Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Preserving Your Wild Mushroom Harvests through Dehydration/Drying

Lots of Black Trumpets!

When the wild mushrooms fruit in abundance, the picking can be pretty intense in southern New England. Some years the weather conditions cooperate and we get warm temperatures and abundant rain which translates into flushes of black trumpets and enough Boletes to fill shopping bags and car trunks with mounds of fungi (2014, 2018); other years we have heat waves, drought, and gypsy moth caterpillar attacks that leave us crying through the summer (2016, 2017). To keep our tummies full and taste buds satisfied in lean years, we collect what we can in the good years and preserve it in several ways to tide us over in the leaner years, and often share our excesses through potlucks and holiday dinners with friends using out-of-season foraged foods that have been stored safely. We don't have a massive home or pantry, but make due with some shelves and small chest freezers for our wild edibles. We also have made some purchases of a few specialized pieces of equipment to make preservation easier, and can heartily recommend the Excalibur dehydrator, and a Foodsaver vacuum sealer with plastic bags and optional jar sealing attachment.


Dehydration and drying is the process of using low heat and sometimes air movement (a fan) to remove excess moisture from the mushrooms. This will prevent them from spoiling and extend their shelf life almost indefinitely. Drying mushrooms also reduces their volume greatly, and they will take up a lot less space in your pantry. We use a dehydrator with a thermostat and fan, but an oven on the lowest heat setting can be used, as well as a lower tech methods of air drying on screens in the sun, drying on the dashboard in your car on a sunny day, and strung up on a line in your attic or another dry room. We use our Excalibur dryer set between 120°F and 145°F to dry most mushrooms until crispy, often rotating the trays after a few hours to ensure even drying. Once dried, we keep them in large glass jars, sometimes with small silica packs to keep moisture away. Vacuum sealing is jars with a metal lid is another option, but vacuum packing in bags is not recommended--sometimes the dried mushrooms can puncture the bags.

Dried mushrooms are re-hydrated or reconstituted by adding boiling water to the mushrooms, cooking the mushrooms in a hot, liquid filled recipe like a soup, or by soaking in a liquid.In this video, we simply added some dried wood ear mushrooms to room temperature water and it took less than 30 minutes to plump up. Robert did a bit of time-lapse photography and sped it up so it could be viewed like a brief video.

Dried Bicolor Boletes can be made into a very flavorful powder to add to soups, cooked grains, or to dust on meats

Dehydration and drying wild mushrooms are great ways to save many species, but not all mushroom re-hydrate well for cooking whole. Good candidates for mushrooms to dry and re-hydrate for use in cooking are morels, black trumpets, lobster mushrooms, shiitake, wood ears, thinly sliced Boletes-bicolors, "edulis" porcini types, Suillus, other sweet Boletes, and hens. Some of the Suillus known as slippery jacks actually improve with dehydration, being deemed too slug-like if used fresh. If you are looking to dry mushrooms and powder them as a seasoning or spice, then add chanterelles and chicken mushroom to the list--they are far too tough to re-hydrate well whole for a recipe, but if dried and powdered, they can add lots of flavor to soups and cooked rice or grain dishes, along with all of the other mentioned mushrooms.

Jerky made from hens

One year we found ourselves practically overwhelmed by hens (Grifola frondosa), with more being brought home every day, and our freezer space running low and our dehydrator already full. In desperation, we had to come up with a new way to prepare in large quantities for long term storage, which is how we came up with Hen Jerky. The jerky is quite flavorful, salty and a touch spicy, and the recipe can be customized to any taste. We make it and pack it tightly in large mouth quart glass jars, then vacuum seal the glass jars with a vacuum sealer with the jar sealer attachment. Our recipe for hen jerky has been used successfully for other mushrooms as well, including honey mushroom caps, oyster mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, and pureed shiitake mushrooms.

Pasta made from dehydrated and powdered black trumpets

When dehydrating or drying your wild mushroom bounties, keep in mind your future plans for their uses and the textures of the mushrooms. Some polypores will become too woody upon drying (chicken mushrooms), while some mushrooms re-hydrate very nicely (morels, boletes, wood ears) for use in recipes. Keep your dried mushrooms in sealed jars in a dry place, and they will last for years if needed. Dried mushrooms have the ability to add a touch of umami, a satisfying meaty taste, to many dishes in which they are added when cooking. They enhance vegetarian meals from broths to grains and main dishes, as well as add variety to wild game and regular commercial meats. Dehydrated mushrooms can be a pantry staple for any household, especially for those who enjoy using the flavors of wild edibles as fun additions to their daily cooking.

Sliced mushrooms ready for the dehydrator

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