Forest to Highchair Cuisine

Eliana + Judah

My daughter, at two-years-old, already understands where her favorite food comes from. “Papa, hunt mauk-mee,” (mushrooms) she says. “Hike.”

How can I resist? I take her in one arm, paper bag and mushroom knife in the other, and we hit the trails behind our house just before sunset.

She has the first find, a blood-red Boletus frostii, nestled beneath a dying beech tree. “Papa, mauk-mee, mauk-mee!”  This edible species is among the most brilliantly colored of all boletes, but its sour flavor and mushy texture can leave something to be desired.

“Nice find,” I tell her, “but we are looking for porcini.”

“Chee-nee!” she exclaims, not missing a beat, and for the first time it is clear to me that she understands the difference between a gourmet edible and the legions of bland, bitter, poisonous, or otherwise inedible species.

We march on, my eyes scanning the uphill side of the trail looking for the light-brown cap and swollen stem of Boletus atkinsonii, a member of the porcini group with an affinity for oaks and other hardwoods. But once again, Eliana proves her forager’s eyes are the freshest.

“Chee-nee! Papa, Chee-nee!” Call it beginner’s luck, but she had spotted a plump pair of kings by an old oak on the downhill side of the trail, where I was not even looking. The maggots had gotten them first, but that did little to sully the magic of the moment.

Eliana’s kings were flags, and soon the two of us were following an impressive fruiting of Boletus atkinsonii, climbing along ledges and pulling back leaf litter to reveal their pudgy caps. My daughter was finding as many porcini as I was, her appetite for the hunt as insatiable as my own. Each time we found another, she would yelp out in delight – “Chee-nee! Pick!”; then, “Papa, more!”, as we continued pursuing woodland royalty.  She ignored the more pedestrian fare – old man of the woods boletes, rotting milk-caps – in a single-minded quest for chubby, regal piglets.

For this devoted father and forager, it was a revelation, the richest find of the season.

As the sun went down and our bag filled up, I coaxed Eliana out of the woods. She knew exactly what the next step would be in this forest to highchair foraging adventure – “Papa, chee-nee! Eat! Papa, eat!”

When we arrived home, my little forager burst through the door with big pride – “Mama, chee-nee! Hunt, mauk-mee!”

We brushed and rinsed the mushrooms together, then let our porcini sweat off the moisture in a dry cast iron pan before adding a teaspoon of butter and, finally, a dash of heavy cream.

I did not even have time to throw a bib on Eliana. The pile of cooked mushrooms disappeared (with an audible “Mmmm”) as fast as I could spoon them into a bowl. I had to be assertive just to get a few bites, but porcini had never tasted so sweet.

Mountain Kings


As I entered the woods with my childhood best friend on my 30th birthday backpacking adventure, my attention was fixed on the ground as we followed a languorous river. Lipstick­-red, vomit­-inducing emetic Russulas lined the trailside, and acrid peppery milkies were sprayed about the flat forest floor. Deadly destroying angels were everywhere, menacingly elegant and dangerous. Yet a three-­mile, flat riverside walk into the backcountry did not reveal a single gourmet mushroom, and the soil seemed drier with each step.

Then, the trail turned and we started climbing steeply. Our legs burned and we began to shed layers as the mid-­day sun beat down upon our shoulders. I was no longer looking as intently for mushrooms, my hopes of a hearty harvest shriveling.

The first hedgehog mushroom just presented itself to me, its distinctive pale peach cap leaving no doubt that I would find teeth, rather than pores or gills, below. A first find of the season is always glorious, and a quick scan revealed five more juicy Hydnum repandum within a ten­-foot radius. I pulled a paper bag out of my backpack and harvested a handful of plump hogs.

The hedgehogs were soon followed by my season’s first small lion’s mane (Hericium coralloides), and I began to realize that the cold nights and morning mountain mist had invigorated the mushrooms at the higher elevations. Often I look to low bogs and valleys in search of moisture during drought. But higher does not always mean drier, and it is easy to overlook the cool mushroom havens that can be found if you climb into the clouds.

Trailside porciniI had a smile to my face as I sauntered higher up the mountain, backpack on my shoulders and paper mushroom bag coddled carefully in my hand. Without even trying, I spotted the prettiest porcini (Boletus cf. edulis) I have seen since my Ithaca foraging days. It stood out like an alpine beacon, a quintessential King with massive, blemish-­free stem. The cap was firm and picturesque, and needed no preparation to make a nutty trailside snack. All mushrooms should be cooked as a general rule, but a notable exception is a bug-­free King. How could one improve upon such perfection?

As we marched higher still, the trees becoming stunted and misshapen, I was surprised to see the chunky hedgehogs continue to fruit along the trail, and I picked up another season’s first – yellowfoot chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis) – just below treeline. We arrived at camp late, too tired to cook or set up a tent, and promptly fell asleep upon a bed of moss and rosy red Russulas.

The next afternoon, on our hike out of the forest, we cleaned and cooked the wild mushrooms (minus the porcini cap) along with sliced summer sausage. Though we had no oil, butter or salt, the result was outstanding and imbued with an exquisite mountain terroir. I typically don’t mix porcini (nutty, earthy) with chanterelles (fruity, floral) in the same pot, but for this wild backcountry one­-pot wonder, the medley of mountain mushrooms was balanced and delightful.

ForageCast: Primed for Porcini

IMG_2594Sauntering through a deep hemlock forest in the foothills of Camel’s Hump, I am scrambling to beat the slugs to June’s bumper crop of reishi. Chanterelle buttons glow on the soaking wet forest floor, the beginning of what should be a memorable July fruiting. Still, it will be at least a week before these golden beauties fatten up and find their way into an omelet.

Summer porcini have arrived early, too, soaking up the moisture and thriving in the cool nights and warm days. Unlike the slow growing chanterelle family, porcini and their bolete brethren are rapid growers. We already are seeing chunky kings in Vermont, and my eyes scan the coniferous duff for the first flush of summer piglets.

Soon, I spy a stately bolete growing on the other side of a raging river. The chubby stem and regal stature suggest I might be looking at a king. Unfazed by the swollen river, I plunge in – shoes and all – pining for porcini. I make it across in one piece, but my prize turns out to be an inedible, blue-staining Boletus subvelutipes.

The summer fruiters are here, and we are poised for a spectacular July flush. Soon, I will be eating chanterelles for breakfast and porcini for supper.

Notheast ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Notheast ForageCast for the next two weeks!


Salmon with Porcini and Herb Butter

Salmon with porcini and herb butter!

From our motherload of gourmet wild mushrooms to the cornucopia of produce at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market, Ari and I have been eating very well this harvest season. However, one shortage that Ithaca does have is access to good quality fish. Since one of my last names is DiMare, meaning “of the sea,” it’s no surprise that my father grew up working on T-Wharf in Boston alongside my grandfather at DiMare Lobster Company. Coming from a lineage of fishermen and lobstermen, it is also no surprise that I grew up eating fish, and a lot of it. 

So, when I first moved to landlocked Ithaca, I felt like a fish out of water as I stared at the unsavory looking filets, some “color enhanced,” in the Wegmans fish case. Then I learned of the lure of the “fish truck.” At first I didn’t believe it – two men really make the epic journey from Maine to Ithaca every Friday morning from March to Dec. 31 just to unload a truck of fish? While I don’t’ know the details of their operation, this does seem to be the case, and their seafood is the real deal. Every Friday morning in the parking lot of the Triphammer Mall you can find the “fish truck,” typically with quite the crowd of loyal fish fans standing patiently in line.

I have become one of them. A few Fridays ago, I was craving seafood and so Ari and I woke up bright and early and ventured to the fabled “fish truck.” With adjectives like “superb today” and “excellent today” associated with almost every offering listed on the truck’s dry erase board menu, I became overwhelmed by the decision making process. Needless to say, I obsessed for the whole 15 minutes or so while I waited in line. Shrimp? Haddock? Maybe Swordfish? Scallops? Right up to the last minute I couldn’t decide what I wanted, and so we ended up getting rainbow trout for Ari and salmon for me.

An Ithaca porcini!

With a grocery bag filled with freshly harvested porcini waiting for me at home, I eagerly anticipated our dinner. I pan seared Ari’s whole rainbow trout and baked my salmon filet, topping both with porcini and homemade herb butter before serving with a side of mixed heirloom beans. Amazing!

Serves 2

Preparing the HERB BUTTER:


  •   3 tablespoons of butter, softened
  • ¼ cup chopped herbs (ie. sage, chives, basil, parsley)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • Cracked pepper and salt to taste 


  • Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl, and mix well.

Preparing the SALMON: 


  • Salmon (12-14 oz) fillet, cut into 6 to 7 oz. pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Oil a baking dish with the olive oil and then place the salmon in it. Squeeze the lemon juice and spoon the white wine over the salmon. Season the salmon with freshly cracked black pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Roast the salmon for about 10 to 12 minutes. 

Preparing the PORCINI:


  • Porcini (fresh – 4 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Fresh herbs to taste (I used chives and sage)
  • Cracked pepper and salt to taste


  • In a medium sauce-pan or cast iron pan, saute your garlic in butter for about 2-3 minutes over a medium heat. Add the cleaned and sliced porcinis, and saute, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes.

Once the salmon is done, top with sautéed porcinis and a generous dollop of herb butter. Garnish with fresh herbs and enjoy. Mangia! 

Ari's pan-seared trout!

ForageCast: Week of August 23, 2011

A bicolor bolete - as delicious as it is beautiful!

Last week we had rain.  This week we have mushrooms! Seemingly overnight, the woods have exploded with a colorful and diverse cast of fungi. I am overjoyed but, quite frankly, a bit overwhelmed. After weeks of waiting, interrupted by the occasional flush of mediocre mushrooms, the past few days I have felt like a kid in a candy store as I wander through the woods. Porcini! Bicolor boletes! Smooth chanterelles! Parasols! Black trumpets!

At this time of year, all it takes is a few good rains to initiate fruitings of an astounding diversity of gourmet, poisonous, medicinal, bland, and beautiful mushrooms. Even some of the toxic or inedible mushrooms have been exciting to find – neon red waxy caps, hulking yellow fly agarics, dangerously innocuous looking destroying angels (watch out!), and Russulas that crumble into a thousand pieces when they meet my clumsy feet. 

Beware the destroying angel!

This week we have three new additions to the ForageCast – porcini, bicolor boletes, and smooth chanterelles. I considered adding the parasol, but decided against it since anyone who is knowledgeable enough to safely forage the parasol should already know its season and habitat preferences. The parasol is a delicious mushroom, but there are plenty of other gourmet fungi in season that are safer for less experienced foragers to enjoy. The bicolor bolete has a number of look-alikes, too – make sure you have an expert with you the first time you bring this mushroom to the table.

The porcini, particularly venerated by Italians and Eastern Europeans, is one of the most celebrated gourmet mushrooms in the world. There are no deadly look-alikes, but make sure your specimen has substantial white reticulation on its white stem and pure white, non-bruising flesh to rule out the otherwise almost identical Boletus huronensis.

And smooth chanterelles! As the name suggests, they look and taste just like a chanterelle, but the underside contains wrinkles instead of attached gills. This makes them even easier to distinguish from the chanterelle’s most notorious look-alike – the poisonous, free-gilled jack o’lantern.

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of August 23, 2011!

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