consuming. Once they are hung up though, depending on the humidity, they can dry in anywhere from a few hours, to a week. Just look at what a neat decoration they make!
One important note, you can tell that a mushroom is fully dried when
it tears like paper. Once they are fully ready, the best way to store them is in an airtight container in a dark place. We will be experimenting with wild mushroom recipes soon, so come back and take a look!
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67