Sweet wood, fresh grass, sea spray, fresh bread, new apricots, spicy cinnamon, spring fungus, pine tree sap…These are not comments at a wine tasting, they are descriptions of fragrances and flavours at a freshly foraged matsutake (or also called pine) mushroom tasting enjoyed at Tree House Kitchen. Featuring the best mushrooms I have ever had! Your palate will not miss a thing while taste-testing the layered flavours, fragrances and textures of fresh, farmed or foraged unique fruits and vegetables from your local market. In my area, we thank Lisa, Theresa and Sharon of Picone Fine Food for their excellent procurement of the season’s best mushrooms from across Canada. Even though the matsutake I had tasted was foraged in B.C. and sourced for Dundas, the mushroom was so ALIVE and intoxicating in its freshness, richness and texture. Lisa Picone’s hand is pictured here holding a fantastic Ontario abalone mushroom. Matsutake grow in the East too.
As we are past the mushroom foraging season in the east (Octoberish) and the west (Decemberish) I can now share some secrets from B.C.’s Robin Steffanick who kindly donated some fresh chanterelles to my family for a special meal while I was visiting B.C. Note: It is a must to trust an expert (and a lot of reference books and a lot of experience) when it comes to learning the details of foraging for edible mushrooms as a mistake can cost your life. It is fun to hear of foraging stories. Mr. Steffanick said for wild mushrooms (in B.C.), “it was an exceptional year, due to early September rains. Stories of weekend novices picking 70 pounds of chanterelles in one go were common this fall.” He wrote me that he has “great success in fairly common areas just by knowing when (immediately after a heavy rain), where and how to LOOK.” He looks for complementary vegetation to give him clues, such as finding old growth forest and then getting above and beyond the ferns and into the salal shrubs, which I found fascinating as I feel I could taste all of that in my favourite pacific northwest mushrooms, yum!! Mr. Steffanick wrote, “many people look, but cannot SEE!!! Same for finding golf balls or mushrooms.” Those lucky British Columbians golfing and foraging into December!!
We are into January and many interesting mushrooms are in the stores to try – dried and fresh, but not necessarily foraged. Mushrooms are a super-food. Matsutake mushrooms in Japanese culture symbolize fertility, good fortune and happiness – and happiness is the long list of health benefits that eating mushrooms can provide! Science at this time is familiar with only a small percentage of the world’s full range of mushroom-forming fungi and their body-boosting natural health benefits, although they are being studied all the time. Just know that you cannot go wrong by trying out different mushrooms from your local stores and including them in your diet regularly several ounces at a time. As an excellent low-calorie food, the currently studied/known health benefits of eating various edible mushrooms include maintaining blood sugar levels, strengthening metabolism, providing natural doses of vitamin D (if they are exposed to the sun, mushrooms manufacture their own vitamin D!) and anti-cancer and anti-tumour properties. Mr. Steffanick was foraging for matsutake to aid a friend with cancer. In this bone-chilling Ontario cold, I am going to grow some of that vitamin D within some mushrooms on my windowsill right now! Mushrooms provide antioxidants and, in fact, they have been described as being “master antioxidants” and improve immune system function, can be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. They have been known to improve diabetes, asthma and allergy management as well. This is just a partial listing!!
Right now, Picone’s is featuring a mushroom called a “Nebrodi” that was grown on a farm in Ancaster, Ontario. Check out this recent Spectator article: “Endangered Sicilian mushroom gets new life on Ancaster farm” They were fabulous sliced thickly and added to a Chinese hot pot broth I brewed with our chopped vegetables at a knife skills class the other day.
Quick cooking tips: Always – when you are readying your mushrooms to cook, save the woody-textured stems for a stock! Break the toughest segment from the mushroom body and wipe the dirt away with a damp paper towel or cloth, then store these woody stems labelled in freezer bags in the freezer. Pull a collection of them out when you have time, and brew a delicious mushroom stock to add to other dishes and sauces (this stock can be put back in the freezer too). As a general rule, go mild and relatively simple with accompanying ingredients to highlight the complexities of flavours in mushrooms, but given the health benefits, and their amazing supple texture and the fact that they do really well taking on the flavours of other ingredients, there is no right or wrong with this ingredient. Mushrooms and mild fish and other simply flavoured proteins are a great mix…and then again…they do really well with robust red meats, too! I have sautéed many varieties of mushrooms for a side dish or sandwich topping in a bit of olive oil or butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkle of salt. I love lots of sautéed or sweated mushrooms tossed with cooked al denté green beans, organic lemon zest, whole pine nuts, sweated garlic and sea salt. They are fantastic left in meaty julienne pieces in rustic soups and stews. I always include whatever mushroom I can find in Chinese Hot Pot soup. Any mushroom braised with Cumbrae’s farm-raised pheasant (or chicken), handfuls of fresh rosemary, sliced lemon, capers and garlic with chicken or mushroom stock is a recipe offered in my Winter Evening in French Style cooking class. The sautéed matsutake were fabulous with steak drippings (after I had seared some steaks) and combined with sweated, chopped leeks; wild mushroom stock and tossed with lightly cooked whole wheat rice noodles. This dish I served with the red wine (Pinot Noir varietal) Beaune Clos Du Roi Premier Cru and the combination of sour cherry, vegetative, fungal-like qualities of the wine were a great match! Try these ideas; play around with ingredient amounts by just using your instincts and taste buds. Explore, Grow, Nourish, Connect!