Our valley is hazy with smoke from the Washington State and Oregon fires. (Pray for rain.) So Mr. Wonderful, inspired by my raving about ‘shrooming, and I decided to get above it all. We headed up the pass to introduce him to the fine art of mushroom foraging.
Foraging is cyclical. The boletus (porcini) harvest is pretty well over, although we managed to find small ones that will top a homemade pizza this evening. Plenty of poisonous (or at least, highly sketch) mushrooms enticed us, but I went with the if it has gills, leave it policy. Most gilled mushrooms will trigger a visit to the ER, and who has the time for that with summer waning?
I seem to have an inner radar for the porcini. He seemed to have a sense for poisonous, but pretty, mushrooms. Then he discovered his perfect passion.
The Hawk Wing. Isn’t it a beauty? We found probably a hundred of them, and harvested quite a few. The large ones can become bitter, so we focused on the smaller ones. We wandered, generally never leaving each other’s sight (we’re in the boonies, after all, with bear and mountain lion), but I’d hear his clear call, “mussssssshROOOMS!” through the trees.
As we foraged, so did the squirrels. I missed the photo of a squirrel carrying a fungus twice his or her size, and knew that dinner was on its way to the den. I saw signs of new burrows, and wondered if they were made by chipmunks or pine martens. A whole lot of industrious work was apparent on the forest floor.
The forest held other delights as well. Lichen and mosses were beginning to turn frosty, indicating the seasonal change into which we’re tiptoeing. Wildflowers, not as abundant as in July, graced small clearings. Everywhere I looked, the earth was preparing to be covered in twelve or fifteen or twenty feet of snow by Valentine’s Day. At 10,000-plus feet altitude, winter is serious business.
We hit three spots I had foraged earlier in the month, and found a new one that has enormous potential for early August of 2016. When my calendar arrives, I’m making a noting to head up the mountain again on August 10th.
With all that looking down, carefully searching for small, bulbous brown tops pushing through the conifer-needle carpet, our necks were sore. So we took the National Forest road over a second pass, moving slowly, rocking and rolling through ruts and washes.
Our world is adorned with signs of autumn. I hope you’re in a place where you can get outside and experience the beauty of God’s general revelation.
I probably couldn’t create a less-appealing title. But I want to rave about what I did with the wild mushrooms I foraged last week, especially since late summer is a time of bounty, and autumn (which is sweeping across my mountain top already) is harvest season. Prepare to drool as I share God’s general revelation of Himself via funghi.
I fetched my brown paper bag from the refrigerator and dumped three pounds of mushrooms on a towel. Some had gone from bad to worse and were just too ugly to eat. A devoted forager would have made stock from the homely ‘shrooms, freezing them for the winter soups that sustain us where winter is a verb. I probably discarded more than necessary before I cleaned and chopped the keepers. (Note the three beautiful boletus—porcini—between 9:00 and 11:00 o’clock in the photo below.)
Then I sauted chopped scallions in olive oil and butter, adding a tablespoon of truffle oil to the mix. (Truffle oil and mushrooms are my fall dynamic duo.) When the scallions were soft, I added my harvest, plus fresh marjoram and thyme from the herb pots on the deck.
When most of the juices had consolidated, I added port, sherry and chicken broth. I then reduced the mixture before adding a healthy (!) dollop of cream fraiche.
At this point, I could have served the mushrooms over pasta, blended them into risotto, or eaten them right from the pan. (Busted!) But I had plans for them that included two partially pre-baked whole-wheat pastry shells sprinkled (while still warm) with fine pecorino-Romano cheese. Into the shells they went, topped with more cheese, then into the oven for about 45 minutes. (For the wild mushroom tart recipe, check my Facebook page late this week.)
The results were amazing. Mr. Wonderful said that he didn’t know what he was eating, but that it was “the best of whatever it was he had ever eaten.” High praise indeed!
The entire production took an hour and a half, primarily because I did brain surgery with a paring knife during the cleaning process. (I am disinterested in protein via worms that love these mushrooms.)
While I was working over the sink, stirring the reduction and sniffing my way past the oven, I marveled that such deliciousness could come from my backyard. I thought about settlers crossing these demanding mountain ranges. Of grouse and elk and trout that inhabit these parts. This land can provide for those who know what to look for and are willing to hunt and forage and fish.
I’m hooked. I’ve planned another mushroom expedition before the season ends late this month. If I score more boletus, I’ll freeze them to add to my Thanksgiving dressing.
I am overwhelmed at how much I have to be thankful for, and marvel at God’s faithfulness, even in things as small as mushrooms. I count each of you as a blessing. Thank you for being here.
Summer is winding down on my mountaintop, and we’re squeezing every ray of sunshine from the days that remain. Fishing, hiking and golfing fill the calendar between processing conceptual and copy edits on book 3.
Most summer days here are epic. But today, I did something extraordinary. I went mushroom hunting.
Before you yawn, I’m not talking about walking supermarket aisles. I’m talking about going to the top of the pass—roughly 11,000 feet UP—wearing a sun hat, raingear and sturdy, waterproof boots to search for morels, boletus (porcini), hawk wing, and a mysterious little pink mushroom that smells like shrimp. There were others, too, but the Latin names didn’t stick. Maybe next year.
I have a healthy respect for anything that can poison me, and I live in the Rockies, where “magic mushrooms” are known as hallucinogenics. So I engaged my risk-averse personality to ‘shroom with a mycologist.
I have to tell you that searching for these gems, some just barely erupting through a pine-and-spruce-needle carpet, was a giant Easter egg hunt for chefs.
He and I chatted about relationships between spruce trees and porcini, and the mycologist mentioned symbiosis. I immediately thought of God’s general revelation of Himself, which He shares through creation, and the close association He desires with us—creating a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial as we glorify Him.
As I thought of the tightly entwined and ever-expanding web of relationships, and the diversity of wildflowers, mushrooms, and birds, I stumbled (yes, literally) across the most beautiful mushroom of the day. The Aminita is a red marvel with white dots—and also deadly. As my eighty-five-year-old mother would say, “beauty is only skin deep.”
I guess those words of Southern wisdom apply to funghi as well as females.
Hope you’re having a delightful summer.