Friday, December 30, 2011

Foragers, Where Have You Been?

Some fun things coming up in the next couple weeks:

We just got back from two weeks in Hawaii on Maui and Kauai. What a tropical paradise, with fruit foraging possibilities in every forest, beach, and high altitude-volcano flank! Most of the fruits are introduced species, like breadfruit and starfruit, and we sampled every one we found. We ate plenty of local-caught fish, some opihi limpets raw and freshly pried from the rocks, and a plate of roasted wild boar. We even sampled a few edible blossoms, wild growing cinnamon trees, and Brazilian pepper plants. Lots of pictures coming!

Hopefully we will have a few mini-videos of the fruits up with the descriptions. Robert made some videos, but it will take time to figure out how to transfer them online.

We found very few mushrooms, which was surprising with the humid environment. It turns out most species of mushrooms in the Hawaiian islands were introduced on old wood, and are wood-decomposers. We did find a few, but it will take some research to ID them.

We took a tour with Matt Kirk of the Kauai Nature School, and he showed us some more tropical delights, like tropical almonds, sprouted coconuts, ti leaf, gotu kola greens, and some edible flowers. This was a highlight of our vacation, we learned a lot with Matt.

There is a good possibility of more good news involving some local media. For the past two Novembers we have placed Wild Edibles of Southeastern Connecticut displays in our local library. The response was great, and we may have an opportunity to become more visible in the local community with our foraging experiences.

Joyous Yule and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - Chicken Mushroom Satay

Chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) is a wonderful mushroom to forage for a few reasons. One is the taste: very meaty, substantial, and similar to chicken. Another is the amount found, usually quite a bit for a single specimen of wild food. It dries and freezes well, and is a fall favorite of ours. Chicken mushroom is fairly common in our area of southern New England on dead or dying hardwoods like oak. It looks like several yellow and orange shelves stacked on top of each other on the trunk of a tree. The underside has tiny holes, or pores, not gills. Fresh specimens are heavy and wet, almost dripping with moisture. It produces a white spore print, and has a few look-alikes, but not poisonous ones. You may mistake a Berkley's Polypore (Bondarzewia berkleyi) or another variety of sulfur shelf depending on your geographical location for this species of mushroom. Older, undesirable specimens are faded yellow, dry, and tough, not worth picking. One last advantage of chicken mushrooms as a wild edible food is that they will often grow again in the same tree for several years, so it is good to remember where you saw one, even if it was too old to harvest. Here are more identification points for chicken mushrooms.

Here we marinate and skewer the chunks of mushroom in a nut-based satay sauce, and cook it under the broiler. If you have a grill it might taste even better. This recipe, like many of our recipes, is vegetarian, but can be made vegan by substituting agave nectar for the honey. I served it over a bed of brown rice and lentil pilaf to soak up any extra satay sauce.

Chicken Mushroom Satay                                          serves 6-8

14 oz. fresh chicken mushroom, cut into 1" chunks
Satay sauce:
1/2 c. almonds
3 T pine nuts
1/4 c. chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp orange zest
3 T orange juice
2 T olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp honey or agave syrup
1 1/2 c. boiling vegetable broth
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1 tsp. sambal chili paste

1. Soak bamboo skewers in water.
2. Cut the chicken mushroom into 1" chunks and blanche them in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool.
3. For the satay marinade, chop the almonds and pine nuts in a food processor. Add the onion and garlic and process until smooth.
4. Slowly add the remaining ingredients, and blend until smooth.
5. Pour the marinade over the mushroom chunks and allow them to marinate for 3-6 hours in the refrigerator.
6. Thread the mushroom chunks onto the bamboo skewers, leaving a bit of space between each piece, about 6 per skewer. Heat the oven to 450°F and spray a rack with non-stick spray.
7. Bake the mushroom skewers for 15 minutes, until firm, then broil them under high heat for 5 minutes until browned.  You could also cook them over medium heat on the grill, turning once. Serve over cooked grains.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


As the weather gets colder, there are a few days where 45°F (7.2°C) feels totally balmy and we take the opportunity to go outside and get some fresh air. Here in New England, the wild food foraging season is mostly over and there are not too many edibles to be found fresh. It is a great time to dig roots if the ground has not frozen, to look for some crabapples and rosehips sweetened by frosts, and keep our eyes open for the green leaves of the wintergreen berry.

Unripe berry
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is known by many common names: checkerberry, tea leaf, deerberry, teaberry, and creeping wintergreen. These names are great hints as to the main use of the plant and its appearance. Wintergreen is an evergreen perennial that spreads by a stem just beneath the surface of the soil. Each stem will produce 3-10 leaves and possibly several berries. If you accidentally pull one up, you'll see the network of woody stems attached to each other as wintergreen can grow in great colonies and patches. The leaves are green, leathery, shiny, hairless, and slightly toothed. They are oval-shaped, broadest beyond the midpoint and coming to a rounded point at the tip, about 1"-2" (2-5 cm) long and 1/2"-1" (1.5-2cm) wide with a lighter colored midrib. Often we find leaves with rusty looking spots, which we don't pick. Tiny white flowers appear in the summer, shaped like bells hanging from the upper leaf axils. The flowers have five terminal lobes, and appear very similar to blueberry flowers, not surprising since they are both in the Ericaceae family. The flowers produce a berry that is light green, ripening to red. The ripe berry has a star-shaped depression on the bottom and is also edible, although mealy. Wintergreen is often found in poor, acidic soil, and we find it under white pines or in moss, and in mixed forests. It ranges from Newfoundland through New England, across the Great Lakes and down to Alabama.

We pick the leaves individually, only gathering one leaf from each stem. Usually the patch is enormous, and will carpet whole areas in the forest with green. Robert dries the leaves by placing them in a paper bag in a dark place for a week, and uses them for tea. The wintergreen flavor is very refreshing. The berries make a nice trailside nibble and breath freshener, and can be added to a smoothie at home. The berries may last all winter if they are not eaten by some deer, chipmunks or wild turkey. The berries are high in vitamin C and contain wintergreen oil. Methyl salicylate, a mild form of aspirin, can be created by brewing and fermenting the leaves for a few days. This wild edible plant is also added to the other herbs and plants that we make herbal teas, or tisanes from.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mushrooms Identified - Frost's Bolete, Velvet-Footed Pax, Viscid Violet Cort

Here is another trio of mushrooms we feel we can identify out in the wild. All three of these mushrooms are technically edible, but with many cautions and degrees of desirability. We won't bother experimenting with them as there are so many other wonderful edible mushrooms to eat. Learning to identify all of the mushrooms we find, as opposed to just the ones we can eat, is a surprising benefit to our mushrooming education. I can't stress enough how important it is to join your local mycology group and learn, and how much fun it can be!
underside of Frost's Bolete and the amber colored droplets
Boletus frostii is a beautiful bolete we ran across in August in great numbers after Tropical Storm Irene drenched the area with rain. Commonly referred to a Frost's bolete, we were amazed by some very young specimens and the amber colored drops covering the underside of the cap on the pores. The pores are red, usually indicating a bolete that may induce stomach upset, so we don't bother to eat it. The cap is red and slimy, and 2"-6" (5-15 cm) wide, and the flesh bruises blue when cut. The stem is deeply webbed, red, thick and about 1"-4" (3-10 cm) long, often yellowing and thickening at the base. This bolete grows on the ground under oaks or in a mixed forest, ranging from Canada to Florida along the east coast, west to Michigan. The spore print we took was a dark olive-brown and difficult to make since our specimens were so fresh and wet.

Slimy Violet Cort
Cortinarius iodes is a mushroom we have encountered at just about every location we visited in late summer. The Viscid Violet Cort lives up to its name, having a thickly slimy top. The cap is smooth and purple, aging to a paler violet with yellow spots, 1"-2" (2.5-5 cm) wide. The gills are violet, often stained rust-colored from the spores and attached to the stalk. There may be cobwebby remains of the veil present on the gills. The stalk is solid and purplish, tacky and sometimes enlarged at the bottom. The spore print we took was a rusty brown. Violet cort grows on the ground under mixed forests and deciduous forests, and is widespread in eastern North America. There are indications that it is edible, but bitter and not very good. The slime is enough to make us not want to bother.

Velvet-footed Pax
Paxillus atrotomentosus or Tapinella atrotomentosa are two names given to this pretty mushroom. We learned it as a Paxillus, but it may be more correctly ID'ed as Tapinella due to where it grows, as explained on Mushroom Expert. Commonly it is referred to the Velvet-Footed Pax due to its velvety stem. The cap can be 1"-5" (3-13 cm) wide, flat or sunken in the center, light brown, and dry. The flesh is solid and tough. The gills are light and yellowish and descending the stalk slightly. The stalk is the interesting part, as it is usually dark brown and fuzzy, off center, and 1"-4" (3-10 cm) long. The spore print we took was a yellowish-brown. Velvet-footed pax grows on decaying wood and stumps, usually pine, in the coniferous forests on the east and west coasts. Edibility is again questionable, unpalatable, and there is a poisonous look-alike, Paxillus involutus.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


We like to make many herbal teas, or tisanes, from the wild foraged plants we find. One of Robert and Gillian's favorite is sassafras tea, which is actually a boiled decoction made from the roots. The flavor is similar to root beer, and tastes good liberally sweetened with honey.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a native American deciduous tree that grows primarily on the east coast from Maine to Florida, and partially into the plains to Iowa. It is very abundant here in Connecticut, and easy to forage in large quantities. It likes wet soil and is found in old fields, along field edges, and in urban parks. It spreads by producing roots and sapling clones underground, so one mature tree will be surrounded by hundreds of small saplings. The tree is easy to identify in the winter by looking for these many saplings surrounding the mother tree. The bark is green on the small saplings, but as the trees get larger you can see the reddish coloring between the furrows of the grey bark.

flowers and new leaves
In the spring, sassafras produces tiny, yellow five-petalled flowers as the new leaves unfurl. There are three distinct leaf shapes growing on the sassafras tree- an oval, a mitten-shaped leaf, and a triple-lobed leaf. In the summertime, sassafras will produce hard, black berries on a red, cup-shaped stem that birds like to eat. The berries are not abundant, and we rarely ever see them. Late in autumn, the sassafras leaves turn into a lovely rainbow of red, orange and yellow before falling.

Filé powder
Two parts that we use are the dried and powdered leaves, and the roots. To use the leaves, pick them when green and dry them in a dark place. Robert then powders them in the coffee grinder to make filé powder, used to thicken stews like gumbo. Filé powder should not be boiled, but stirred into a stew at the end.

cross-section of root
To gather the roots, we look for the many saplings that are about 2 feet tall. Robert will grasp the bottom of the sapling where it meets the ground and give the tree a slow, gentle pull. The root is brittle and often breaks, but sometimes he gets a few feet at a time. We then wash the roots to remove the dirt, and slice up the smaller roots, and shave off the outer layer of any thicker roots. The cleaned roots are very aromatic, and can now be dried or used fresh. We boil the roots in water for about 20 minutes to make a reddish-brown decoction that can be sweetened and drunk hot or cold. We have used a strong root decoction to make jelly and syrup, and Robert is fermenting a spicy beer with sassafras and spicebush berries right now. Sassafras is an abundant and favorite wild food for us.

I will mention the USDA warnings about a compound in sassafras, safrole, which is considered a potential carcinogen in massive quantities. Safrole is also used in the manufacture of MDMA. We are not that concerned, as we do not consume huge amounts of sassafras. Native Americans used the decoction of the roots as a blood purifier. Sassafras oil is used to scent cosmetics and in aromatherapy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review - Wild Berries and Fruits: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan

We own several great books about foraging and mushrooming, and are often asked which are our favorites. I will try to spend the non-productive winter months reviewing some of these great resources, and making recommendations. Most of these books are available on Amazon, some are available directly from the author as signed copies, some from the publisher, and many we get used from Alibris.
This is the book I reach for most often when presented with a ripe berry or fruit I am unfamiliar with. It covers a 3-state region in the upper midwest, but many of the fruits and berries found there are also found here in southern New England. This is my book of choice because of how it is organized: by the color of the berry or fruit. This simple, visual way of putting the book together makes for fast reference, and the overall small dimensions (4 1/2" x 6") of the book make it easy to carry out into the field.

Wild Berries and Fruits: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan  by Teresa Marrone

Photo of book coverThe identification process starts with the berry or fruit color, easily referenced and arranged by colors on a tab in the upper, left corner of each page. Other icons along the top of the text page include type of plant (is it a shrub, a tender leafy plant, a vine), how the leaves are arranged (whorled, alternate, opposite), the season when the berry or fruit is ripe, and a small map of distribution. The text then goes on to describe the habitat, growth, leaves, fruit, and season for the specimen, along with some look-a-likes and additional notes. The entire right page is a color photo of the plant, usually including leaves and ripe fruit, sometimes including a small, inset photo of the unripe fruit. Common and Latin names are given for each specimen. As a forager, the most important piece of information is the edibility of the fruit or berry, and that is clearly noted with an additional band next to the color tab indicating whether the specimen is edible, not edible, delicious, or toxic.

Photo of internal pages

leaves, stems, flowers
As an example, let's look at the strawberry pages. You find yourself a small, red berry out in a sunny field at your feet. Using the book, you start by looking in the red section, looking at the colored tabs on the upper left page. Use the large, color photos on the right page to find a plant that looks like the plant in front of you. Now use the clearly written text to verify the plant. The leaves section will describe coarsely toothed trifolate leaves on the end of a long fuzzy stem. The fruit section describes a heart-shaped fruit, and some of the visual differences between two different species of strawberry that may have been found. Check to see that your seasonal ripeness matches with what is described, and observe the habitat the plant is growing in. Read about any possible look-a-likes in the compare section, and read the additional notes that may describe the flavor of the strawberry. Also notice the additional band on the upper left corner, denoting that the wild strawberry is delicious. Using the additional ID information in the fruit section, I can positively identify the strawberries we found and photographed as Fragaria virginiana. Yum!

Also in this book is the useful introduction in the front. The terms used in the book are described, such as types of fruit (berries, drupes, pommes) and how the fruits are arranged (raceme, cluster, umbel). A calendar is included that shows when each fruit or berry is ripe. There is also an excellent desciption on how to use the book, taking you through all of the steps to identify and verify a plant. At the back of the book is a glossary of the botanical terms used throughout the book, an alphabetical index of the fruits and berries, and two pages of additional resources, such as websites and books.

Teresa Marrone has written several comparable books for 2 other geographical regions: Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, and for Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Depending on where you are located, you may be able to get a book better suited to your region. Teresa Marrone has also written several books on cooking with the berries and fruits of those geographical regions, along with books on cooking other wild edibles, game cooking, using a slow cooker, and camp cooking. A biography of her and her work can be found here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hen of the Woods Recipe - Hen Stroganoff

2011 will be a memorable year for us in our wild food education and evolution in regards to mushrooms. We finally took the step of joining a mushroom hunting club, Connecticut Valley Mycological Society, and we have learned something every week we have foraged with them. Climate conditions that may have started off bleak in the summer quickly turned into an ideal wet paradise in August with the rains from Tropical Storm Irene. Mushrooms were everywhere, and especially choice wild edible mushrooms were everywhere. We would go out in the morning with the intention of finding hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) in an old oak forest, and instead come home with six pounds of black trumpets (Craterellus fallax). Finally finding the masses of hen of the woods, also called maitake or sheep's head fungus, provided us with gallons of dried mushrooms, gallons more frozen in the chest freezer, and several pounds of fresh mushroom for dinners.

pores on the underside
spore print
Hen of the woods is identifiable by its appearance: it looks like a chicken's backside, all ruffled up. The many fronds are generally a creamy tan to grey, and have small , white pores on the underside. The fan-shaped fronds can be 3/4"-3" (2-8 cm) and overlap each other. Hens produce a white spore print. They can seem fibrous, but are wonderfully toothsome but tender when young. The stalks and core are dense. Some specimens can grow to be 50 ponds, but most we found were about 5 pounds each. Hen of the woods grows on bases of oak trees or stumps, often for several successive years at the same location. They are fairly common here in the Northeast, and we encountered some folks giving them away they were so plentiful this year. We stuffed breads, topped pizzas, boiled soups, and made tapenade from our finds, and here is a hearty sauce for potatoes, dumplings, or egg noodles.

Hen of the Woods Stroganoff                                makes about 4 servings

2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. hen of the woods, packed
1 c. vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 c. cream
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 c. sour cream
1 T flour
1 T chopped chives or parsley

cooked potatoes, dumplings, or egg noodles

1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and sautée the garlic over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the packed mushrooms and cooks, stirring often until the mushroom starts to brown.
2. Add the cream and broth, and allow it to reduce by half, stirring often. Add the salt and pepper.
3. In a bowl, mix the flour and the sour cream together. Stir the sour cream into the mushrooms and cook 5 minutes, until the sauce is thickened.
4. Serve the sauce over the potatoes, dumplings or noodles, and garnish with chopped chives or parsley.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meeting Another Forager

It can be so rewarding to meet another wild food aficionado and talk shop, even more interesting to meet a published forager on a cross-country book tour. Let's add a gourmet dinner out at a nice restaurant made with local, fresh wild food that you have foraged for the restaurant, and the evening is complete. On October 2, 2011 we lived this reality when we chatted and dined with Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast and his website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. The dinner was held at La Laiterie in Providence, Rhode Island, and it consisted of passed appetisers and four courses, each containing at least one item we had foraged and contributed to the evening.

Hank is originally from New Jersey, and spent his summers on Block Island. He currently lives in Northern California, where the produce is different, the ocean is different, but foraging for wild food is still a passion. His book is broken into three main sections: plants, fishing, and hunting. There are recipes throughout, along with lovely personal stories and memories. We generally don't have time to fish, and Robert and Gillian are vegetarian anyway so we also don't hunt. I have accepted gifts of venison, and may consider taking up bow hunting in the future. The section of the book we found most interesting was on the wild plants, especially the seaside edibles like beach peas, glasswort, and rocket. He also goes over other plants like dandelion, nettles, sassafras, and elderberries. This is not a guidebook for foraging wild edibles, but a complete story of the experiences and passions of an avid outdoorsman and forager.

I had contacted the chef of Farmstead & La Laiterie about possibly foraging for this dinner, and Matt Jennings was very enthusiastic. He and Beau Vestal cooked up a fantastic menu, including Hank's requested quahogs in honor of his Block Island memories. We provided autumn olives, chestnuts, black trumpets, spicebush berries, rosehips, ramps bulbs, and glasswort. Some of the items were unexpectedly difficult to gather, due to Tropical Storm Irene that just passed through and devastated the coastal areas we use to gather several items. The dry summer also limited our ability to forage for wild grapes and autumn olives. We did manage to find enough for the dinner, but will have to wait until next year to forage them for ourselves.  Robert was unable to photograph the dishes, as the restaurant was rather dimly lit for ambiance, but I will say that everything was divine. My favorites include the candied spicebush berry, and the swordfish belly with the rosehip purée. Robert had an altered menu, with seaweed salad in place of the terrine, and white cheddar grits and hen of the woods mushroom sautée in place of the guinea hen. Both Hank and Matt Jennings reminded the diners that this was a unique feast, never to be replicated since the foods we ate that night were foraged that week from this geographic area, and cooked by wild food lovers and enthusiasts. It was wonderful! Here is a copy of the menu for the evening:

farmstead & la laiterie
The Forgotten Feast
A Wild, Sourced Dinner

Wild Mushroom Toasts, Moses Sleeper Cheese, Preserved Lemon Mostarda
"Boar ta della" Sandwiches with Olive, Wild Juniper, and Celery Relish
Chicken-Fried Chicken of the Woods, Waffle Strip, Bourbon Vinegar
Rhode Island Quahog Clambake Stuffies

Course 1 - Pasture & Knoll
Connecticut Pheasant Terrine & Rhode Island Rabbit Mousseline
spicy ale mustard, Concord grapes, American chestnut bread

Course 2 - Coast and Shoreline
Wild Spiced Swordfish Belly
rosehip purée, smoked ham ans sea lettuce dashi, periwinkles and sea beans

Coarse 3 - Woodlands & Forest
"The Hen" Pan Roasted Guinea Hen
hen of the woods, wild rice, pickled autumn olives & ramp bulb, egg yolk, horseradish powder

Course 4 - Sweet and Savory
Selection of Three New England Farmhouse Cheeses
candied nuts and spicebush berry
Peppergrass Ice Cream
warm, salted sassafras caramel sauce and biscotti

Our evening out was filled with warm conversations, delicious food, and a lovely display of mushrooms by the resturant's usual mushroom forager. Matt Jennings was interested in an ongoing relationship with us in regards to wild edibles, and we are considering it. This past year was such an unexpected loss for many of our favorite edibles due to the weather and climate, it makes us wary to make promises that we could not keep and obligation that we could not fullfill . We will have to see what the next season brings.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autumn Olives 2011: Where are they?

speckled, ripe berries
Autumn olives (Eleagnus umbellata) are a common edible invasive species found in New England, growing from southeastern Ontario down to Florida and as far west as Arkansas and Wisconsin. It was brought from Asia to North America in 1830 for cultivation as an ornamental plant. In Massachusetts and Connecticut, up until 2006, it was commonly promoted as roadside erosion control shrubbery, wild bird food and cover, and frequently planted along roadsides and distributed to homeowners for landscaping and windbreaks. Currently, importation, propagation, and sale of autumn olive bushes is prohibited in many states.

The bush is spread by the seeds from the many berries, often consumed by birds. Autumn olive is a drought tolerant shrub that grows in full or partial sun in a variety of soil and moisture conditions along open woodlands, fields, grasslands, industrial areas, and disturbed areas. The bush has the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil and grow quickly, thereby shading out competition. Cutting the bush will not kill it, pulling up the seedlings is the only eco-friendly method of eradication.

flower clusters

The autumn olive shrub can grow to 12 feet (3.7m) tall, and are often found in large clusters taking over an area. The alternate leaves are 1-3 inches (2.5-8 cm) long and egg or lance shaped. The tops of the leaves are dark green, and the undersides are densely covered in silvery scales. Autumn olives are often the first plants to sprout leaves in spring, and produce copious amounts of flowers arranged in bunches from the leaf axils. The flowers are light yellow or creamy white tubes that open to four petals, and are fragrant. Each flower will produce a single green berry speckled with silver scales. The berry bears a single, oblong, soft seed that is edible, and ripens to red in late summer or early autumn.

When ripe, the berries can taste either very astringent, or pleasantly sweet. Kids love that puckeringly tart flavor, and it is slightly reminiscent of ripe tomatoes. We have been eating them for years, and the berries are a super wild food. They contain outstanding amounts of lycopene, which is good for your joints. We use the berries in several recipes, like jam, jelly, fruit leather, wine, and ketchup. The berries freeze really well, which is great since they are usually so abundant.

Autumn olive ketchup
Which brings us to this year and the absence of berries in our favorite places. There have been several weather related conditions combining to destroy many of the berries. The spring was rather wet and late, then the summer was very dry. During the dry summer, many plants lost their fruits as they became stressed from the drought, like wild plums, grapes, and the autumn olives. When the deluge of rain came from Hurricane Irene to the northeast, it was too late for many plants, and some even toppled over once the ground became too saturated for the plant's roots to hold on. Any berries that had survived the dry summer now absorbed massive amounts of water and split open within a few days, and attracted bees and ants to the shrubs. We had a very difficult time to gather one gallon of berries that were not mushy, split messes, when we can usually gather several 5-gallon buckets worth of berries in an hour. So this year, no jelly, wine, fruit lather, or berries to freeze from our most abundant and favorite wild edible. Here's to next season!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - Coconut Mushroom Soup

Here is a great recipe with a bit of a tropical Thai twist. It is not hot, but savory, salty and slightly sweet and meaty all at once. Mushrooms with coconut milk might not sound very good, but the soup is wonderful. We ran across a very immature chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) this week, and brought home about 15 pounds of it to cook with. Much will be frozen, but some will be made into something tasty right now. The mushroom was growing on a dying deciduous tree, rather high up. Robert cut off a large portion  and carted it home in a grocery shopping bag. It was so fresh, it soaked through the bag onto the floor of the car, and gave off a lot of moisture when cut and sautéed. Lambs's quarters (Chenopodium berlandieri) is an abundant weed probably growing in your yard or an open field area, but you could substitute spinach.

Coconut Sulfur Shelf Mushroom Soup                               makes about 6 servings

1 tsp. oil
1/4 c. diced shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small chili pepper, chopped (seeds removed if you want it mild)
1" slice of ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/2 c. cubed sulfur shelf mushroom
1 c. cubed russet potatoes
2 c. vegetable broth
1 tsp. salt
1 c. coconut milk
1/4 c. julienned lamb's quarters or baby spinach
1 T chopped cilantro
1/2 c. water (if needed)
lime wedges
chopped cilantro and lamb's quarters

1. Heat the oil over medium heat and add the shallots, cooking until translucent. Add the garlic,  chili pepper, and ginger and cook another minute.
2. Add the cubed chicken mushroom, and cook until the liquids that come from the mushroom have evaporated, about 5-8 minutes, and the chicken mushroom starts to brown, stirring often.
3. Add the cubed potato, vegetable broth, and salt and cook for 6-8 minutes, until the potato is tender.
4. Add the coconut milk, lamb's quarters and cilantro. If the broth is too thick, add up to 1/2 c. water. Remove the soup from the heat.
5. Serve the soup with a squeeze of lime juice and lime wedges, along with some additional chopped cilantro and washed lamb's quarters.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - "Chicken" Stuffed Bread

At a recent weekend mushroom foray with CVMS, Robert was lucky to find a small, fresh sulfur shelf, or chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus). This is a common autumn polypore found growing on dead trees and stumps. When fresh, the colors are bright orange with a bright yellow underside on each shelf. This specimen was fresh and quite wet. We brought it home and decided to make a stuffed braided bread. Chicken mushroom is a firm, meaty mushroom, and I made a substantial filling along with sautéed onions and brie. We shared some the next day at another foray. I usually make a standard pizza dough with a bit of whole wheat flour, but you could use pizza dough from the grocery store. To make it easier to dice the brie, I freeze a chunk of it first and then toss the diced brie in a pinch of flour once cut. If you don't want to make the filled braid, you could also make a stuffed pocket or calzone with the filling.

Chicken Mushroom Stuffed Bread                       makes 1 large bread, or 4 calzones

7 oz. warm water
1 1/2 tsp instant dried yeast
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. all purpose flour
2 T olive oil
2 tsp salt

2 tsp. oil
1 small onion, sliced
4 c. chopped chicken mushroom
1/2 c vegetable broth or water
4 oz. brie, cubed
4 T chopped chives
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

egg wash

1. To make the dough, pour the warm water (100°F) in a mixer bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it proof for 2 minutes. It will look foamy.
2. Add 2 c. of flour, olive oil, and salt and turn the mixer on. Slowly add the last 1 c. of flour and mix for 5 minutes. You may need more flour to get the ball of dough to form.
3. On a floured counter, knead the dough for 2 minutes by hand. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise for 1 hour.
4. To make the filling, heat the oil in a sautée pan over medium heat and add the onions. Cook until the onions are softened and browned. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook 2 minutes. Add the broth or water to the pan and allow it to cook down.
5. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool. Right before stuffing the dough, add the chopped chives, brie, and salt and pepper, stirring it all together.
6. Heat the oven to 400°F. Cover a sheetpan with parchment, a silicone mat, or spray with non-stick spray.
7. Punch down the dough, and roll it into a large rectangle about 8" x 14" for the stuffed bread, or into 4-8" rounds for calzones. Transfer the dough to the prepared sheetpan. Fill the dough and pinch it closed over the filling. Slit a few air vents in the top of the dough. Let the stuffed dough rest for 20 minutes, and brush it with egg wash.
8. Bake the stuffed bread for 25-35 minutes, the calzones for 20-30 minutes, until browned and the bread is fully baked. Cool before slicing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mushrooms Identified - Hen of the Woods

Immature Hen of the Woods
Same mushrooms, about 6 days later
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) is a mushroom we are comfortable eating, and have a small bit of experience with. We got our first by bartering with Russ Cohen at a foraging walk, and then found a few old specimens later in that year. The taste and texture of this mushroom really impressed us, so we made it a point to search for them this year. Joining the CVMS and several online forums really helped with our research and gave us many ideas where to search for these culinary delights. Timing is important, along with habitat.

Hen of the Woods Stroganoff
Hens are also known as Sheep's Head, due to their fluffy appearance. They grows at the base of oaks and other deciduous trees from September to November, often reappearing each season for several years. They are parasitic to the tree, and will very slowly kill a tree by causing rot in the heartwood and sapwood. Hens generally are very common in the Eastern US, are present in the Midwest, and are not present in the West except for the Pacific Northwest. After we made an active search for them this year, we have found perhaps 35+ pounds of delicious mushrooms at several sites, always at the base of an oak. We have dried, frozen and cooked several recipes using the thinner fronds and the solid core. We search for hen of the woods by finding an established mixed forest, and Robert will use binoculars to search off trail at the base of large or dead oaks. Many times we stumble upon a tree with 3-7 clusters at its base by accident or directly on a trail. We determine its desirability based on appearance, age, and buggy-ness of the hen. Robert uses a knife to cut the main stem and trim any gross bits from the bottom, and we carry the intact hens out in a canvas grocery bag.

Spore Print

Hen of the Woods underside
Hen of the Woods is a polypore, meaning it has pores on its underside instead of gills. It appears as a large, clustered mass of greyish-brown, dry, spoon-shaped fronds. Each frond will vary in size depending on age, but can be a nub or up to 3" (7 cm) wide. The pores on the underside should be white, though they will yellow with age. The stems or stalks are tough and off center, or usually attached to the sides of the fronds. The spore print is white. Clusters of hens may weigh up to 100 pounds, but most are around 5 pounds each. The core stem will be solid, without fibers, and works well in recipes if ground like meat or marinated. There are no dangerous look-alikes.

Hen of the Woods Tapenade
Hen of the Woods is considered a choice edible, due to its excellent firm, meaty texture and mild mushroomy taste. We have made a tapenade, calzones, consommé, pasta sauces, steak toppings, and just eat this mushroom sautéed with butter on toast. The Japanese call this mushroom maitake, and use it to enhance the immune system in cases of cancer, to regulate blood pressure, glucose and insulin.