Saturday, September 12, 2015

Wild Mushroom Festival

An autumn bounty of edibles, honeys, puffballs both large and small, chicken, winecaps, and parasols.

2015 will be our fourth year participating in the Denison Pequotsepos Wild Mushroom Festival in Mystic, CT. Our club, CVMS, hunts in surrounding locations and transports our fungal finds to the nature center to display and discuss with the patrons who pay to attend the event. Members of CVMS don't get paid for this, we are educators and volunteers, and the nature center benefits from the admission price. Several local restaurants also attend, with mushroom-based nibbles (including a candy cap ice cream, which tastes like maple!), and there are mushroom items for sale by the nature center. A band plays, kids run around the woods, and there are free walks and talks on site for attendees, as well as informative slide shows.

A festival favorite, Grifola frondosa, maitake

This year, we are giving a slide show and discussion on Seasonal Wild Edible Mushrooms of Connecticut at 2:00 PM, inside the nature center. While some in the mycological community consider pot-hunters the lowest rung of the mushroom enthusiast ladder, well below amateur identifiers, fungal remediators, cultivators, and true mycologists, we are proud mycophagists, meaning we love to cook with our wild mushroom finds. 

Crispy baked ravioli with goat cheese and maitake filling, coated with crumbs and garlic mustard seeds

This will be another event in our growing list of presentations and workshops. We enjoy sharing our knowledge of wild fungi and wild edible plants, nuts, roots, and berries with interested people who are willing to learn what to identify and eat, and how to do so in a sustainable manner. We truly feel we would prefer to teach 100 people how to responsibly collect and enjoy wild foods for themselves, rather than see one person go into the woods and unsustainably and greedily collect all of the wild food to sell at a personal profit to restaurants and in farmer's markets to 100 people. We support our philosophy by partnering with local nature centers, garden clubs, libraries, and youth groups and giving walks, slide shows, and presentations for reasonable fees. It is during these programs that we are able to discuss sustainability and respect for the environment, and hopefully inspire a new generation of kids and adults to be amazed by the wonder of our local wild plants and fungi, and their conservation for the future.

Bolete bonanza

Monday, August 31, 2015

Polypore Mushrooms

Trametes versicolor

Most polypore fungi are found on wood, and they are just doing their job, which is breaking down the lignins in the wood. Fungi are great recyclers. Many of the harder polypores can persist for a whole year or longer, and we can always find them in the forest in different stages of freshness and ages. While polypores tend to be tough and dull with age, they can be brilliantly colored and flexible when fresh.

Lenzites betulina
Polyporus squamosus
Fresh Trichaptum biforme
Another Trichaptum biforme, with fresh growth on the older shelves
Some Trichaptums have tiny (less than 1 mm) Phaeocalicium ascomycetes growing on the edges
Trametes versicolor
Another fresh Trametes versicolor, the color bands can vary widely

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - Chicken Mushroom Wontons

The weather has been hot and dry for nearly the whole month of August, so mushrooming in Connecticut has been poor. Our forays with CVMS have consisted of a lot of polypores and wood decayers, and few fleshy mushrooms. But, one of our favorites to eat is the chicken mushroom, one of those wood decayers, and the harvest for them has been good.

We can only eat so much "chicken" pot pie (Gillian's favorite), eat so much curried "chicken", make so many sandwiches and wraps with "chicken" salad, and make so many sausages (we still have about 60 in the freezer), so we needed to come up with some new ways to use up some fresh chicken that was gifted to us by other mushroomers who couldn't eat their entire haul.

This isn't even a real, measured recipe, I just used what I had and ended up with a few dozen wontons. I chose to oven bake them rather than frying them and they crisped up nicely.

Chicken Mushroom Wontons

sunflower oil
fresh ginger
minced garlic
soy sauce
salt and pepper
cleaned chicken mushroom
wonton wrappers (I get mine at a local Asian market)
optional: chili oil or hot sauce in the filling

1. In a food processor, pulse the chicken mushroom fronds until finely chopped.
2. In a large skillet, heat about 2 Tbsp. of the sunflower oil (or any other neutral-flavored oil) over medium heat and lightly cook the chopped mushroom. Add enough hot water to completely cover the chopped mushrooms in the pan, and poach the chopped pieces until the water evaporates, about 15 minutes.
3. While the chopped mushrooms are poaching and the liquid is reducing, finely chop the garlic and ginger, or use a microplane and shred them finely.
4. Once the liquid has evaporated from the pan, push the mushrooms to the side and add a drizzle of oil to the empty part of the pan. Cook the ginger and garlic for 2-3 minutes without allowing it to color, then stir them into the cooked chicken mushroom. Remove from the heat.
5. Toss in chopped scallions for color and season with some soy sauce, salt, and pepper. Allow the filling mixture to cool, it should be moist, but fairly dry.
6. Heat oven to 425ºF and prepare a sheetpan with parchment paper.
7. Lightly moisten the edges of a wonton wrapper with your finger. Place about 1-2 tsp. of filling in the center of the wrapper and close. You can simply fold the wonton wrapper in half and pinch the edges, or close it in a more elaborate manner. I brought the four corners of the wrapper together in the center and sealed the remaining edges, making a square pouch shape.
8. Place the wontons on the parchment and spray them lightly with vegetable oil, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until browned and crisped. Serve with additional soy sauce or dumpling sauce for dipping.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mycophagy at NEMF 2015

 Last weekend our mushroom club, Connecticut Valley Mycological Society, was honored to host the 39th Annual Sam Ristich Foray, held by the member mushroom clubs of the Northeast Mycological Federation. Our location was Connecticut College, in New London, Connecticut, allowing us to share the forests and parks of southeastern Connecticut that we are very familiar with. The four-day conference featured organized forays, classes on mushroom dying, medicinal mushrooms, microscopy, taxonomic name changes, and toxic mushrooms. We were honored to have as a instructors and identifying mycologists Alan and Arleen Besette, Gary Lincoff, Rick Van de Poll, Dorothy Smullen, Walt Sturgeon, Renee LeBeuf, Roz Lowen, Jason Karakehian, Jon Plischke, Sue Hopkins, Dianna Smith, Rod Tulloss, Alison Birks, Ed Mena, and Bill Yule.

Mycophagy is the cooking and eating of mushrooms for pleasure, and in our case along with a large amount of mushroom hunters, we cook wild mushrooms. Robert and I, along with a few very dedicated and skilled volunteers, cooked up the mycophagy for 190 people on Friday night. Most of the recipes we used are our own, original recipes, while others like the Black Trumpet Soup Shooters were made as we went along, starting from a general idea of what we wanted and tasting as we went along.

Maitake Jerky, made with donated hens (Grifola frondosa) from several CVMS members last fall, as we were not able to find very many ourselves. After the jerky was made last fall, we vacuum packed it to last over the winter, and then portioned it out into small, waxed bags to enjoy as a snack.

Black Trumpet Soup Shooters were served warm in paper espresso cups. It was a lovely, smooth soup made with fresh black trumpets (Craterellus fallax), celery, onions, potatoes, and thyme, with just a touch of cream and a parsley/scallion garnish.

Black Trumpet Choux filled with Black Trumpet Cream Cheese is one of my favorites. The choux pastries were made with dehydrated black trumpets (Craterellus fallax) collected last year while attending the NEMF foray in Maine.We collected many pounds of trumpets; luckily we traveled to the foray with dehydrators and brought home several gallons of dried mushrooms which are powdered for this recipe. The cream cheese filling is made with fresh, sauteed black trumpets and chopped scallions.

Our bolete season is very unpredictable, so bought some West Coast boletes (Boletus regius) from a forager in Oregon to make into these Porcini Polenta Cubes. I rehydrated the dried porcini in vegetable broth before sauteing them butter, then added it all back into the cooked polenta along with Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

These are Hen Duchesse Potatoes, a fun appetizer I make often to use up all the little bits and pieces left over when cleaning hens (Grifola frondosa) to make jerky. The hen bits are finely chopped in the food processor with some onion before being browned and oven roasted, then added to mashed potatoes with a bit of egg and seasoning. I pipe them into small cupcake papers and cook them until nicely browned.

Morel and Ramps Greens Biscuits were made from morels (Morchella americana) we collected last spring and ramps greens that we collected and froze from this spring. I had extra rehydrated and sauteed morels, so I blended them into butter to spread onto the biscuits.

Thai King Oyster Skewers are made from a full, 11 pound case of king oysters (Pleurotus eryngii) from the local Asian market. The stems are sliced into discs about 1/4" thick, then sauteed until browned before being poached in a tom-ka broth until the broth reduces. Prepared this way, the mushrooms take on a similar texture as scallops with a Thai-flavored coating of tom-ka.

"Chicken" Sausage Toasts with Garlic Mustard-Mustard and Pickled Ramps uses 3 of our recipes. We stacked the crisped chicken (Laetiporus sulphureus) sausage slices on toasted baguettes with a smear of the spicy mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and a sweet/sour garnish of ramps (Allium tricoccum) pickle.

And for our mushroom dessert, we served Chaga Tapioca Pudding garnished with some beach plum fruit leather wedges. First we make Chaga Frappe (Inonotus obliquus) with some coconut milk and maple syrup, then we cook the frappe into a tapioca pudding. Guests were able to add a bit of whipped cream if desired.

The full, double sided table of mushroom goodies

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - Green Grape "Chicken" Salad

We were lucky to find a wonderfully tender white chicken mushroom (Laetiporus cincinnatus) while out driving after a day at the beach. Once it was cleaned, I promptly made Gillian's favorite chicken mushroom recipe, pot pie with a biscuit top, and then chopped up some of the larger fronds and core into chunks to make "chicken" salad. Many years ago I worked at an upscale deli that made several types of chicken salad for fancy sandwiches, like curry chicken salad, and my favorite, a chicken salad with green grapes and walnuts. This is not an original recipe, but we made it our own by using the mushroom and making it vegetarian. Robert loved it the next day with a shot of hot sauce on home-baked bread, while I preferred it served in a lettuce leaf cup. This recipe could easily be used with the orange/yellow variety of chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) as well.

White chicken, Laetiporus cincinnatus

Green Grape "Chicken" Salad          makes about 4 c.

2 1/2 c. diced chicken mushroom, use the core and the thicker ends of the fronds
1/2 c. chopped celery
1 c. halved green grapes
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper

1. Simmer the chicken mushroom in water or vegetable broth for 15 minutes, drain and cool. (You can save the water to use in making gravy or a soup, it will become really flavorful.)
2. In a large bowl, Mix together the mayonnaise, sour cream, and lemon juice.
3. Mix in the cooked chicken mushroom, celery, grapes and walnuts, tossing to coat evenly. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper. Let the chicken salad sit in the refrigerator for an hour or so before making sandwiches, to allow the flavors to meld. Serve on a roll, in a wrap, or in a lettuce leaf.

Robert holding a yellow chicken, Laetiporus sulphureus

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cattail Recipe--Cattail Flower Bread

Late spring is when we head back out into wet areas that are filled with cattails, and at this time of year the flower spikes are just getting ready to emerge from a protective leaf sheath. In a week or two, the male portion of the flower will be filled with pollen that can be collected, but now we are after the immature flower, specifically the upper, male portion. The bottom half of the flower spike is the female portion, and once pollinated, it will mature into the familiar "hot dog on a stick" you see in swamps and wet areas.

Pinch the green fluff off the core

We cut the flower spike off the stem, and bring them home to peel off the covering, shaking off the tiny beetles that often live inside. There isn't much "meat" on the lower, female flower, so that gets discarded. The upper, male portion can be boiled, buttered, and salted and eaten like corn on the cob, leaving behind a white core. We also like to pinch off the tender green fluff from the core and use it in recipes, lending a corn-like flavor. The green fluff can be frozen successfully by packing it tightly in a container, or vacuum packing it into pouches and used all year.

This bread has a similar texture as conventional cornbread, and we make it in a cast iron skillet for a nice crispy outer crust. Serve it with some sour cream dolloped on top, or on the side of some chili.

Cattail Bread          makes one 9" cast iron pan, or 9" cake pan

1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. cattail flower fluff, removed from core
2 Tbsp. cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. diced jalapenos or sweet red pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped scallions or ramps greens
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 c. buttermilk

1. Heat oven to 400º F, butter a cast iron skillet or baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cattail fluff, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper, diced peppers, chopped scallions, and shredded cheese. Mix together.
3. In a second bowl, whisk the eggs with the melted butter and buttermilk.
4. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until combined.
5. Pour into prepared skillet or pan, and bake 18-25 minutes, until lightly browned and the top springs back when pressed. Cool and cut.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Spicebush Recipe- Spicebush Ice Cream Sandwiches on Acorn Cookies

Even thought spicebush berries and acorns are wild foods collected in autumn, hot summer days are when we want ice cream sandwiches. Dipping into our preserved stores, we pulled spicebush berries and finely ground acorn flour from the freezer and put together a summertime treat. I had originally made a similar sauce for bread pudding using the spicebush berries, and thought it would make a nice custard-based ice cream. Thinking about how to serve the ice cream, I attempted to make ice cream cones from acorn flour, but ended up with thin cookies that worked better as sandwich cookies.

The flavor of the ice cream is similar to Indian kulfi, exotically spiced and warming with hints of cardamom and black pepper, all from our local, native spicebush berry, Lindera benzoin. We collected acorns from white oaks three years ago when they were abundant, cold leached them in water for a few weeks before drying and grinding them into flour. Hopefully this year will be a good mast year for the local white and red oaks, and we can collect many bucketfuls of acorn to shell over the winter months!

Spicebush berry ice cream

Spicebush Ice Cream Sandwiches on Acorn Cookies          
makes about 9-10 sandwiches

For the sandwich cookies:
Acorn Cookies              makes about 18- 2" cookies

1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. ground acorn flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp. water
5 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 300°F, and cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, acorn flour, powdered sugar, and salt together until blended.
3. In another bowl, beat the egg whites and water together until frothy, and whisk in the cooled, melted butter and vanilla.
4. Using a large wire whisk, blend the dry ingredients into the eggs and whisk until combined.
5. Scoop about 1 Tbsp. of the batter onto the parchment covered cookie sheet, and use a small spatula to spread it out into a 2-3 inch round, about 1/8" thick. This will not spread very much in the oven, so leave about 1" between each cookie round on the cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 8 minutes, until firm, remove from the oven and prick the tops of the flat cookies with a fork gently to make some decorative holes. Cool cookies, they will be slightly soft and flexible.

For the ice cream:
Spicebush Berry Ice Cream           makes about 1 gallon

2 c. whole milk or almond milk
2 c. heavy cream
About 40 spicebush berries
1 c. granulated sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
5 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Have the bowl of the ice cream maker frozen and ready to use.
2. In a blender, blend the spicebush berries and whole milk or almond milk until the berries are ground into small specks.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, ground berries, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil.
4. As the milk mixture is heating, combine the yolks and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl. Whisk until the yolks are light yellow and thick.
5. Once the milk/cream mixture has just stated to boil, whisk about 1/3 of it into the yolk mixture. Add another 1/3 of the hot milk to the yolks, then add it all back into the saucepan. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the mixture over low heat for 3-5 minutes, until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Do not let the custard come to a boil or the yolks will be overcooked.
6. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer to catch any lumps and stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and chill.
7. Follow the manufacturer's directions for your ice cream machine, and churn the custard until thickened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer container and chill until firm.
8. Once the ice cream is firm, scoop 2-3 Tbsp. onto an acorn cookie, and top with another acorn cookie. Re-chill until firm.

Acorn flour