Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Foraging for Oyster Mushrooms

For most holidays my dad asks for my presence as his present. I honored his request with a trip up to his place in Wisconsin over Father's Day weekend. Paul and the dogs came along, too. I did also take the opportunity to give him his Blue Thuja socks. Since we were also fitting in time to see Paul's dad on Sunday, our trip was pretty quick.

We had two goals during our brief time there.
1: help out with some manual labor as my dad is recovering from an injury and isn't at 100% strength.
2: forage for oyster mushrooms.

Paul got to work on the manual labor part. He hilled the potatoes in my dad's nearly immaculate garden. With his injury, my dad can still pull weeds like nobody's business. Plus, he has a lot of time on his hands as he isn't able to work his physically demanding job. (As an aside, his garden was so pretty that I spent a big part of last night yanking up weeds and tidying up our garden space to try to achieve some semblance of the awesomeness that is his garden. It does not yet measure up.)

While Paul was working on the garden (and taking a nap afterwards!), my dad and I jumped in the car to go "road hunting" for oyster mushrooms. Luckily for me, my dad has been at this for a few years and knows the roads of rural Wisconsin pretty well. He knows of some good mushrooms spots that aren't posted as private land. We drove those road looking for the right trees with flashes of white mushrooms. When you see a possible batch, you pull over, jump out with your bucket and knife and head into the woods. In the photo above my dad is heading towards the tree that is fallen. If you look closely you can see a bit of the white clump of mushrooms at about shoulder's height. Oysters! I wasn't that great at spotting them to begin with, but after a while my eyes got tuned into the bits of white.

Our ideal oyster mushroom was only a day or so old and white with minimal bug invasion.

These oysters are too old. They've been invaded by bugs and have turned darker. We leave those for the bugs and for "seed".

Sometimes even the new, tiny mushrooms have bugs! Mushroom foraging is not for the bug-fearing. It was a bit uncomfortable as the bugs were swarming my head. I got a few tick bites and even more mosquito bites. Plus, it was wet and cold.

Still, it is so worth it!

This one was probably growing at about 12 feet. I ended up finding a big stick and knocking it off because it was too perfect to leave behind. No bugs on that one!

We picked 2 flats worth and then called it quits on the foraging stage of the mushroom experience. Next came the cleaning, sorting, trimming, chopping and drying.

Most of our mushrooms went into the dehydrator. I had dried some of these last fall and shared them with swappers at the first swap. I think I'll bring another round for the next swap, too. I definitely have enough to share!

We did save a stash for eating right away. Since we've been back from Wisconsin we have had them sauted in rosemary garlic olive oil and added to the Carrot Tomato Soup I made with last year's tomatoes. I also added chopped up basil from our garden and a splash of homemade plain goat yogurt to the soup. I paired this with crackers and the fig, lemon and anise preserves that I got at the last swap. I felt super happy eating so many homegrown, homemade foods in one meal!

I also sauted up a batch in that same oil and tossed it with whole wheat pasta and a bunch of the tomatoes that I roasted last fall. I realized recently that the next crop of tomatoes is going to be here soon. That was when it dawned on me that I did way too much saving of special foods and not enough eating of them over the winter. So, into the freezer I have been diving.

Lastly, we finished off the fresh mushrooms tonight with a fried batch. We made them just like last year's batch except for that Paul fancied them up this year by adding chopped preserved lemons into the pan right before they finished frying. I call this my own personal state fair night, because I seem to eat this fried dinner once a year when we have the fresh oyster mushrooms. Fried foods are not normally my thing, but these are a real treat!

Now that all of the labor is behind us, we have these dried goodies waiting to be rehydrated and added to soups, pasta and whatever else we can think of.

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