The star local ingredient of this past week was definitely wild mushrooms. Despite over a month of dry weather that has made the fall mushroom season less abundant than usual, I scored over five pounds of choice edible mushrooms.
I spotted the first find, a Chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus), during a hike on Bear Mountain with the mushroom guy, Gary Lincoff. I have wanted to take Gary’s mushroom class for years but schedule conflicts, etc. denied me the opportunity until this fall. It was worth waiting for: I can confidently identify many more edible mushrooms than I could before taking the class, and just as importantly can also identify the poisonous shrooms in our area. While I think that most North Americans are way too scared of wild mushrooms, I agree that this is not a topic for guesswork. Here is the Chicken:
The Chicken mushroom looks and tastes like…you guessed it. I chopped it up and turned it into a gumbo that I served to friends last Friday night. Gumbo is traditionally served on rice, but I haven’t found any locally grown rice so I served it on polenta from Wild Hive Farm. The rest of the meal’s ingredients were mainly from my CSA share, farmers markets, and my garden, but there was one other wild ingredient: filee. This is the seasoning and thickener that gives gumbo its classic taste, and it is made out of nothing more than dried, powdered sassafras leaves. Since sassafras grows all over the parks and woods in this area, I’ve already put away a good supply. Anyway, people went back for seconds of the gumbo so I’d say it was a hit. There was a TV crew from Germany there filming the dinner for a spot on the local food movement in the U.S., but more about that in a future post.
Saturday I taught a wild edible plants class at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. On the way home from teaching I spotted a Maitake mushroom, also called Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa). It was at its perfectly tender and fabulous stage. I’ve been eating it in various recipes for three days and still have some leftover to dry for the winter (you can also freeze it without any special pre-treatment). Maitake is 27% protein and is sold in health food stores as an immune system booster. I was more interested in the fact that it is delicious, but it’s always nice to throw in some nutritional and medicinal benefits. Imagine my delight when I spotted another one this morning on my way back from teaching on Long Island!
Here is the Hen:
Last night some of the Hen got sauteed with garlic and broccoli rabe from my CSA and tossed with pasta. That got topped with a little of my exemption olive oil and grated Sprout Creek Farm barat cheese. Delicious.
Other than that, I’ve been canning and drying and freezing and lacto-fermenting and otherwise trying to prepare for the winter. Some math that was undoubtedly basic to earlier generations, such as just how many jars of tomatoes do I need to last till next July, is a foreign but fascinating new subject for me. Stay tuned…