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Wild Mushrooms

2011 September 20
by Thehousedaddy

The suburbs of DC are not really thought of as an agricultural Mecca.   Big chain grocery stores pretty much sustain most of the population.  It is made up of sprawling communities that slowly, but surely seem to be on a campaign to leave no tree standing.  Since I have lived here on and off  most of  my life, I have witnessed the destruction of old oak forests and lush meadows.  Large farms with fields of soybeans and corn were everywhere. Unfortunately, these crops were all too quickly replaced with new McMansions.  I find myself telling my kids, and sounding like my grandfather, about the way it used to be.  Cornfields we would hang out it in, horse pastures we would walk through, and many places where we made typical high school mischief.  With that being said, we are really lucky to have a growth in farmers markets and groceries that supply more interesting produce than when we were surrounded by farmland.  Much of it is local and organic.  We also have some woods adjacent to our house that provide the most local bounty available.  We are really lucky to have a great source of edible fungus literally in our back yard.

I often write about our lifeline, Twin Springs.  They are close and the main source of our food supply.  Their farm is about an hour away just across the Pennsylvania boarder and what they grow on their small farm and greenhouses sustains us for most of the year.  What they don’t grow themselves they get from other neighboring farms and bring to market.  The whole family loves going to the market, and it is really hard to go without the kids who sadly are too busy with school, sports and music to join most of the time.  They have that special feeling of ownership since they eat almost solely from the market and know everyone who works there.  Two years ago we took a day off school and went to visit the farm.  Jimmy, who used to be a part owner of Twin Springs before he retired, gave us a tour of the farm on one of his rare days off.  It was great seeing him on the farm and being able to touch the place where our food is grown.  We picked peaches, from the trees, cucumbers from the vine, and washed carrots from the ground.  Even though Jimmy is now living in Spain, we still call it Jimmy’s and before the kids bite into an apple or peach they ask, “is it Jimmy’s?”
After a few years of finding and eating wild mushrooms, you get a feeling of when the time is perfect for hunting them.  There is nothing like looking into the woods and seeing a little glimmer of bright orange and knowing you have spotted a mushroom.  It is the thrill of hunting without having to kill an animal.  Last week I was really excited to have found the first mushroom of the season.  It was a large Chicken of the Woods and must have weighed twenty pounds. It was perfectly ripe.  Generally, when we find a mushroom, it is usually more than we can eat.  My first call is usually to my sister who appreciates the gift and also finds them near her home in Downtown DC.  I have a list of people who I know will help eat and appreciate the find since there is nothing worse than harvesting and wasting a perfect mushroom.  If it is big we have been know to have them at breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week until we can eat no more.  This last mushroom find happened to coincide with market day so I was really happy to have been able to share our catch with Jeremiah and Maura from the market.  They are food lovers and I knew that they wouldn’t let them go to waste.

I am not a Mycologist, but I am comfortable with finding and eating a few types of mushrooms.  When we had the restaurant, we would often buy mushrooms from a local hunter and when I would find some myself, I would verify them with him before eating and serving them.  I now am very comfortable with what we find and have no problem serving them to my kids.  If there is even the slightest question of what type of mushroom we have found, we leave it in the ground.  We have the classic Babar series and my kids are very familiar with the consequences of eating a poisonous mushroom.  The saying goes, “there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there aren’t any old, bold mushroom hunters.”  Virginia actually isn’t a real mushroom fan, but there are some that she likes when they are cooked in a certain way.  Her fear of death is waning, but unless they are crispy, she isn’t a fan.  It is a texture thing and is the reason she isn’t a huge fan of eggplant as well.

For the most part we don’t really incorporate Chicken of the Woods into a dish as much as we have it as a side or a separately cooked part of a meal.  They are substantial and as I have been told countless times, can be a chicken substitute.  We cook them in the style of what we are eating.  For the most part we grill or roast them.  We cut them into smaller strips and them with grape seed oil until lightly coated and add whatever seasoning lends itself to the meal.   If we are grilling other things, then they are done on the grill.  I know they are safe to eat, but since critters also like them in the woods I feel better about making sure they are cooked for a long time at a sustained temp.  They remain juicy even when crisp, but I make sure they are cooked for at least ten minutes at a super high temp.  On the stove I usually season with salt and pepper and add garlic and onions.  For the first five minutes I cover the pan to make sure they are cooked inside and out and then take the lid off to crisp them.  You can do the same in the oven under the broiler.  I set the oven at 500 and keep them in the middle so they don’t burn, but get mega heat.  They are very hearty and I think, like chicken, they really take on many different personalities depending on how they are seasoned.  They do have a unique earthy quality that always shines through, but they are really versatile.  You can also have any wine you want with them.  This week we had them with sparkling rose, white Burgundy and a deep dark Corrbiers.

This time our chicken of the woods lasted for many meals. They went into tacos; were cooked with soy and miso and then drizzled with sesame oil for a side with Asian black bean noodles; and done with fresh time and oregano with olive oil over a pasta dish with diced tomatoes.  Sometimes if they don’t really go with what we are cooking, I crisp them and serve as an appetizer while we are all cooking.  They are the worlds greatest French Fries.

I started writing this and have since found another young and tender Chicken of the woods in the back.  Good eating tonight and for the rest of the week.  We look forward to finding oyster mushrooms and puffballs, which are just around the corner.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. sherry pyle permalink
    September 20, 2011

    Beautiful! I think this is what I see growing in my neighbors yard out back…it is huge and very lovely. I’ve been wanting to hop the fence to take a picture of it! Love you!

    • Thehousedaddy permalink*
      September 21, 2011

      So great to see you and thanks for reading. Best to your kidos.

  2. TommyT permalink
    September 21, 2011

    Hey… do you have a favorite mushroom reference book?


    • Thehousedaddy permalink*
      September 21, 2011

      Thanks for reading. I have never used a book thinking it would make me too bold. I usually try and check with an expert if I have a question or only go with what I am sure is safe. I have looked on the web for general info and found it helpful.
      Good Safe Hunting

  3. Jethro permalink
    September 24, 2011

    Kenan, they might call it mushroom hunting, but it is really gathering. In the caveman days you’d be picking berries and grains with the kids while the men went hunting.

    By the way, this is a really well done blog. I see why you have no spare time! I hope to see you before Christmas break this year.

  4. September 24, 2011

    Much appreciated for the information and share!

  5. Amita permalink
    September 27, 2011

    Beautiful pictures Kenan! I think I’ve seen some of these fungi in our yard as well. I’m relieved to know that you know the difference between edible mushrooms and the bad kind! Just in the last couple of days, I have read about a couple of people in the DC area who fell pretty sick after eating the Toadstool kind. btw, are you planning on writing more about school lunches? We really need to expand our school lunch repertoire for V!

  6. October 7, 2011

    good post, added you to my RSS reader.

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