Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Choice Edibles

I did something this past weekend that my mother would not be happy with. I picked and ate wild mushrooms.

Remember when I told you about being instructed not to eat things growing in the front yard such as wild berries and onion grass? Well at least those things we knew were safe to eat (as long as neighborhood animals had not peed on the onion grass as my mom would tell me). But mushrooms, wild mushrooms to be specific, were strictly off limits.
We were not to touch, eat, smell, or look at for too long, any mushroom growing in the yard or woods behind our house. And heaven forbid if my mom saw someone leaning over a pretty little mushroom, itching to pick it… there would be hell to pay. But here in Maine things are different. I am free to eat whatever wild and potentially hazardous foods I want!

The Kennebec Messalonskee Trails organization was hosting a guided mushroom foraging walk along a trail this past Sunday, which was advertised on a small poster inside of a local coffee shop. Researching this further, I found out that the trail was fairly close to home, and that all I had to bring was a brown paper bag and a donation.
I figured this would be a few people who were interested in learning that not all wild mushrooms will kill you – but I was very wrong. There were over 50 people in attendance waiting to be shown the edible fungi of the forest. Which can seem like a good time, but made it very difficult to see what mushrooms our expert was talking about, let alone to try and harvest any yourself. I stayed with the group for a little while, until one woman who had literally run in front scooping up mushrooms and then pushed her way back into the group to get a yay or nay on the edibility of said mushrooms from the expert repeated this process a couple of times. (oh and if the answer was ‘nay’ she would toss the mushrooms back over her shoulder and take off again in search of something else.)
I decided I needed to leave this group, armed with the knowledge of one edible mushroom, and walked along the trail hoping to find something interesting. The path of destruction continued for a good ½ mile, until there were some remaining mushrooms that had not yet been up-rooted, or torn in half to check for viability. This is where I found my puffballs.
Puffballs are round mushrooms that seem to have almost no discernible stem. They can grow to be huge round balls of fungal goodness, although the ones I found were tiny. I was told by the expert that as long as the puffball was completely white on the inside – it was fine to eat. That in fact puffballs are considered to be a “choice edible” meaning not only are they edible but they probably even taste good too.
I must admit though, before picking one, I had a small panic attack. Somewhere my mom knew. She knew I was picking a mushroom – and she would not be happy. And even when I saw the hordes of young children picking everything they saw and tossing it into their brown paper bags, I couldn’t help but shudder.

Placing my fears aside, and armed with my small bounty of puffballs I headed home and was determined to eat every last one of them (of course only if they were completely white inside).
Sautéed Puffballs on Toast
This recipe would work for any kind of mushroom, but preferably ones that are choice edibles.

Puffballs (as many as you can find, or a large one)
Shallot (I used one medium shallot for the amount of puffballs I had – so use your best judgement)
1 Tb butter
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp fresh rosemary (or a pinch of dried)
Salt and pepper
Slice of good bread
1 egg

Wash and check the puffballs for edibility, then slice. Place a small frying pan over medium heat and add butter, add sliced shallot(s) and sauté for about one minute. Add mushrooms, thyme, and rosemary and continue to cook until mushrooms are golden and have shrunk in size. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then remove from pan and set aside.

Toast bread.

In the same pan, cook your egg however you prefer – over easy, scrambled, etc. Place cooked puffball mixture on top of toast, and add egg over the mushrooms. Serve immediately.

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