The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 18, 2013

In search of the wild mushroom

Daily Item

---- — "Nature is antique and its oldest art, the mushroom."

It seems that wild mushrooms have always served as a "mystical portal" between this world and some otherworldly place. Smurfs are small, blue, human-like creatures that live under magical mushrooms. Fairies are known to dance under mushroom rings and sorcerers use mushrooms in their potions.

Some mushrooms literally glow in the dark thanks to a phenomenon known as "foxfire." Unfortunately, all of this mystery has led many people to believe that eating wild mushrooms will kill them. That's a real shame because these fruits of the forest are downright yummy. You just need to educate yourself about which ones to eat and which ones to avoid, much like learning the difference between sweet corn and field corn or ornamental ivy and poison ivy.

The wet and cool spring that we had this year coupled with this week's warm, humid weather are perfect ingredients for great wild mushroom foraging. For children who don't want to be left inside this summer, this type of foraging could be a fun, delicious and educational family outing. Just imagine going back to school and telling all of your friends about hunting wild mushrooms and eating them too. A photo of you seated in a patch of beautiful bright-orange Chicken of the Woods mushrooms would be a great Facebook profile picture.

If you're not convinced that you could safely learn how to forage for wild mushroom on your own, you might want to attend a seminar that will be held at the R. B. Winter State Park this coming Saturday at 2 p.m. Bill Russell, who is one of our state's top wild mushroom experts, will lead this seminar in the Halfway Run Environmental Learning Center. He will introduce you and your family members to the fascinating world of fungi. During the seminar you will learn what's edible and what's not and the important role mushrooms have in the forest. As an added bonus, if the weather cooperates, there will be a walk in the nearby woods in search of some tasty treats.

For nearly a half century, Russell has lead mushroom workshops, talks, and walks with the hope of educating as many people as possible about foraging. He is responsible for developing mushroom cultivation methods that allow for the commercial propagation of wild mushrooms. Additionally, he is author of the "Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic."

Wild mushroom foragers sometimes call themselves "mycophiles" or just "fungus lovers." They are part of a "locavore" or "eating local" movement that embraces our heritage as hunter-gatherers. While foraging recently with a friend, he told me that this activity really awakened something primeval within him. He added that it completely changed the way that he thought about the woods. I believe that we all have an innate drive to hunt and gather. Most people are so overly satiated with their constant hunting and gathering at grocery stores and in supermarkets that their palates no longer provide the urge for foods that have been available locally for thousands of years.

Our local woodlands are home to many living and dead trees as well as river and creek bottom soils that result in choice-mushroom gathering areas. Mushroom hunters can also find edible mushrooms in lawns, open areas, and fields. The trick for most mushroom hunters is how to identify the most-edible from the poisonous. A saying often quoted among mycophiles is: "There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters." If you remember this quote and always, always make sure that you're 100 percent sure that the mushroom that you're about to eat is edible before you put it in your mouth, you shouldn't ever have any problems.

Here's a quick quiche recipe for you to try, once you've gathered up some nice fresh wild mushrooms:

Quiche aux Champignons Sauvages (or just Wild Mushroom Quiche)

1 refrigerated pie crust

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large shallot/onion, peeled and minced

1/2 pound fresh wild mushrooms

3/4 pound commercial mushrooms, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1 cup cream

2 cups cheese (use your favorite, flavorful type)

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Set oven to 450 degrees and place pie crust into a glass pie dish, pressing it into the bottom and sides. Poke the bottom of the crust with a fork several times. Bake crust in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until it is a light golden brown. When it is finished baking, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. While the crust is baking, melt butter in a large skillet. Add shallots/onions, mushrooms, and a ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir frequently, until nicely browned, then remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, ½ teaspoon of salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in half of the cheese and the mushroom mixture. Pour the mixture into the baked crust, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes or until golden color. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. This should serve 6 to 8 people.