Monthly Archives: September 2011

ForageCast: The Weight

Yellow foot chanterelles - one of countless gourmet species currently fruiting in the Northeast!

Take a load off my fanny pack. Take a load for free.

That just about sums up how I felt as walked out of the woods yesterday, my back almost crumbling under the weight of innumerable mushroom-filled paper bags.

Fortunately, I have plenty of friends who are always more than willing to lighten my load.  On the way back from the foray I picked Jenna up at our neighborhood coffee shop, where I traded mushrooms with a baker friend for just out of the oil fried dough.

Before I had even left the café I received a call from another friend eager to claim his share of the bounty. I told him to meet me back at my home, where the selection would be even greater. He didn’t waste any time, arriving, soaked in sweat, within minutes of my return. 

In Ithaca, all the fall mushroom species are out in full force. Had it not been for the black trumpets, lion’s mane, porcini, yellow feet, hedgehogs and blewits weighing me down on yesterday’s hike, I actually might have stopped to pick a few of the thousands (literally) of honey mushrooms and hundreds of aborted entolomas I saw along the trail.  I don’t have anything against these mushrooms, but it’s hard to get excited by ground beef when you have unlimited free filet mignon!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of September 27, 2011!

ForageCast: A Balm for the Blewit Blues

A blewit!

“So, do you think it is still too early to add blewits to the ForageCast?”

I asked Jenna this question early this morning as we neared the end of a fun but unfruitful jaunt to a proven wood blewit patch. As if being summoned, the blewits answered before Jenna even had the chance. Perhaps they just wanted to make their presence known before I stepped on them, popping their pretty purplish faces up out of the duff just in time to avoid a sad, squishy fate.  

We picked a few, two of which are now resting on my coffee table, cooperating wonderfully by dropping their spores on the sheet of paper I placed below them. I rarely take a spore print for ID purposes these days, since I can immediately recognize most of my favorite edibles.

However, while my blewits (Clitocybe nuda) look unmistakably like the real thing, this is a species with a number of very close, very dangerous look-alikes from the genus Cortinarius. Corts usually have a cob-webby cortina covering the young gills, but this feature can disappear with maturity. The only way to positively rule out Corts is a spore print – blewits should have pale pinkish spores, while Corts leave a rusty brown deposit. Remember that this test simply rules out the blewit’s most menacing group of look-alikes; it does not necessarily rule in the blewit. Blewits are not a beginner species.

There are a number of other subtle ID features, which is why I am confident enough to announce that my find is no imposter even though the spore print is not yet visible. Blewits should have tightly spaced gills, a distinctive aroma, a cap that is slightly tacky when moist, and visible mycelium around the stem base. The gills should never be brownish or cob-webby. If your collection contains a nice mix of young and old specimens, the purple color should be most vibrant in the younger mushrooms. By the time they have reached maturity, there is often just a faint lavender hue detectable in the light brown, gray, or buff caps. 

So, don’t be disappointed if your blewit is not as “blue” as the name might suggest. You won’t be disappointed once you bite into a succulent morsel – just make sure you’ve done your homework first!

A blewit next to its pale pink spore print.

UPDATE: It is a blewit! I didn’t expect the spores to fall so quickly, but after writing this post I couldn’t resist sneaking a peak. I took two spore prints – one on white paper and the other on black. I gently lifted up the corner of each mushroom, since I am hoping to preserve these spore prints for a future project (more on that soon…). On the black paper you could already see a very crisp and bold light lavender spore print. On the white sheet, you could only see a very faint, light lavender spore print, as you would expect for the blewit! If the mushroom had been a Cort, I would have seen a darker, rusty brown spore print that would have appeared more prominently on the white paper.

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of September 20, 2011!

Wild Mushroom Tasting and Cream of Maitake Soup

The five mushrooms featured in the tasting are displayed in their uncooked state!

When the bounty is more than plentiful, it’s time to share. This past weekend we hosted a local foods potluck with a wild mushroom tasting featuring hen of the woods, black trumpets, smooth chanterelles, yellow foot chanterelles and lion’s mane. Guests arrived to find a spread on our dining room table with the five mushrooms, labeled, in their uncooked state. And then, out came the cooked mushrooms, hot off the cast iron pan.

All mushrooms were sautéed in a tad of olive oil and butter, with salt and pepper to taste. Once our 14 guests had sampled all five species, they voted for their favorite mushroom of this stellar seasonal selection. As the team of tasters sat eagerly awaiting the verdict, the votes were carefully tallied and the results announced: lion’s mane was the winner, beating out black trumpets by one vote. Every species received at least one vote; it was hard not to love any of them!

A hen of the woods found today at the base of a red oak.

A wonderful array of dishes featuring the local harvest followed the mushroom tasting, including peppers stuffed with goat cheese and freekah from Cayuga Pure Organics and an incredible selection of delicious artisanal cheese made by a guest who is the manager at Fingerlakes Farmstead Cheese Company.  With our mother load of hen of the woods, I made a cream of maitake soup. I combined two pounds of maitake with potatoes, carrots, herbs, white wine and cream, before pureeing the ingredients into a silky bowl of hen of the woods heaven.

Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lbs hen of the woods (maitake) mushroom
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 lb potatoes, chopped
  • 1 lb carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sage, minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

DIRECTIONS:

1.) Thoroughly clean the hen of the woods. Dry and then break apart into small pieces.

2.) Place a heavy soup pot over a medium to high heat, and then add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and onion. Sauté for about three to five minutes, and then add the hen of the woods to the pot, as well as the salt and pepper. Stir and cook over a medium to high heat for about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes and sauté for another five minutes or so, stirring often.

3.) Add stock, bay leaves, thyme and sage to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.

4.) Remove the bay leaves and puree the soup until smooth. Add the white wine and lemon juice and simmer for another five minutes. Stir in the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with your favorite herbs, and serve hot. Mangia!

Cream of maitake soup!

ForageCast: The Bounty Continues!

It's hard to believe this beautiful shaggy mane will soon meet its inky fate!

The flood of mushrooms continues to astound me. Yesterday after work I took Judah out for a hike and arrived home just before dark with a backpack bursting with king stropharias, lion’s mane, black trumpets, yellow foot chanterelles, cinnabar red chanterelles, and maitake. I was lucky enough to receive a dinner invitation from friends, and we enjoyed the mushrooms (minus the strophs and hen) alongside salmon and broccoli.  Delicious!

In other news, I found my first shaggy mane and hedgehog mushrooms of the season. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the shaggy manes in time – after 24 hours in the fridge, they were well on their way to becoming a pool of inky spores.

The hedgehogs, on the other hand, did make it to the frying pan, bringing back memories from last fall with their fruity flavor. This is one of the safest gourmet mushrooms for beginners to ID, with its yellowish-orange cap and tooth-covered underside.

Another one of the most foolproof species is the black trumpet. This has been an epic year for trumpets, and the forests are still littered with pounds of these well-camouflaged mushrooms if you know where to look. Get out and find your own trumpet patch today; the colder nights will soon send them into hiding.

I hope you are enjoying the forager’s harvest as much as we are!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of September 13, 2011!

Black Trumpet Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Sage

A slice of heaven!

At this point, anyone who’s not a mushroom forager in Ithaca must by dying for some sun. It’s been raining almost around the clock – a steady pitter-patter on the tin roof of our home, soaking the earth and flooding the streets. In fact, when I woke up this morning all roads in Tompkins County were closed due to flooding, by order of the sheriff! Despite the pouring rain, Ari still ventured out yesterday on an early evening two-hour hour mushroom foray. He returned home soaked to the bone, but with a huge smile and a grocery bag filled with black trumpets to add to the four-pounds of black trumpets foraged earlier this week. Mushroom foraging is at its peak – it really doesn’t get any better than this! 

Our beautiful bounty of black trumpets just keeps on giving, making appearances in almost every meal. Needless to say, black trumpets are one of my favorite wild mushrooms. Their delicate appearance and delectable woodsy flavor makes me eagerly exclaim “I love black trumpets!” just about every time I eat them, as if I hadn’t had them every day for the past two weeks. 

This past week, I made a pizza I will never forget. Black trumpets atop a caramelized onion base with my first batch of homemade ricotta cheese, topped with toasted sage leaves – wow! Every bite was blissful. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water!

A small sampling of black trumpets from our recent harvests!

Serves 2

 Preparing the pizza dough:

-       Make or buy your favorite pizza dough!

-       To make two individual pies, divide the dough in two and form each piece into a smooth ball. Let rest. Then flatten (and toss if you have skills!) each ball into round disks.

Preparing the pizza toppings:

1.) CARAMELIZED ONIONS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced
  • ½ Tablespoon brown sugar or maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme or rosemary, minced
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  • Heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onions, cracked pepper, salt and brown sugar. Cook for about 20, stirring often. Add ¼ cup white wine. Once the liquid has evaporated, add the fresh rosemary or thyme. Cook until the onions reach a browned, creamy texture.

2.) BLACK TRUMPETS

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 3 oz black trumpets
  • Cracked pepper and salt to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

DIRECTIONS:

  • In a small cast iron pan, melt the butter at a medium heat. Add the black trumpets, salt and pepper and sauté until any liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Remove the black trumpets and set aside.

 3.) TOASTED SAGE LEAVES (Courtesy my mother! These have always been one of my favorite creations of hers. If you’ve never eaten toasted sage leaves, you’re in for a treat!)

INGREDIENTS:

    • 16 sage leaves
    • 1 Tablepoon olive oil
    • Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  • In a small cast iron pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat.
  • Once the olive oil is hot, add the sage leaves. Lie flat and separate each one about a ½ inch apart. Sprinkle with salt. Cook sage leaves for about two to three minutes on each side. Then, set aside leaves separately on a plate to dry and crisp!

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, this is the time to use it. Place it in the oven on the lowest rack.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil. Top with caramelized onions, approx. 8 oz of ricotta cheese (homemade if you got it!) and freshly grated Parmesan to taste. Lay the black trumpets on top. Note: that the toasted sage leaves will be added as a garnish when the pizza is ready to serve and out of the oven!

When your pizza is ready for the oven, slide the pie onto the stone and bake until the crust is slightly browned and the toppings begin to bubble, about 10 minutes. Place toasted sage leaves on the cooked pie. Serve and enjoy. Mangia!

Black trumpet pizza!

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