Foraging for Wild Mushrooms in the PNW
This weekend was literally a wash with respect to culinary objectives that I had planned. An old friend from college and his spouse were visiting. I had planned out a whole weekend of Pacific Northwest adventures that were all to culminate in an impressive Sunday feast. They leave feeling elated, at their one of a kind adventures. It didn't happen, but there is still a tale to be told.
Fall in the Pacific Northwest brings crisp air, calico landscapes, mild temperatures, apples, pears and wild mushrooms. Every year I look forward to setting aside some time to forage for mushrooms in old growth. There are quite a variety of mushrooms to forage for this time of the year: oysters, boletes, lobsters, but my personal culinary favorite are chanterelles. Chanterelles are flute shaped, gilled mushrooms that are either a golden color or white. It's super important that you are able to identify these mushrooms before consuming. The Puget Sound Mycological Society is a great organization to begin with, and they also hold open clinics to identify mushrooms that you have found (http://www.psms.org/index.php).
This weekend I planned a trip out with PSMS and prayed for clear skies. It had rained the day before, something extremely good for next day mushroom blooms. However when we got to our field trip location it was pouring. My friends were great sports and continued, foraging on for the elusive mushroom in the pouring rain. The tree canopy was helpful, blocking some of the rain fall. Unfortunately, this year has been extremely dry and all we found were small mushrooms on pine cones. Very small mushrooms -- like no edible portion. After searching in several locations, we called it a day and headed back home to dry out our clothes and pruned up fingers.
Dishes with wild mushrooms are a delicacy because of their taste and seasonality, but also because wild mushrooms tend to have varying levels of polysaccharides that are helpful to activating and keeping certain cells in the immune system working optimally. My NIH research fellowship focused on the effects of these polysaccharides on cancer cells, and have bolstered my affection for food as an ally during cancer treatment.
There are a number of ways to prepare wild mushrooms during on their flavor. Often times folks will enjoy the natural flavor by dry cooking the mushroom and adding some butter and tarragon at the end of the process. They can also be added to stews, and other foods to give a woodsy flavor.
A wonderful way to consume wild mushrooms in the fall is to go buy some at the farmers market (instead of getting wet and coming home empty handed -- but I am not bitter). This way you also bypass having to make sure they are edible and not poisonous. One of my favorite ways to eat them is as a combo pate:
2 TBS olive oil
2 shallots, chopped, small
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup hazelnuts (grown in the Pacific Northwest)
1 tsp truffle oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp tarragon
2 TBS butter
4 ounces each of: chanterelles, shiitake, oyster mushrooms
Preheat oven to 400 and roast hazelnuts for 15 minutes.
Sautee mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and salt in olive oil until soft, then add truffle oil, tarragon and butter. Turn heat off and stir. Wait five minutes.
Place sautéed mixture into food processor, and add hazelnuts. Blend. Place mixture in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Serve on crackers or organic bread (or whatever you'd like to eat it with).