Monday, October 10, 2011

Just Mushrooms

Not presumed to dictate, but broiled fowl and mushrooms - capital thing!
Charles Dickens, English Novelist, 1812-1870

Angel's Wings

Variable Russula

Gem-studded Puffball

A Delectable Mix

Most people eat to live. Italians live to eat. I know this first hand as I am the product of two generations of venerable foragers. My earliest memories are of my grandfather, donning his old leather shoes, thread bare plaid shirt jacket, khakis and, most importantly, his 'lucky' basket as he set out for the Great Mushroom Hunt. My grandfather even went as far as noting: 'October 12th is THE best day to find the best mushrooms.' And find them he did. There were all sorts of ways to stave off thieves from his 'areas'... Stones were carefully placed along leaf-strewn woodland paths to
indicate coveted locations where the little gems seemed to thrive . 'Good spots' were returned to days later, especially after soaking rains, when the mushrooms exploded as if from outer space. And, there were the Italian names for the delectable fungii: signorinas and manellas which were among the most prized treasures. Who cares enough to take pictures of a car trunk full of mushrooms, as proud as if it were a grandchild?! It initially was all about the hunt, as I can relate to as an antique nut, but ultimately it was all about the food. This tradition was passed down to my dad, who passed it down to each of his five children. I, as an avowed naturalist, need no excuse to go into the woods. Foraging for mushrooms with my 80 something year old dad is a treat beyond words. And the reward... well, that is priceless.

A mushroom 'expert' is known as a mycologist. Before attempting to forage, be smart and educate yourself. Classes are available at Community Colleges and local Environmental organizations. I highly recommend the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, published by Gary H. Lincoff. It is well organized with beautiful photos and descriptions. Remember this: All mushrooms are edible - once!

Tried and True Mushroom Saute - Made the Italian Way

Thoroughly wash soil and leaves from fungii; cut into bite sized slices/pieces, bring to a boil for a minute or two in slightly salted water with a splash of lemon. Drain, rinse, freeze or proceed to cook by sauteing in olive oil: a sliced onion, minced garlic (2-3 cloves), chopped tomato, and parsley. Add drained mushrooms, seasoned with salt, hot pepper flakes and a splash of white wine or vermouth with olive oil to finish. Mushrooms will be ready to eat in 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy!


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