What ingredients do you associate with fall? Do you immediately jump to apples, cranberries, or pumpkins? In the past, I've shared several blog posts about where to harvest seasonal fruits in the Boston area. Today, I would like to talk about another ingredient that is also in season in New England – the mushroom!
Have you ever been mushroom hunting? If not, you should definitely give it a try. Tyler Akabane, a knowledgeable mushroom hunter/educator and founder of Mushroom for My Friends along with Justin Schoults, the chef of Oak and Rowan, organized a "Mushroom Walk + Greenhouse Dinner" event on Oct 20th. I have to tell you, it was the most fun and informative tour I have ever done in my life. I know that I must share this experience with you, and I hope it will be inspiring for you when you create your fall holiday dinner menu!
First, let's briefly talk about foraging. The term "foraging" means to search in a wide area for something, especially food. When we talk about foraging, we have to mention René Redzepi. René Redzepi is a Danish chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. His restaurant was voted the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine's World's Best Restaurants in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Redzepi is noted for his work on the reinvention and refinement of a new Nordic cuisine and food that is characterized by inventiveness and clean flavors. According to Chef Rene, foraging is important because that's how we get connected to food we eat and the place we live. Through foraging, we learn from the food that grows in our region – the soil, the climate. Foraging inspires us to think more about the food we consume, especially after you realize some of what we find can be right outside your door. When we forage our food and enjoy it's original flavor, we pay more respect to the food and the nature. If you're interested in foraging, download this free app called VILD MAD. Even though it's tailored for educators in Denmark, I still find it very inspiring. To learn more about VILD MAD, please read Noma's René Redzepi Has Launched a Mobile Foraging App -- It's like Pokémon Go, but with lingonberries.
Back to the topic of mushroom hunting. So, where would be a good place to do mushroom hunting in Massachusetts? Tyler and Justin took us to Lynn Reservation, one hour north to Boston. We have harvested good amount of mushrooms and other interesting herbs. Mushrooms grow throughout the year but are most plentiful in the fall. While cultivated mushrooms may be available anytime, most wild mushrooms only appear in autumn. Here is a brief list what you need when you go mushroom hunting:
- Footwear (light to medium hiking)
- Weather appropriate clothing
- Basket, bag and knife
- Bug spray
Another benefit of going mushroom hunting during fall is that there are not as many mosquitoes. I would also suggest you also bring a professional mushroom hunter with you if you are still learning about mushrooms.
I found this tour so fascinating because I learned so much about not only the delicious mushrooms but also the deadly mushrooms. For example, one of the most iconic mushrooms, the one with a red cap with white polka dots that you can probably easily find it from your emoji in your I-phone, is poisonous. When you type mushroom, that emoji will come up right away. That's also the mushroom that Smurfs live. That kind of mushroom is Amanita muscaria, a muscimol mushroom. You should absolutely avoid eating it. We found two other kind of deadly mushroom during the tour, one was called the Angel of Death. Tyler helped us to identify the Angel of Death mushroom from infant stages to the adult stage. According to those who have survived eating Angel of Death, the symptoms are worse than being dead. So, never eat them! Another mushroom we found had a beautiful lavender color, and it is poisonous according to Tyler. Have you heard the expression, "never judge a book from its cover?" This would definitely apply to mushrooms. Many mushrooms that have beautiful colors or shapes are either deadly or poisonous.
Here are some guidelines for wild mushroom hunting and cooking:
- Never taste raw mushrooms. Always have the professional mushroom hunter to check if all the mushrooms you harvested are safe to eat. Since there could be worms or other creatures live in the mushroom, never eat them raw.
- When you cook wild mushrooms, start with small amount. Even though some of mushrooms, such as honey mushroom and hen of the woods, are save to eat, each individual will react differently to different mushrooms. It's better to start with smaller amount.
- When you try wild mushrooms for the first time, don't combine multiple species. Start with one specie of mushroom so you can see how your body react to it.
- When you collect the wild mushrooms in the woods, try to clean out the dirt or sand. If you place the mushroom full of dirt or sand in your basket, the dirt will get into all the mushrooms.
- Try to look for young mushrooms. The younger the mushroom is, the more delicious it is. The old mushroom is also more likely to have other worms and creatures living in them.
- Do not soak your mushrooms in water to wash them. Try to do a dry clean instead. For more information, read The Secret to Crispy Mushrooms? Don't Wash 'Em from Bon Appetit Magazine
Besides poisonous mushrooms, did we find any delicious mushroom after hours of hunting? Of course! We found a cluster of hen of the woods. Hen of the woods is a polypore mushroom that grows in clusters at the base of trees, particularly oaks. The mushroom is commonly known among English speakers as hen of the woods, ram's head or sheep's head. It is typically found in late summer to early autumn. In the United States' supplement market, as well as in Asian grocery stores, the mushroom is known by its Japanese name maitake (舞茸, "dancing mushroom"). Maitake is one of the most promising medicinal mushrooms. Like other polypores, maitake contains polysaccharides that stimulate the immune system. Hen of the woods usually grow against the base of oak trees. If you're looking for hen of the woods, look for oak tree leaves first! Here is a picture of oak tree leaf.
When I was working at Blue Ginger, I used to love our house coffee because Chef Ming blended maitake mushrooms with the ground coffee powder. It was very aromatic and delicious. Chef Ming also demonstrated how to make a super easy stir-fry dish using maitake mushrooms on one of his Simply Ming series. Since I happened to have most of the ingredients at home, I decided to make it for my breakfast using the hen of the woods mushrooms that I just harvested. I found this dish to be very easy to make. The key for success is to get the high quality ingredients. I used orange E.VO.O. from Ravida (to learn more about Ravida E.V.O.O, read my blog post ZUCCHINI 3 WAYS | RECIPE 2&3: ZUCCHINI FRITTATA AND ZUCCHINI GALETTE). If you like oyster mushrooms, you will LOVE hen of the woods. It has the meaty texture and abundance of umami. Here is my recipe of Quick Orange Maitake Stir Fry. Happy foraging and cooking!
Orange Maitake Stir Fry
- Minced ginger
- Two oranges prefer blood orange
- Scallions optional
- Hen of the woods Maitake mushroom
- Tear the hen of the woods. Julianne the huge stem of the mushrooms.
- Juice one orange. Cut one orange.
- Heat the oil and cook some minced ginger. Add scallions
- Cook the stem of the mushroom, and then add the rest of the mushroom.
- Pour the orange juice. Cook until it gets thick. Finally add the orange! Viola!
Mushroom hunting is not as hard as you might think. You just need to bring in a professional! Contact Tyler Akabane http://mushroomsformyfriends.com/ (firstname.lastname@example.org) for any private class or mushroom hunting tour.
Want to learn how to cook the mushrooms you harvested? Book an in-home cooking lesson with me.
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Melissa is 100% MIT (Made in Taiwan), where she worked as a food writer. She’s also worked alongside renowned chefs like Ming Tsai and Joanne Chang, honing her craft and gathering stories along the way. Part story-teller, part educator, and part food lover, Melissa brings a special blend of experience, skill, and enthusiasm to her work. She blends her Asian background, her new home of New England, and love of food and culture to bring joy, optimism, and inspiration to food lovers and fun-seekers everywhere.
What sparked your passion for the industry?
The desire to make things by hand. The joy of sharing delicious, hearty food with students. The opportunity for people to get connected via cooking and baking. When a child smiled broadly and told me it’s the best scone he has ever made and eaten, it really made my day!
In your opinion, what’s the most important course?
Well, I usually take a peek at the wine list first. I like tapas style, so the course doesn’t really matter. Cheese and charcuterie are always a good place to start. And since I’m a pastry chef, there is always room for dessert!
Bill Gates is picking up your tab, where would you go?