Hunting and preparing mushrooms
Many of us look forward, every year, to the spring season of mushroom hunting.
How high are you picking? Have you found any yet? Where?
Like pirates’ treasure, many of us have mushroom “sweet spots” we guard closely. The harvest, although unpredictable, is a wonderful fascination with stories of quantity, quality and size, filling hunter’s conversation every spring.
Morels are most popular and revered in our region, but this is in no way the limit of our local edible fungi repertoire.
There are only two things required to take advantage of the greater fungi season of Northeast Oregon. Both of these are extremely important to your full enjoyment and safety.
The first is proper identification. Do not pick unless you are 100 percent sure of the identification.
The second is the preparation. In some cases proper cooking is related to safety, but in every case, cooking is related to enjoyment.
The Alpine Waxy Cap, growing on the edge of spring snow melt, is considered only deer fodder by many. I find the texture similar to the Lobster mushroom, popular for fall picking on the coast.
The wonderful creamy texture and pungent aroma of the Puff Ball is excellent in sautés, grills or even grated into a sauce.
Remember, it must be totally white in the center to be nontoxic.
Coral mushroom, sometimes incorrectly identified as Cauliflower mushroom, is prolific in our forests. Proper identification of the specie is important. Corals are recommended for pickling and drying for stews and soups.
Shaggy Manes, aka the “Asparagus mushroom” is one of my favorites.
So tough it will grow through asphalt, yet so tender that it will crumble under the stress of harvest, this mushroom must be eaten soon after picking as it degrades quickly.
Cut lengthwise to make long asparagus-like spears, then sauté with butter, garlic and seasoning. Use a hot pan, avoid crowding and cook long enough to evaporate the juices produced from the mushroom. Continue cooking to brown lightly. Now they are ready to be eaten or splashed with a little wine to enhance the flavor further.
Boletes are also prized in our region and throughout the world. Known as Porcini in Italy and Cepes in France, this mushroom has many sub-species in its family each with its own culinary value.
Merlyn Baker, of La Grande, is chef at Merlyn’s Catering and chef/owner at Merlyn’s Mystic Seasonings.