King Stropharia

ForageCast: First Find of the Season

Ari marvels at one of the giant strophs.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: my morel count is still at zero. Zero blacks, zero yellows, zero half-frees. Not even a lousy false morel.

To be fair, morels are just coming into season in Northern Vermont. But ever since the early onset of spring jumpstarted the morel season down south in March, I have been staring at the ground with the tenacity of a hungry hawk hunting for prey. Now that morels finally have arrived in my neck of the woods, I already feel somewhat defeated. Perhaps I should’ve patiently waited until there was actually a reasonable chance of finding a morel to begin looking, but I couldn’t help myself.

Still, I am not giving up – spotting a heaping pile of pristine local yellow morels in the local coop yesterday was just the push I needed to keep me fierce and hopeful in my hunting. Morels really are out there now, even though I often feel like I am searching for a needle in the haystack of Vermont’s endless fields and forests.

I may not have any morels in my satchel, but I am no longer empty-handed. On Friday as I drove past my elementary school on the way to our mushroom workshop in Montague, MA, I had my first big find of the season.

“Strophs! Pull over!” I screamed, as my dad’s foot brought the vehicle to a screeching halt. I ran out of the car towards a mulched area brimming with dinner plate-sized shrooms, and a closer inspection proved my drive-by ID accurate. Usually when strophs reach such epic proportions they are already past the eating stage, but the brick red color of these moist, fragrant caps proved they were still in their prime. We filled up a grocery bag and drove home, where we enjoyed the caps for dinner and saved plenty to share with workshop participants.

As I gave a foraging presentation during the workshop the next day, we had another auspicious mushroom moment. I was highlighting the species currently on the ForageCast, and I had just arrived at a slide on reishi mushrooms and explained that they should be emerging from local hemlocks any day now. Perfectly on cue and completely unexpectedly, a graduate from one of my workshops last year swung open the door with a glowing smile and a bandana full of freshly harvested reishi.

Reishi is a powerful medicinal mushroom that makes an ideal candidate for tincturing, but it is usually too woody for the sauté pan. However, the white growing tips of young reishi mushrooms make a delicious meal with a complex earthy, slightly bitter flavor. The workshop graduate, who has become a fervent forager, cooked up the tender reishi tips after the workshop, saving the woodier bases for a tincture. Medicine has never tasted so good!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of May 14, 2012!

Mushrooms in the Garden Workshop

King stropharia mushrooms!

Do you like the idea of having gourmet mushrooms springing up among your crops in the garden? Come to a “Mushrooms in the Garden” workshop at the Ithaca Community Gardens on Sunday, August 28, as part of the Garden Education Program’s summer workshop series. The workshop is free and open to the public.

At the workshop, I will demonstrate how to inoculate a garden bed with the sun-loving king stropharia, or garden giant, mushroom. Not only are garden giants tasty, but there is also evidence that they boost soil fertility and improve the yields of some crops. Learn about other mushroom species that thrive in the garden, and discover how to develop a perennial myco-landscape in your backyard.

If you’d like to attend, meet at the Ithaca Community Gardens gazebo at 11am Sunday morning. The workshop will be approximately one hour long.

UPDATE on 8/27/11: Due to the impending rains from Hurricane Irene, the workshop has been postponed until Sunday, September 18 at 11am.

Stroph Surprise

Even the underside of the king stropharia, or "stroph," exhibits a regal glow.

After nearly getting lost last week tromping through brambles and poison ivy in search of the spring’s last morels, I was reminded that sometimes the best mushroom patches are right under our noses. On Thursday, I went for a lunch break saunter behind my workplace on Cornell’s Ag Quad. I wasn’t explicitly looking for mushrooms, but I still found my greedy gaze continually returning to the ground in search of sylvan booty.

Soon, a pristine purple cap nestled amongst the leaves caught my eye. Alas, it is not blewit season, and upon closer inspection my find revealed itself to be a plastic Easter egg. I left the egg there to incubate – perhaps a child will spot it next Easter – and continued moseying about my work habitat.

Two beautiful strophs rise up out of their preferred substrate - wood chips.

Just a few yards up the path, I spotted a small army of mammoth mushrooms basking in the sun, their wide-open caps beckoning me to join them in their reveling. As I admired the meaty caps, deep burgundy in the younger specimens and fading to a pallid brown in the older ones, I realized I had stumbled upon my first king stropharia (see this post from last fall for more information) patch of the season. With morels dominating much of my waking thoughts (not to mention dreams) over the past month, I had all but forgotten about the stately stroph (Stropharia rugosoannulata), provider of many good meals from mid-May through October.

And provide it did. I harvested almost two pounds of the larger mushrooms, whose partial veils had already dropped to form distinctively ornamented annuluses (rings) around their white stems. We enjoyed them atop polenta on Thursday night, and in tacos with carnitas on Friday. Suffice it to say that I’ll be checking back on my new stroph patch regularly – its location sure is convenient!

A close-up of the stroph's gills. The gills are initially white, becoming lilac before turning a darker grayish purple.

 

King Stropharia Risotto with White Wine, Parsley & Roasted Ancho Chiles

Sometimes the best meals emerge spontaneously from circumstance. Yesterday we had two foraging finds: king stropharia mushrooms in the parking lot of one of our favorite local hiking trails, and over three pounds of ancho chiles growing beneath the weeds in our second, abandoned community garden plot. We went to the hiking spot with the intention of searching for hedgehog and lion’s mane mushrooms deep in the woods, equipped with camera, knife, and basket. Before even stepping out of the car, we noticed a pound of gorgeous strophs basking in the sun. These turned out to be our only find of the hike; sometimes you don’t have to travel far to find the best mushrooms!

Risotto has long been a staple in my kitchen, but the union of king stropharias and ancho chiles was a new introduction. The meaty king stropharias offer a hearty, potato and red wine, quintessential mushroom flavor, while the roasted ancho chiles contribute a mild, delicate heat. A delectable dinner indeed!

King Stropharia

Serves 2

Ingredients for Risotto:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ cup Arborio rice
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 4-6 kale leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese
  • ¼ tsp cracked pepper
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for King Stropharia Garnish:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • King stropharia mushrooms, sliced (ideally 5-9 medium mushrooms, but however many you have will do!)
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ¼ bunch of parsley, chopped
  • Cracked pepper and coarse salt to taste

Ingredients for Roasted Ancho Chiles:

  • 3 ancho chiles
  • 1 tsp olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Risotto: Begin making risotto by heating olive oil in a large pan and sauté shallots and garlic until translucent. Add the rice and sauté on a low heat for a couple minutes. Slowly begin to add stock, one cup at a time. Stir frequently and add the next cup of stock once the rice has absorbed the majority of the liquid. When the rice is tender, add the chopped kale, cracked pepper and white wine. Stir frequently and simmer on a low heat. Once the rice has absorbed the rest of the liquid, stir in Romano and cream cheese, and then salt to taste.

Roasted Ancho Chiles: Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut peppers in half and remove seeds and fiber. Place chiles on a pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Roast chiles uncovered in oven for approximately 35-45 minutes or until tender and toasted.

King Stropharia Mushrooms: Leave approximately 10-15 minutes to prepare and cook these tasty morsels. Clean and remove any blemishes on the mushrooms, then slice and set aside. Heat butter in a pan and sauté garlic. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes. Stir mushrooms frequently and add white wine once they have been cooking for six minutes or so. Remove mushrooms from the heat once the edges begin to brown and simultaneously toss in parsley.

Final step! Serve risotto on top of the roasted ancho chiles and garnish with the king stropharia mushrooms. Mangia!

Ancho Chiles!

The Sun-Loving King Stropharia

Strophs of all shapes and sizes!

Stropharia rugosoannulata’s regal appearance and distinctive potato and red wine flavor have earned it a colorful assortment of common names, including king stropharia, wine cap mushroom, garden giant, Godzilla mushroom, and stroph. Wild strophs pop up throughout the summer and fall, almost always fruiting on woodchips in landscaped areas or forest clearings. Once you find a patch, they may fruit repeatedly throughout the season following rain.

These saprophytic fungi are not difficult to cultivate in woodchip beds, often yielding massive fruits provided you do not make the common mistake of placing them in dense shade as you would shiitake logs. Many people are surprised that some mushrooms, including strophs, elm oysters, shaggy manes, giant puffballs, and most Agaricus species, actually favor habitats offering at least partial sunlight.  I have seen strophs cultivated in the shade at two different sites in the Ithaca area; in this environment mycelium is typically able to colonize the woodchip substrate, but fruitings do not occur for a couple years and even then are highly sporadic.  In contrast, garden giants grown in partial sunlight typically live up to their name, with mushrooms sometimes exceeding a foot in diameter and weighing well over a pound!

The lilac grey color of these gills indicates the mushroom is at a perfect stage for harvest!

Strophs are an excellent mushroom to plant in the garden; not only do they enjoy sun, but they also seem to enrich soils. I first heard this claim made in mycologist Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running, but my personal experience since then has also supported it.  In the MacDaniels Nut Grove, a forest farm on the Cornell campus that I managed in 2009, strophs are cultivated in woodchips on top of rock hard, nutrient-poor soil. I was amazed recently to examine a bed that had produced strophs for two seasons in a row, and was running out of woodchip substrate to consume.  Peeling back the thinning layer of woodchips, I felt fluffy, organic matter-rich soil left behind in their wake. While the pre-stroph soil had lacked any visible earthworms, it was now teeming with fat worms that were leaving behind their nutrient-rich castings, furthering this self-reinforcing cycle of soil fertility. Quantitative studies are needed to empirically demonstrate the effect strophs and other fungi have on soil fertility.

The white, cord-like rhizomorphs projecting from the stem butt can be used to create cardboard spawn.

Once you have a mother stroph colony, you never need to buy spawn again – to start a new bed, just use the colonized woodchips as spawn for fresh chips.  If your mother bed is still small and you can’t spare too many chips, you can create your own cardboard spawn. To do so, you need either a handful of myceliated woodchips, or several stroph stem butts with their white root-like rhizomorphs in tact. Sandwich the colonized chips or stem butts between two sheets of moist, corrugated cardboard, and put this cardboard inside a cardboard box of plastic tub with air and drainage holes. You should see the mycelium jump from the chips or stem butts onto the cardboard within a week, and by the end of the month the cardboard should be fully colonized and ready to be placed mycelial face down on a fresh bed of chips.

How do you know that the lovely mushrooms popping up out of your bed (or perhaps out of the mulch in front of the town police station) really are strophs? Though strophs are not a foolproof mushroom for beginner foragers, they are easy to recognize once you know what to look for. They are easiest to ID when found in a group with representatives of different maturity levels. Young buttons have deep burgundy red caps and pale gills, but as they rapidly grow, the cap fades to a muted tan color and the gills darken, going from off-white to a lilac grey before arriving at a dark, purplish slate color. The gills on emerging mushrooms are covered by a beautifully ornamented partial veil with tooth-like margins. As they mature, the partial veil drops, leaving an annulus on the upper stalk. This annulus so distinctive as to give the mushroom its scientific species name – rugosoannulata, or “ridged ring.” Indeed, the upper surface of the ring is lined with gill-like ridges.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go to the refrigerator to retrieve my stroph harvest of the day, which I plan to sauté in butter with garlic until the edges start to brown. Within minutes, the smell of nutty potatoes and red wine will infuse my apartment, tempting my tongue to dig in. And dig in I will!

The deep burgundy color of these young caps gives the mushroom its common name, wine cap. Note the ornamented partial veil on the three specimens to the right, which will soon drop to form a ring as seen on the left specimen.

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