Mushrooms are just strange. They can be lumpy, slimy, or chunky; giant and table-like or like tiny umbrellas; bright orange or dusty grey. But, what is a mushroom? Of course it is a fungus, but it is more complex than that. Think of a mushroom as a kind of flower or fruit that produces spores rather than pollen or seeds. Most of the fungus lives underground and is made up of thread-like strands called mycelium. These draw nutrients from decaying matter underground and cover an impressive area – 1500 acres in the case of one fungus found in Oregon! Or, they can cover a smaller area resulting in a “fairy ring” of mushrooms growing in a circle.
Regardless of their growth or shape or size, they are fun to hunt for in the woods. And, there are even some that you can eat. But, hunters beware, because all mushrooms are not fit for human consumption. So, you can either leave it to the experts to pick the best ones for you and you can “pick” them out at the farmer’s market. Or, you can learn from the experts how to select the edible kinds. Or, you can grow your own. You can satisfy any of these three options by checking out the North Spore Mushroom Company. You can find them at the Saturday Farmer’s Market at Crystal Springs, where you can purchase mushrooms fresh or dried, an assortment of medicinal tinctures and teas, and grow-your-own mushroom kits. Oysters, shiitakes, lion’s mane, chestnuts, trumpets and pioppinos, oh my. Those are just a few you can buy or grow from their kits. You can even buy their spawn, which they produce at their Westbrook lab. Or you can get to know the Mushroom Man (aka Louis Giller) personally by joining him on a Mushroom Foray August 31st (register online at www.btlt.org). The event will feature a walk through the woods and participants will leave with some edible treats.
Below are a few of my fungal favorites, including one for Chaga tea made from North Spore’s dried and ground Inonotus obliquus mushrooms, which are collected from birch trees. Chaga has been used by people in the Siberian mountains for hundreds of years as an immunity booster. The tea is decidedly earthy and takes a bit of getting used to, but is warming and lovely with milk and maple syrup. And, if you’re looking for some indoor gardening once the outdoor season winds down, pick up a growing kit to experiment on your own.
Wild Mushroom Soup
Ingredients (Serves 4) 4 T butter
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 lb wild mushrooms, sliced
4 c chicken or vegetable stock
2 T sherry
1 T fresh thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste
Parsley or chives for garnish
Melt 2 T butter in Dutch oven or deep saucepan with a heavy bottom. Cook shallot over medium heat until soft. Set aside.
Add mushrooms and remaining 2T butter to pan and sweat about 8 minutes.
Add thyme and stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer about an hour.
When cool, blend with an immersion blender or transfer to food processor or blender.
Return to heat and simmer. Add sherry and season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with fresh herbs.
Mushroom Risotto (adapted from The New York Times)
Ingredients (Serves 6)
2 T olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 lb wild mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 T fresh sage
Salt and Pepper
2 T butter
1 ½ c Arborio (risotto) rice
½ c white wine
6 c chicken or vegetable stock
1 c frozen peas, thawed
½ c grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
Parsley for garnish
Bring stock to a simmer in a saucepan, with a ladle nearby.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat. Cook shallots until soft. Set aside.
Add mushrooms and sweat about 3 minutes.
Add garlic and sage and a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Continue to cook until mushrooms are soft. Set aside.
Melt butter in the pan and add rice. Stir until grains begin to crackle and look clear. Add wine and cook, stirring until wine evaporates.
Stir stock in one cup at a time, stirring each time until it is absorbed. Rice should reach a creamy consistency.
Stir in peas and Parmesan cheese.
Garnish with fresh parsley and more Parmesan.
Chaga Tea (from North Spore)
1 T Dried ground Chaga mushrooms (from North Spore, or tackle it yourself)
4-6 c Hot water
Cream or Maple Syrup to taste
Simmer Chaga in 4-6 c water for at least 20 minutes or until water looks like black coffee.
Strain the grounds out of the water and set aside (grounds can be reused 2-3 times)