Friday, September 28, 2018

Preserving Your Wild Mushroom Harvests through Freezing, Canning, and Salt-Brining

Lots of hens to preserve

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.

Cooking and Freezing

When it comes to freezing mushrooms, we feel it is best to cook them first for a couple of reasons. First, it greatly reduces the volume of the mushrooms when you cook them, taking up much less freezer space. We try to cook them in the least amount of neutral oil needed, just until they have given up their juices and have become dry in the pan. That way, they can portioned into plastic bags, vacuum packed in plastic bags, or placed in hard containers with the least amount of liquid. If you want smaller portions for smaller recipes, portion the mushrooms out into smaller containers or into an ice cube trays, then pop out the mushroom "cubes" and then bag those up in plastic with most of the air removed. The second reason for cooking the mushrooms before freezing is that it prevents the formation of ice crystals in the raw mushrooms. The ice crystals will burst open the cell walls of the mushrooms, resulting in mushy, wet, flabby mushrooms once thawed out for use in recipes, a rather unappetizing texture.

Meadow mushrooms, good to cook and freeze for recipes

Many of the gilled wild mushrooms we collect are very good candidates for the cooking and freezing method of preservation. We keep winecaps, meadow mushrooms and other edible Agaricus, oysters, and honey mushrooms in the freezer, ready to thaw and add to dishes. Chanterelles are another wild mushroom that fare better with the cook and freeze method since they don't re-hydrate well from dried. Some of the tougher polypores like the chicken mushroom or Berkley's polypore should never be dehydrated, but cooked and frozen for later use. Even a tender polypore that we can dehydrate successfully, the hen, works well cooked and frozen as whole fronds, shredded into strips, or finely chopped in the food processor like ground meat. 

Wild Rice and Hen soup, keeps well in the freezer in large plastic containers

Other wild mushroom items we keep in the freezer are already prepped dishes. These include things like Thai curries made with coconut milk and curry paste that include cooked wild mushrooms. When we want to eat this dish, we just need to that out the curry sauce, heat it up, add some fresh vegetables, and serve over cooked jasmine rice. Pot pie bases with wild mushrooms keep well in the freezer, with the cooked wild mushrooms--usually hens--carrots, celery, peas, herbs, and the thick gravy. When we need it for dinner, I remove it from the freezer, thaw it, add a fresh top crust, and bake it all together. Mushrooms soups can be frozen in single or larger family sized portions. Patties or "burgers" made with ground mushrooms with egg or breadcrumbs as binders can be par-baked and frozen; I find it is best if they are frozen individually on a sheet pan first, then stacked with a small piece of parchment between each patty inside of a bag to prevent sticking. To reheat, just thaw and microwave, or heat in the oven or in a skillet.

Pickling, Canning, Marinating, and Salt-Brining

Two long term methods of keeping your mushrooms preserved would be pickling or canning. We personally haven't done very much of either of these. To stay safe and avoid botulism, it is strongly
recommended to not can wild mushrooms at all and the method suggested for button mushrooms is actually pressure canning. It is important to add enough acid to bring the brine to a pH level of 4.6 or lower to stay safe. Use paper pH test strips or a digital pH tester to check the acidity levels. Marinating mushrooms in a flavorful dressing for short term storage in your refrigerator can produce a great snack for a pickle tray or garnish a mixed drink. We like to use small button honeys or Agaricus for something like this, and make a sweet and sour marinade that tastes similar to a cocktail onion, and soak the mushrooms for 3 days to a week or so. Using a good Italian dressing is another option for marinated mushrooms as well.

Salt Brined Lactifluus mushrooms

Salt brining mushrooms for long term preservation is a technique that Robert was familiar with from Hungary, one that his family used. We use it for a few edible Lactifluus species we like to collect, L. volemus, L. hygrophooides, and L. corrugis. This method would also work with Russulas, honeys, Agaricus, Leccinum, hens, or any other firm-fleshed mushroom that can withstand an initial boil. First, the mushrooms are cleaned of debris, then cut into manageable pieces. They are then boiled for about 10-15 minutes then cooled. We then place them in a single layer in a jar and sprinkle with a heavy layer of sea salt. Another layer of mushrooms is added and another layer of salt, until the jar is filled or you run our mushrooms. After a day or so, the mushrooms will let out some liquid, but you will have to add some fresh water, enough to cover the mushrooms so that none are exposed to the air. The mushrooms can then be kept in a covered jar or crock in a cool place for a year or two, if you don't eat them first! They will be incredibly salty, so to use them in a dish, you need to de-salt them first. We do this by taking out what we need for a recipe and soaking it in a few changes of fresh water for 2 days in the refrigerator. The mushrooms will be quite good and have excellent texture, which is why it is important to start with firmer mushrooms to begin with.

Chowder made with Salt-Brined Lactifluus mushrooms, after soaking to remove the salt

Preserving your wild mushrooms can provide you with tastes of your harvests for many months after your foraging, and the more ways you know to keep your bounty fresh and safe, the more options you have for the best tasting food.


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

Monday, September 24, 2018

Wild Mushrooms: Best Texture and Taste Through Correct Handling

Miso-Soy Glazed Maitake over Forbidden Rice Pilaf

Wild mushrooms can be an excellent meat substitute in many meals for meat eaters and vegetarian alike for a few reasons. Their ability to satisfy hunger due to their protein content and fiber levels (beta glucans and chitins) can often "trick" even the pickiest eaters into feeling  full after a meal. Mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms, have a high level of umami--which is described as the fifth taste that humans can detect along with salty, sweet, bitter, and sour; umami is often described as a "meaty, roasty, or brothy" flavor. Mushrooms get their umami from a complex mix of glutamic acid, purine bases, nucleotides, and the breakdown of fatty acids and monoterpenes. Cooked correctly, mushrooms will have excellent and satisfying flavors for many people, and their textures can be enhanced far beyond the pale, slimy soups and canned sliced mushrooms of our childhood!

Mushroom Basket

Bad mushroom!
The best way to start is at the beginning: pick your mushrooms in a smart manner! Whether you prefer to pull or cut, field clean your correctly identified edible fungi before placing them in their basket. Remove the dirty bottoms, remove any visible bugs or critters, brush away any dirt or debris. If you have small wax bags or small paper sacks, they can be useful to keep your finds organized by species, and then easy to transfer to the refrigerator later. DON'T use plastic, your fungi need to breathe and will degrade quickly if kept in plastic bags. Respect your fungi--don't collect old, maggoty, slimy, or rotten mushrooms! Remember that it was free food to begin with, there is no reason to collect less than pristine mushrooms for your plate. It amazes me how many people see holes in their wild mushrooms and they shrug it off and rationalize it thinking it's worms and "extra protein", when the reality is that the holes are formed by maggots of fungus flies that eat the mushroom flesh as they burrow, pooping the whole time. Do you really want to eat that?

Now that you have a bunch of beautifully clean, correctly identified, safe edible mushrooms, what are the best ways to cook them? (Keep in mind that how to cook and taste is strictly objective and everyone has strong opinions about how it should be done, and these are our opinions based on our experiences.)

Golden Chanterelles, ready to tear and cook

Prep your mushrooms: If your mushrooms are still a bit dirty, try to brush them clean with a pastry brush or a paper towel. If they are a firm mushroom, you can dunk them briefly in water and give them a spin in the salad spinner, or spray them with the spray attachment on your sink. Contrary to popular belief, they don't actually absorb that much water with a brief wash. We DO NOT ever recommend extended soaking in salty water--if your mushrooms contain so many bugs and sand that you think they need a salt water soak, they aren't worth eating in our opinion. For firm mushrooms like Boletes, chickens, morels, dryad's saddle, and white button mushrooms, we prefer to chop them with a knife. For mushrooms that are more tender like chanterelles, oysters, black trumpets, and hens, we prefer to tear them into pieces, but they can also be chopped if you prefer.

Coprinus comatus, cooked over the campfire

To test a mushroom for flavor for the first time, we recommend a simple saute in a neutral oil (we like sunflower or grape seed oil) over medium heat. Using butter or olive oil is not recommended--butter contains milk solids that can burn, and olive oil has a low smoke point and too much of it's own flavor that overpower the mushrooms. Remember, we need to cook the mushroom enough to break down the chitins to make it digestible, and we want some flavor from caramelization. Mushrooms contain a large amount of water, so they will give off a bit of juice in the pan, allow it to evaporate. Add as little oil as possible to prevent the mushrooms from sticking, and don't over-crowd the pan. Stir to prevent sticking, but allow the mushrooms to get browned. At the end of cooking, after about 10-15 minutes, add a touch of salt.

Thai Coconut Chicken Mushroom Soup
When using wild mushrooms in recipes, you don't need very specific, specialized recipes for each individual species of wild mushroom! Think more about the textures or flavor of a wild mushroom, and swap it out in an already known recipe to begin with, then once you have become comfortable with wild mushrooms, you will soon be creating your own recipes. When we first started cooking with the chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus), we agreed that it was their texture that mimicked chicken more than their flavor, but we still used it in similar ways to regular chicken in recipes. Now we are more likely to use chicken mushroom for its own attributes rather than a straight substitute for meat. Consider the tenderness of oyster mushrooms when thinking of recipes, consider the crunch of Lactifluus when you think of recipes, consider the texture of Hericium when it's time for dinner. You can turn the wonderful diversity of wild mushrooms with their colors, textures, and  flavors into an array of dishes that the basic white button mushroom could never accomplish!

Spice Rubbed, Oven Roasted Oyster Musrooms

Black Velvet Bolete Palmiers

Winecap Musroom Risotto Filled Grilled Ramps Leaves

Hen and Kasha Loaf with Hen Gravy

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - Chicken Mushroom with Snow Peas and Sesame Noodles

Using one of the most versatile wild mushrooms in recipes can be as simple as substituting it for a similar protein in recipes. Chicken mushroom, once properly prepared first, can easily replace real chicken in many recipes calling for cooked chicken, especially cold salads or chilled noodle dishes. Many of our dinners consist of leftover noodles, rice, or other things in the refrigerator with cooked  mushroom added, plus a fresh sauce used to make a cohesive meal. I don't often have a "recipe" for what we make since we just make dinner with what we have, but this time I wrote down what was in the dressing, and it happened to turn out really well!

The keys to working with chicken mushroom as a chicken substitute are to collect a specimen in good shape and to cook it well. Collect a young enough specimen where the fronds are plump and still ooze a yellow juice when cut; they will be brightly colored. If the fronds of chicken mushroom are thinner and have dried out, no matter how much butter or oil you add, or how long you cook it, the mushroom will still feel like wet sawdust in your mouth. Once you have decided whether you want to cut the pieces into cubes or into strips, you can saute them in very little neutral oil in a pan, until lightly browned, don't drown them in olive oil. Olive oil has a low smoke point and is too strongly flavored to use at this point in cooking; use something flavorless like sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, or vegetable oil. Lightly turn the chicken pieces to keep them from sticking, then add some hot or boiling water to the pan to cover the chicken mushroom, and poach for about 5-8 minutes.You will lightly simmer the mushroom until the water has evaporated. At this point, you'll need to watch the pan and might need to add a bit more oil to keep the mushroom from sticking and give it a stir.All of this cooking ensures the mushroom is cooked enough and will hopefully alleviate  any reactions that some people experience from eating under-cooked polypores. The cooked chicken mushroom can then be incorporated into any recipe you like hot, or chilled. The cooked chicken mushroom can also be tightly packed and stored in the freezer for later use at this point as well.

Chicken Mushroom, Snow Peas, and Sesame Noodles        makes 4 servings

6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp oil
6 Tbsp rice vinegar
6 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp chili garlic paste or Sriacha

1/2 pound cooked pasta, like linguine or spaghetti
1/2 cup raw snow peas

1/4 cup julienne carrots 
1/4 cup additional raw chopped veggies like cabbage, celery, sweet peppers
1 cup cooked, sliced chicken mushroom, chilled
4 tsp toasted sesame seeds

1. Make the dressing: In a small saucepan, add the minced garlic, sugar, oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic chili paste. Bring it to a quick boil and stir until the sugar dissolves, a few seconds. Cool.
2. Toss the pasta with the veggies and the chicken mushroom and pour the dressing over the noodles. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the salad to serve.
Note: If you are not serving the salad immediately, it will soak up the dressing, so save a bit of the dressing to add to the salad right before service.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The "Original" Mushroom Jerky-Hen of the Woods Mushroom Jerky

Many years ago, we were inundated with several large maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa), and I actually mean dozens of them. We were somewhat forced to come up with ways to use the bounty beyond the traditional preservation tactics of dehydration and freezing, so we worked on developing a jerky made from the larger fronds. Our original recipe was published here in 2013, then copied, adapted, re-copied, changed, and inspired many other recipes by other bloggers and mushroom hunters for mushroom jerky made with different varieties of mushrooms like honeys, oysters, and king oysters. Here is our original recipe that we still use every year, and will start using very soon this coming autumn season as the maitake start to fruit.

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.

Hen jerky, all snugly vacuum packed in quart jars for the winter months
Too many hens on my dining table!