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Autumn shrooms are the best

I love Autumn all round and Autumn shrooms are the best

chicken polypore, cepe, hen of the woods, beefsteak, bolet jaune, cepe des meleze, lepiote lisse, coprins

After a dry summer and a spotty mushroom season when it comes to certain early varieties (except for Lobster!), the late summer/ fall season has shown a turn around; the autumn varieties are coming in beautiful and abundant.  At this point, the challenge is getting out there and finding a dry day.  Not only is being knees down in the mud no fun, but there is no point picking mushrooms in the rain if you hope to keep them more than a day or two..

cepes des melezes, bolet jaunes

Now it’s time for those prized boletes – the cèpes des mélèzes (larch bolete) and nonettes (bolets jaunes or slippery jack), two key mushrooms to dry for desserts due to their fruity chocolate, buttery and vanilla/coconut notes..  The cèpes (king bolete/porcini) are still on the agenda; François scored almost a hundred pounds this week himself, plus what others brought in, mostly little tight babies – very sweet.  The cepe is equally valued in savory and sweet thanks to its firm texture and flavour fresh, with a whole other set of complex aromas once dried.  I don’t need to tell most of you this, but such a bounty from Quebec is exciting, even just to prove to sceptics that they are just as good (better!) than the European imports.

The polypores are at the party, to be found adorning the oaks – Hen of the Woods, Chicken, and Beefsteak.  François had a 32 pound hen at the market today (spotlighted on Des Kiwis).  With the truckload so far, I made broth, I sautéed, froze-sousvide, pickled and smoked…  I really love Maitake (Hen of the Woods) for their versatility, and the way they can be worked by easily tearing apart into strips (no knife action necessary) like with cultivated pleurotes; and then there’s the meaty yet subtle flavour profile (nutty, melon and floral).  It just might be my favourite.

The coprins (shaggymane) are starting, the puffballs are still popping up, the parasols (coulemelle and lépiote lisse), the tricolomes (not one on our menu but a family favourite) are at their peak.  There are signs of autumn oysters in the trees as the leaves change..  We still have a couple of weeks to harvest all we need and to wait on the late-comers like the pied bleu.  As usual, it will be a race. 

kid next door picks baby puffballs -doh!

We are just finishing with the Matsutake.  Hands down, it was a phenomenal year for Matsutake.  The weather certainly played a role; what is good for one shroom isn’t necessarily for the next, and it depends on the region.  It also helped that there were more people out there looking for the Matsutake and willing to pick them.  Partly because the Japanese value them so much, Quebeckers woke up and caught on to the fact that there was a market for something in their backyard.  François has spent some time in northern Quebec but only realized this year how much Matsutake there was and formed coalitions with networks there.  In the far out regions, they are looking for ways to put people to work and exploit the natural resources in a sustainable way; François is the person they need to sell their goods.  Airfare and all, it makes for expensive shrooms, but in a good year like this, it turned out to be feasable and beneficial for everyone. 

The matsutake is a special mushroom.  So delicate and floral.  François says it tastes like cinnamon.  I say lavender.  There's a definite mushroom taste to them too, but soft, mellow, and the texture offers bite.  It's also an easy mushroom to cook.  It's great in broths or sautéed, braised, just about anyhow..  I felt fortunate to be able to serve it up in so many ways recently.  I processed so many pounds of this shroom that I still feel its particular aroma oozing out of my pores, and it is in my dreams. 

I am ready to replace those dreams with different scent bubbles and recipes featuring our local boletes, and all those other great autumn shrooms.   I’m not quite done with the vesse de loup, but going further into fall, the bolet jaune, cepe des meleze, pleurote – they really are the best.  I prefer to dry most of the bolet jaune (slippery jack) and cepe des meleze (larch bolete), but a few babies are good fresh or frozen for soup and sauce.  The pleurotes (autumn oyster) are best fresh.  The coprins (shaggy mane) are best fresh too; sautéing them is a waste of time; they turn to mush, but what mushroom flavour! So soup, sauce or stuffing.. meatloaf?  The options are endless with mushrooms. 

I’ve run the gamut over the years, from entrée to desserts, but surprisingly enough, I never feel like I’ve exhausted the possibilities.  I have an ongoing list of ideas and tests not checked off. I made mushroom marshmallows tonight.  Pretty good if you like marshmallows; but I’m not sure about that one yet. 

For the record, my goal in life is not mushroom acrobatics and only cooking mushrooms.  Just cooking in general, with the best and freshest ingredients.  It just so happens that I have a forager-boyfriend who inundates my pantry with shrooms.  So I cook them up in a myriad of ways.  But, in fact, I prefer to be free and all over the place, all while cooking local and seasonal with a dash of wild bien sur. 

I would rather woo a first time diner here on a regular night outside the mushroom event when there are all kinds of things on the menu and the place is less crazy.  I also hate having to publish a menu weeks in advance and stick to it.  Especially one that's so complicated.  But its the customers who want this mushroom extraganza.  It seems like I've created a monster.  Each year, I feel I have to come up with different things and have at least 20+ kinds of mushrooms on the menu because there are so many return customers expecting the same or better all the time.  No one understands how hard it is to secure these quantities and come in on time, let alone serve it all out of my dinky kitchen.  Most of the wild mushrooms on the plate end up costing way more per kilo net than top filet.  Foraged, cleaned, cooked down, chopped or dried, puliverized or infused, there isn't much to show..  Each person ends up consuming a pound or two of exotic mushrooms by the time they are finished with this menu.  It is an amusing, exciting, not necessarily profitable enterprise.

Mushrooms are great, but really, there is more to life than mushrooms.  I wish (now not so secretly) that I didn't have to spend so many stressful monthes devoted to a rediculous convoluted mushroom menu when the menu we serve each week is just as adventurous, balanced and delicious, with a little wild mush here and there, among all the other plants and game.  I don't want to be pigeon holed as the mushroom chef or the girl that smells like a mushroom forever.

That said, I can only be pleased with the interest, and fine, I will continue my mushroom somersaults, passionately so..  It is fun; I like challenges.  And whatever it takes to get diners out to our liittle old cabin in St-Roch de L'Achigan, I suppose. 


Posted on Saturday, October 2, 2010 at 02:50AM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Very interesting and inspiring stuck at home since over two months for a health issue I enjoyed very much this reading and you made me feel as If I was out picking the mushrooms. Like you I just love playing around with this wild bounty.

I would love to try a matsutake mushroom, though I have never run across one in Calgary...
Next time I am in the east I will hunt one down.
Thanks for the very intesting article
November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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