Mushrooms – Part One
Giant Puffball & Chicken of the Woods
One goal of starting the homestead lifestyle was to satisfy my desire to be able to provide directly for my family from the produce I could sow, grow, and harvest, thereby reducing reliance on a supermarket for some things, reducing the cost of purchasing those items, and improving the overall quality of produce that we consume. One of the things I still have not accomplished, however, is planting a garden…
So while I have yet to prove myself as an agriculturist, I have been successful in providing for my family as a modern hunter-gatherer. While some nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes still exist in remote parts of the world, I don’t have to go live with them to appreciate the principals of their diet. Heard of the Paleo diet? Well the Paleo diet is based on what is believed to have been eaten by early humans prior to processed foods entering the scene 1000’s of years ago, and consists primarily of meat, fish, veggies, and fruit. You know… whatever you can hunt and gather. I don’t follow the Paleo diet right now so can’t get into the details of it. But in this feature series, “Be a Hunter/Gatherer”, I will share the successes I’ve had on the homestead participating in the method of hunting and gathering for sustenance on the homestead.
To start off this series, I begin with the most unique gathering success I’ve had on the homestead. That is of foraging for wild mushrooms. I’ve always loved mushrooms. Portabellas, button, shiitake, oyster, crimini, to name a few well-known varieties. Put them on pizzas, in pastas and lasagnas, top steaks, or slice into spicy fusion dishes, mmmm – mushrooms. But it wasn’t until the fall of our first year on the homestead that I discovered the rewards of foraging for wild mushrooms on the property.
Prior to foraging for and consuming mushrooms in your own backyard, you will need to be able to positively identify any mushrooms you find. A disclaimer not to be viewed lightly is that misidentification can lead to sickness and even death. Find a trustworthy identification guide and study it well. For those just picking up an interest in the subject I recommend the advice of David W. Fischer in his book, “Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide”. He has not steered me wrong yet and even has an online guide if you happen to have an internet connection while foraging. Forage informed!
The first mushroom I found while foraging through the woods at home looked like a kids volleyball lying on the forest floor. It was large and white, round with a smooth surface and had no gills.
I’d found a Giant Puffball! That puffball, pictured below, was found just a few feet off the path growing next to a large oak tree. It stood out, as you can imagine, against the dark browns and greens of the forest floor around it. In fact, I’d walked right by it a few times thinking it was a volleyball that someone was playing with and had left in the yard. Officially, Calvatia Gigantea, these mushrooms are fairly widespread and common, growing from spring to fall in the rich soil of fields, woods, and gardens in the Upper Midwest. They are easily identifiable and have no poisonous look-alikes, so are relatively safe for the novice mycophile. They need to be harvested when they’re young and firm. Once they begin to yellow, though, they’re not worth the effort and are more fun to blow-up with tannerite.
To prepare a giant puffball you begin by peeling off the outer layer, Then slice or dice it into a manageable size. Saute them in good olive oil or fat until they’re golden brown and lightly season with salt and pepper. This way you can taste their mild, nutty flavor. Or, prepare them breaded for a crispy exterior with a marshmallow texture on the inside. The first time I had these I wasn’t a fan of the texture, so the recipe below suggests blending them until smooth if you find that your palate agrees with mine. If you have enough, cook and freeze it in airtight bags for sauteing again at a later date!
PAPPARDELLE WITH WILD PUFFBALL MUSHROOMS
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 medium, chopped, peeled shallots
2 lb. puffball mushroom
½ cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. pappardelle (homemade if possible)
- Peel the outside layer of the puffball mushroom and slice. Melt butter in a large skillet until it begins to turn pale brown. Saute shallots and mushroom slices, turning as necessary, until golden brown. Add heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (For a smooth texture, mix these ingredients together in a blender)
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain; add pasta, to the skillet and toss to combine. Transfer to a plate and serve
- Serve with a fresh field-greens salad. This mild flavored mushroom is easily overpowered by other ingredients, but we have also enjoyed this by sauteing garlic with this dish or adding chopped, cooked asparagus.
Later I stumbled upon the second prettiest edible mushroom I’ve ever seen, a Laetiporus Sulphureus, or Chicken of the Woods. Since then I’ve found several more. They can generally be found during the summer and fall and the chicken of the woods I’ve found have been growing at the base of decaying oak stumps. These mushrooms, like the puffball mushroom, also get quite large, but their color is bright orange and yellow, even salmon and red, and their shape resembles fans stacked on a shelf. I’ve harvested them up to almost two feet in diameter!
The feature image of this post is of the first Chicken of the Woods I found, growing quite near that first giant puffball. In fact, I’ve since found another variety of mushroom in this same area that I will feature in the next post on foraging for mushrooms. The lesson being, once you find an area producing one variety of mushroom, it may be worth your time to check it out from time to time as the seasons change. Below pictured is just a small section of a much larger specimen that I found in 2016 growing on an oak stump. Really, these photographs don’t do the vibrant colors of these mushrooms justice. When you find one, you’ll know what I mean.
Chicken of the Woods
The Chicken of the Woods has a lemony, meaty taste, and it’s name comes from the chicken-like flavor and texture it exhibits. It makes an excellent meat substitute because of that. This really is a pretty mushroom, and one of my favorites for cooking with because of it’s versatility. It can be blanched, sauteed, fried, or baked, but use care not to deep-fry them, as they’ll absorbed too much oil and be greasy. Since they are large you likely won’t use the whole thing in one dish, so they can be stored in the freezer after being sauteed and sealed in an airtight bag.
“CHICKEN OF THE WOODS” OMELETTE
1 tbsp. olive oil
5 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz. wild chicken of the woods mushroom, cleaned and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 farm fresh eggs
2 tbsp. Half-and-half
2 sprigs fresh, chopped basil
- Heat the oil and 2 tbsp. of the butter in a skillet until butter turns pale brown. Add onion slices and cook until soft. Add mushrooms and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper then set aside. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and set aside.
- Crack one egg in a small bowl, then transfer to a larger bowl. Repeat for all six eggs then beat with a fork. Add half-and-half, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Melt the remaining butter. Pour egg mixture into the skillet, stirring the surface constantly to make small curds. When eggs are halfway set, spoon the mushroom filling down the center of the eggs. Then carefully fold the sides of the omelette over the filling and cook until done. Slide the omelette onto a warm serving plate and garnish with basil.
In “Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Mushrooms Part Two” I’ll show you the prettiest edible mushroom I’ve found on the homestead, the Lobster Mushroom, and the tastiest one I’ve harvested, the Wild Morel. Finally, unless I discover more edible mushrooms before finishing this series on mushrooms, I’ll discuss the benefits of Chaga and explain how to find and acquire it – as it’s a bit of a challenge to harvest and prepare when compared to the other mushroom varieties.