Friday, June 28, 2019

Mulberry Marzipane and Mulberry Agar jewels

Mulberries are falling and staining the sidewalks around town, and you can hear the flocks of birds among the branches. Mulberry picking is easy--the ripe berries almost fall into your bucket, or you can spread a tarp under a small tree and give it a hearty shake to make it rain berries.

I ran the mulberries through our Roma food mill 3 times to extract the juice and pulp, while removing the seeds and stems. This is the juice/pulp from which we would normally make jam, but we decided to try a few other things as well this year. 

Mulberry marzipan

First, Robert made some mulberry marzipan, sticking a single slivered almond into the end of the shaped paste to mimic the small stem. The flavor is subtle because you don't need too much liquid when making marzipan from scratch.

Mulberry agar jelly jewels

The second thing we tried was mulberry jelly jewels, made using agar-agar as a gelling agent and pouring the mixture into silicone molds. Once the agar firms up, I just popped them out of the molds. In one batch, I used mulberry juice with a touch of lemon juice added, in the second batch I mixed in a little coconut milk to make them creamier and lighter purple. They are small enough to pop them in your mouth, one at a time.

See this link for an older recipe for Black and White Mulberry Ricotta Tart

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Wild Mushrooms for Dinner: Spicy Chicken (Mushroom) Patties on Steamed Buns

When we teach edible mushroom classes, we praise the chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus, L. cincinnatus) as a very good edible mushroom. It's not so much that the mushroom tastes like chicken, but its texture mimics meat in a satisfactory way. We find that the chicken mushroom can be one of the most versatile wild fungi when it comes to making meals, standing in for meat in many cases or just being used on its own. Another reason we like it so much is that chicken mushrooms can fruit in spring, summer, or in the fall, giving us many opportunities to utilize this mushroom in different preparations. With this week's spring chicken find, I ground some in the food processor to make spicy patties with rice, scallions, garlic, chopped nettles, and hot spices. We served the patties in steamed buns with some gochujang sauce, fresh radishes from our farm share, and cilantro.

white chicken
It's very important that the chicken is collected in good condition, when it is still young or tender. Coming upon an old chicken mushroom can be disappointing, but you should never be tempted to use it anyway--it will be like eating sawdust. Ideally, you want the flesh to ooze yellow or milky juice when cut into, the colors to be bright, and the fronds to be bug-free. Sometimes the overall mushroom can be very, very large, or just a few fronds on the side of a tree. This fungus starts out looking like spray foam on the tree, before it shelves out. You will find the yellow chicken mushroom growing from the trunk of a dead or dying tree, as it is a heartwood rotter. The white chickens are found at the bases of dead or dying trees, as they rot the butt wood. Chicken mushrooms are polypores, which means there are "many pores" on the undersides of the fronds, although you may need to use magnification to see the small pores. 

When we find an excessive amount of chicken mushroom, we cook it and freeze the cooked parts in vacuum packed bags. Dehydration is not ideal for this fungus, as it becomes woody and does not rehydrate well because the context of this polypore is constructed of skeletal hyphae which harden into a dense substance when dried. Sometimes large finds end up in a recipe and brought to a weekend foray to share for lunch. We also make and freeze many vegan "sausages" made with ground chicken mushrooms, gluten, and seasonings to use all year long. You can find a list of some of our recipes using chicken mushrooms here.

#chickenmushroom #wildmushrooms #foraging

Friday, May 10, 2019

Mix old with new--Spring ramps with Autumn maitake!

Maitake burgers on ramps biscuits, made with the greens only

In spring, we need to start emptying out the freezer of last season's stored bounty but also crave freshly foraged green goodies.

Here we combined some of autumn's maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) that we had frozen pre-cooked and ground with brown rice, chopped ramps greens, seasonings, and an egg as a binder to make a baked patty. Then I baked some biscuits made with added pureed ramps greens and chopped ramps greens added to the dough. We served them with pickled beets made from last year's CSA share. It seems likely that many dinners for the next month or two will include wild foods pulled from our freezer or pantry to make some space!

Autumn maitake, hen of the woods, sheepshead, Grifola frondosa

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Connecticut Morels

The "official" morel season seems to be underway in Connecticut and southern New England, even though we still don't find too many. Why? Is the soil wrong? Are the trees wrong? What is up with the weather? Who knows, not me!

But, when we head out for other assorted forages (for nettles, ramps greens, asparagus, immature knotweed, or pokeweed shoots), we still ramble around and examine the grounds and forests for morels, likely Morchella americana, the yellow morel.

With limited experience with morels, we often dehydrate them to concentrate their flavor upon re-hydration, or cook them fresh very simply. A light batter and fry is the popular default, cooking in a wine and cream sauce is standard, and stuffing large morels that have been halved seems like a good idea.

Morchella americana in various stages of development. Not really any such thing as "greys" or "blondes"

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Hemlock "Reishi", Ganoderma tsugae, Varnish Shelf Mushroom--Eat it young!

Fully grown Ganoderma tsugae on hemlock trees

Some warmer weather is finally signalling the Ganoderma tsugae to fruit. We find them on eastern hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis), dead or nearly dead trunks. Our eastern hemlocks are under a lot of pressure from several sources that are killing them in large numbers: from the woolly hemlock adelgid--an invasive insect; to various fungal blights and infections--tip blight, twig blight, needle rusts. The amount of dead hemlock trees is steadily increasing, creating more substrate for the "hemlock reishi", or "varnish shelf" fungus.

Fresh fruiting body, soft and tender at this stage

Ganoderma tsugae is a white rot or butt rot of the heartwood for the hemlock tree. It can act like a parasite on live trees and a saprobe on dead hemlock wood. The fruiting body is a firm polypore that shelves out horizontally from the substrate, sometimes in large colonies. The top of the fruiting body comes in a range of colors that changes as it ages--starting out with white on the tender new growth and edges, then darkening through yellow, orange, reddish-orange, and finally a darker reddish-brown after sporulation or with age and weathering. The top of the cap also appears very shiny, almost as if it were lacquered. The fan-shaped cap can grow up to 10" wide, but more often the caps are about 4-7" wide, and there is often a stem present where the cap attaches to the wood that is up to 1" thick. The fresh pore surface is white; it gets a dirty reddish-tan with age and often supports a colony of green mold or algae. There are many cool insects and beetles that live on old Ganoderma conks, so there is really no need to remove old fruiting bodies from the wood.

Many people in the eastern part of North America where Ganoderma tsugae is abundant love to claim that Ganoderma tsugae is the true "reishi" fungus of Chinese medicinal lore, seemingly a cure for every cancer, malady, and even a fountain of youth treatment. Those same people are more than happy to try and sell some dried "reishi" to you to make a bitter decoction or some tinctured "reishi", making some pretty big promises as the efficacy of the fungus. We don't really get into medicinal fungi, but the actual "reishi" fungus is a different species--Ganoderma lucidum, and any actual scientific studies into the possible benefits of "reishi" are in regards to Ganoderma lucidum.

Very young fruiting body, sliced and pan-ready

In the spring, when the fresh growth is still white with no hint of any lacquered color showing or any signs of pores, we collect the marshmallow-y fruiting body to eat as a fresh mushroom. The mushroom should be incredibly tender--it gets tough very quickly with any hint of color or once it gets too big. The white blobs get sliced thinly, cooked with a touch of oil over medium heat until they brown, then hit with a sprinkle of salt for a taste of a mushroom that contains a lot of meaty flavor in a small slice.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Spring Mushrooms of Connecticut--Morels and Pheasant Backs

Spring is a great time to get out and forage for greens and sprouts, but a lean time for most mushrooms. Only a few edible fungi dare to show up in our area of southern New England; the hunting doesn't get *really* exciting until July or so. While we are grateful to finally get outside and for the snow to be gone, we do still cast our eyes downwards in the eternal search for dinner.
The springtime mushroom most people know and are desperately hunting for is the morel, one of the Morchella species. We mostly find the larger yellows, Morchella americana, sometimes the smaller Morchella diminutiva that are associated with tulip trees, and we have personally never found any of the earlier black morels. It is important to distinguish true morels from false morels--true morels will be completely hollow when sliced in half, while false morels will have many convoluted chambers in the top and stem. False morels do contain a fatal toxin that accumulate in your body over time if you do not remove it with thorough cooking, and we just have better things to do than chance our lives to things like that rather than argue with folks who insist they have been eating them their whole lives with no problems. True morels also need to be cooked well to prevent stomach upset, and they dry well to concentrate their flavor for use later. They pair well with a a splash of marsala or white wine, a touch of salt, allow the excess liquid in the mushrooms to cook off, and add a knob of butter at the end. (there shouldn't be bugs, and if there are specks of dirt, brush them off or spray them with the hose on your sink, never soak your mushrooms in salt water!!).

Cornmeal and ramps waffles with marsala and morel gravy

Biscuits made with ramps greens and morel butter

We just don't have as many morels here in New England as the lucky folks in the Midwest have, it is a fact. The soil, the trees, and the the climate is different. We also don't follow forest fires like they do in the Pacific Northwest or California, the species of morels are different. So what are we looking for? Our northeastern morels are often associated with elms, ash trees, tulip poplars, or apple trees. Many of our elms and ash trees are dying from diseases and insect infestations, so I don't know if the morels prefer the trees sick. Unfortunately, the old apple orchards were treated with fairly toxic pesticides until fairly recently and fungi are really good bio-accumulators, so morels found in old orchard may be high in toxic elements, so eaters beware. Or, like all life forms, they can grow wherever they want to, flaunting all rules and confounding all predictions anyone wants to make! Just get out in the woods and walk the miles! Morels are members of the ascomycota, meaning they have a different way of spreading their spores than most other fungi. The cap portion will be yellow or light brown, pitted or look like a honeycomb, and hollow when sliced in half, The stem will be light cream colored and hollow when sliced in half. Morels grow on the ground.

On to the second common edible wild mushroom of spring, sometimes thought of as inedible or as the consolation prize when your morel hunt doesn't go well--the pheasant back or the dryad's saddle, Cerioporus squamosus. A lot of people think of them as inedible because they are collecting them in the wrong stage, when they are far too large! If it has shelved out and you can see the pores easily, and it is difficult to run your knife through the edge, it is too late. The mushroom will be the consistency of shoe leather and taste fairly bad at this point and actually IS inedible. If you find the pheasant backs when they are in their "pig's nose" stage, the pores are almost too small to see and you knife should cut through like a hot knife through butter, they will be incredibly tender. The flavor is very light and almost sweet and meaty at the same time, and it can stand up to any strong flavor you choose to throw at it. At this tender stage, you can cut the mushroom into any shape; slices, strips, cubes, grind it, then cook it several ways and season it several ways to utilize it as a meat substitute in any dish--very versatile!

Breaded and deep fried with some yellow tomato sauce

Pheasant backs are polypores, so they have many pores on their undersides. The tops of the caps look like the wings of a pheasant, I suppose, with slightly hairy tufts. They are saprobic, growing on dying or dead trees, and in our area, seem to love maples especially. The fruiting bodies will often hang around on the trees all year, getting tougher, and sometimes some newer growth will show up again as the weather cools back down in the fall. In older guide books, they are listed as Polyporus squamosus.

"pigs nose" stage, perfect for collection

finely chopped and cooked in a spicy sauce, then serve in Japanese temaki rolls

sliced, sauteed with sweet potao noodles and flavored with gochujang sauce

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Spring Edibles - Greens and Mushrooms

After the cold winter the spring greens and shoots are a bit slow to emerge. We find ourselves turning our faces up towards the sun on the nice days, warming our cheeks. Looking down at the ground for signs of life is second nature for us as we take short walks along muddy trails, and we are even taking note of the swelling buds of the trees. Not long now before we begin another year of enjoying our scavenger hunt for edible plants and fungi, where the prizes are delicious!

 Those pesky yard onions, Allium vineale! Use them like chives, in potato salad, on baked potatoes, in a savory quick bread, in soups, grill the small bulbs until they sweeten, just use them up!

Hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirisuta, a small plant in the mustard family. The leaves and flowers are peppery and bright in salads.

 Ostrich fern fiddleheads, Matteuccia struthiopteris, are the only species of fern fiddleheads we eat. They are growing more scarce in our area of southern New England due to habitat loss, so we only collect enough for a single meal each season. Further north into eastern Canada, they thrive in the wide open river floodplains. Sustainability is key- only collect half of the fiddles per crown, and never more than you need.

Tender and mild chickweed, Stellaria media. These have been out for awhile, ad they'll be good eating until it gets too warm and they go leggy. Eat raw and add to smoothies, or add last minute to soups to keep the green color.

Common daylily shoots, Hemerocallis fulva. Sautee these with a toucg of sesame oil and soy sauce for a quick side dish of greens. The tubers are good to collect in spring as well, and we can look forward to the edible flower buds, flowers, and wilted flowers later in the season.

Stinging nettle shoots, Urtica species, packed full of iron. These are my personal spring tonic, and we collect them for soups and to add to smoothies raw, dry some for a seasoning powder, and dry some for tisanes.

Dryad's saddle mushrooms, Cerioporus squamosus, a wood rotting polypore of spring that can be delicious when collected young. Look for them on big, old maples and make sure your knife cuts through them easily, otherwise it will be too tough for the plate. They are well flavored with just a sautee and a touch of salt, but meaty enough to stand up to stronger spices like Korean gochujang.

Invasive garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, showing the start of the second year's growth almost ready to set up a flower stalk, plus first year's growth of sprouts from the many seeds this plant produces. Eat it all--greens, leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, sprouts.

Ramps greens, Allium tricoccum. Collect sustainably--one leaf per plant, don't dig the bulbs! A pungent burst of garlic and onions in a chlorophyll filled green leaf, intense flavor for all dishes and a puree that keeps in the freezer for use all year.

Yellow rocket, Barbarea vulgaris, another member of the mustard family. Spring is when the greens are tender, and the flower heads cook up like broccoli rabe. A touch bitter, but a good green for cooking.