Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mushroom Recipe - Mushroom Sausage (Vegan)

"Chicken" Sausage with caramelized ramps and garlic mustard seed mustard on bread

Living in a 2/3 vegetarian house means we often eat our fungal finds as meat substitutes in recipes. Many of our favorite wild mushrooms have incredibly meaty textures and flavors, most notably the hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) and the chicken or sulfur shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms. They are both polypores, having pores on their underside instead of gills, and are often large specimens that can provide several meals from a single fruiting body. We have successfully used this recipe for both mushrooms, but I suggest using this recipe as more of a guideline and template for your own tastes and the mushrooms you may find. If the chicken mushroom is too young, it may be a little too wet for this recipe, so we use fully shelved but still tender fronds. You could also change up the spices to your tastes.

We didn't use any special equipment, just a food processor and a steamer. We used tapioca flour and wheat gluten along with sticky arborio rice to bind the sausage together. Your yield will be based on the size of the sausages you make, we usually make them about the size of Italian sausages and double or triple the recipe. The taste will improve greatly once the sausages are sliced and fried until crispy, after the initial steaming and cooling period. We have taken the sausages camping to cook up for breakfast and to a potluck, served with our wild garlic mustard seed mustard and autumn olive ketchup. The sausages also freeze nicely, so we can make lots of them when we find a big chicken flush or too many hens to eat fresh.

"Hen" Sausage with caramelized ramps and autumn olive ketchup on bread

Mushroom Sausages                               Makes about 4 sausages

10 oz. (by weight) raw hen or chicken mushroom
1 tsp sunflower oil
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
3 Tbsp tapioca flour
5-6 Tbsp wheat gluten powder
1/3 c. cooked arborio rice

1. Saute the mushroom with the sunflower oil over low heat for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the coriander, poultry seasoning, marjoram and salt over the warm mushrooms and allow the mixture to cool.
2. In a food processor, add the mushroom and spice mixture, sprinkle in the tapioca flour, wheat gluten, and pulse the mixture. Add the cooked arborio rice and pulse to combine. The mixture will be crumbly, but sticky.
3. Take a piece of aluminum foil and place about one quarter of the mixture in the center. Squeeze the mixture together with your hands into the shape of a sausage. Roll up the foil around the sausage and twist the ends tightly to make a foil "casing".
4. Place the wrapped sausages in a steamer over simmering water and steam for 30 minutes. Remove from the steamer and allow the sausages to cool.
5. Remove the foil casing, the sausage should hold its shape, and chill it for a few hours to firm it up. To eat, slice and saute in a hot pan with oil until crispy.

Hen of the Woods

Chicken Mushroom

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wild Cranberries Identified

Wild large cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are native North American plants found in eastern Canada, the Northeastern New England states, the upper Midwestern states, and south to North Carolina. They grow in wet, acidic soils, often in bogs and and swampy spots, in pine barrens, and along coastal areas. Historically they were eaten by Native Americans, who called them sassamanash. Currently, cranberries are a major commercial crop for several regions, including Massachusetts and New Jersey as well as several Canadian provinces.

Our small patch grows near a boggy area in a mixed forest, in a small field area that floods seasonally in the spring with rainwater. It took us two seasons to observe the growing cycle of the wild cranberry, and we got to see the habitat in many different stages, from totally flooded to completely dry.

The first time we found the cranberry plants, I was a little surprised by their small stature. I was expecting something more like a blueberry, but these plants are very small, trailing shrubs, growing close to the ground. They create roots at their leaf nodes, and many stems are connected by underground rhizomes, creating dense mats of vine-like growth. The slightly woody stems are slender and hairless, branching rarely, and growing about 12" tall. The leaves are leathery and evergreen, 1/2" ovals with blunt tips, and are pale green on the undersides.

Flowers appear in the late spring, after some of the flood waters of spring rains have drained slowly from the acidic soil in the small field. We visited several times this spring to try to photograph the flowers, but it was very flooded in the area this year, and we had a hard time finding the small flowers, which are pollinated by bees. They have four reflexed, light pink petals with a golden-beige stamen that points downward. Many of the flowers we found were actually blooming underwater, since the water had not receded yet, and I wonder if that contributed to the smaller harvest we made this season. Gillian didn't mind exploring the flooded field, poking along the edges of the woods looking for immature berries or flowers. This field also has lots of native sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) growing in it, and is surrounded by white pines, indicating the sandy, acidic soil composition.

The fruit starts growing through the summer and ripens in the autumn. Large wild cranberries grow from a wiry, short stem along the leaf axils. The fruit seems almost comically large in comparison to the stem of the plants, but the fruit are also incredibly light since they are hollow. One to three berries grow from each woody stem, and they are fairly easy to pick. Cranberries ripen from pink to red, and are acidic and tart tasting. Inside are several very small, light brown seeds sprinkled throughout the partially hollow interior, along with the pinkish-white flesh that is spongy and light. We pick a few buckets, rinse them off, and freeze most of the cranberries to use all year long. The size of the berries are comparable to commercial cranberries, and they can be used in all the same ways: cranberry sauce, in muffins and pancakes, dehydrated, in pies, and juiced with a bit of apples for sweetness. Cranberries are high in pectin and vitamin C, plus beta carotene and anthocyanins, and can contribute to healthy kidney and urinary tract functions. The berries can persist through frost, and we found some of last year's berries in the very early spring that survived the winter. They are crisp when fresh, and soften once they have been frozen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hen of the Woods Recipe - Maitake Mushroom Jerky

We have been finding  large amounts of hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) this season, staring with the first find at the end of August. After an initial early flush, they started fruiting heavily in late September, and we have found more than 30 hens so far this season. We preserve our hens mostly by dehydrating the fronds to use later for soup stock, and by freezing the cores and more fronds to chop up for burgers. Robert also made lots of sausage with hens this year, using the same technique for making vegetarian sausage made from sulfur shelf mushrooms.

We needed to find something else to do with the pounds of mushrooms in the fridge, so we made some wonderful jerky. We found that this works best with slices from the core, or with very large fronds, since the pieces shrink up quite a bit in the dehydrator. We are using our Excalibur dehydrator, but an oven set on the lowest temperature will work, although the drying times will vary. We store our dried jerky in covered glass jars, but if we had a vacuum sealer, that would work well too. It doesn't last long around here, and it disappears even faster if we bring it out to a potluck event. This recipe makes a sweet/salty/spicy jerky, and the flavors can be changed to suit your tastes.

Hen of the Woods Jerky        Makes about 2 cups marinade, enough for a large hen

For the marinade:
1 c. sweet apple cider
3/4 c. low sodium soy sauce, or tamari
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1/2 tsp. ground fennel
5 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/2-1 Tbsp. Sriracha chili-garlic sauce

1. Place all marinade ingredients in a blender, and puree for a minute. Pour the marinade in a glass or non-reactive shallow pan, preferably one with a cover.
2. Clean the hen of the woods mushroom, making 1/8" thick slices of the core and the larger fronds. All parts can be used, but they will dehydrate at different rates and shrink up quite small.
3. Boil the mushroom for 10 minutes, and drain completely. Place the boiled hen pieces in the marinade while still hot, and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.
4. Remove the pieces of hen from the marinade and drain the excess liquid off before arranging on  dehydrator trays. If drying in the oven, use wire racks placed on a sheet pan. Arrange the marinated mushroom on the trays and dehydrate at 120-130°F for 6-12 hours, until dried and leathery. The time will vary based on the thickness and sizes of the pieces, so check it often.
5. Store in an airtight jar or vacuum pack.

We often have more mushroom pieces than the dehydrator can handle at once, so we use the marinade one more time to flavor another batches, the second batch getting soaked a bit longer, until we use up all the hen. Check out these photos to see how much a very thick frond will shrink up, the top picture is raw, then the center picture is after boiling, and the third picture is after marination and dehydration.